Cheese Logs to English Trifle – It was an Old Fashioned Christmas

Twas the morning after Christmas and all through the house, barely a person was stirring including me and my spouse…It will be a lazy day today, that is for sure. I was in the kitchen all day yesterday. I went all out with cooking a traditional Christmas dinner to make up for the lack of decorations. We did, however, get a wreath on the front door about mid-day yesterday, so we are not complete slackers!

Anyway, we had our two sons with us yesterday. One son was here and then gone and then back with a girlfriend at the end of the day. It was uncertain how many I was cooking for, but we always enjoy the leftovers (especially when the kitchen is closed today!). It was a nice day and actually felt like Christmas once I got to cooking and we all were together. I was having a hard time getting in the Christmas mood this year, but I finally got there yesterday.

I made a cheese log two days ago, so we had that to nibble on before dinner (along with my husband’s family’s Bourbon Slush). He will not even give ME the recipe for that one. He said he might have to kill me if that gets out…it is that top-secret! I decided to make this old-fashioned cheesy treat (the classic cheese log) since it would be perfect to prepare ahead. It is a great recipe and reminded me of something I used to make years ago. It really is quite “Christmasy” with red and green speckled throughout from the pimento and parsley. You need to know that if you make it as directed, you will be making something the size of a small baseball bat. Either prepare half the recipe or you can divide the entire cheese mixture into halves or thirds for normal size cheese logs. I am freezing the other half for another evening coming up. I still have plenty leftover from yesterday to serve for the weekend.

By the way, I have added an 8 oz. package of softened cream cheese to the recipe to mix in with the cheddar cheese. I made it without the first time (which was the original recipe). By making this addition, it helped to bind the cheese together and make for smoother slicing. Without this, the original log was too crumbly.

I used Cabot’s Black Wax Sharp Cheddar Cheese. It is a great tasting cheddar with a nice bite. You can find the 2 pound package at Costco.

Here is the recipe from Saveur’s website with my changes:

Cheddar Cheese Log

Makes one 8″ Log (NOT – try 18″ if you do it as suggested)

This retro hors d’oeuvre is among the many recipes Ella Fitzgerald marked in her copy of James Beard’s American Cookery (Little, Brown, 1972).

2 lbs. grated cheddar cheese (mild, medium or sharp), I used the Cabot sharp cheddar (yum), softened at room temperature
* 1 8 oz package Philly cream cheese, softened (my addition)
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard (I used 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp.)
1⁄2 tsp. Tabasco sauce (I used about 1 tsp. of Louisiana Hot Sauce – I think it has more flavor than Tabasco)
1⁄2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1⁄4 cup finely chopped pimento
1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped pecans (You will need at least 1/2 – 3/4 cup, depending on how many nuts you want on the log)

1. Place softened cheddar cheese in a large bowl with cream cheese. Add Dijon mustard, Tabasco (Louisiana Hot Sauce), parsley and pimento. Mix until ingredients are evenly distributed (with your hands is best), then, if necessary, correct seasoning with mustard and Tabasco.

2. Place a piece of plastic wrap about 9″ long on a clean surface. Mound cheese mixture along edge nearest you, then roll in plastic, pressing and molding to form a log about 1 1⁄2″ wide (mine was about 2 – 2 1/2″ wide) and 8″ long. (*You will need to make at least 2 logs to have a normal sized cheese log).

3. Carefully remove plastic and roll log in chopped pecans, pressing nuts into log as you roll. Rewrap log with fresh plastic and chill for at least one hour. Serve with crackers.

The rest of our dinner was wonderful as well. I made the ultimate moist ham. I glazed a Smithfield spiral cut ham with an orange marmalade and maple syrup glaze. It has an added kick with Dijon mustard and freshly ground black pepper. It stays extra moist thanks to an oven bag (good old Reynolds Wrap Oven Bags) and a slow cooking process.It truly was delicious and far better than buying a ham already prepared or one where you use the glaze packet that comes with the ham. Take the time to make your own glaze. There is no comparison.

This year I made the usual suspects (sweet potato casserole and squash casserole), but I tried some new recipes. They were slightly different from what I usually make. Both were very tasty. The sweet potatoes were topped with chopped pecans and marshmallows (you cannot go wrong with that mix). There were pecans in the mashed sweet potatoes along with brown sugar. I used large marshmallows instead of the smaller ones to top the casserole. My husband said he liked it better than usual since the marshmallows tasted like they were hot off the campfire!

The squash was sauteed with butter and onions and then combined with a cheddar cheese sauce. Because the squash was sauteed and not boiled or steamed, you avoid the watery mess that sometimes occurs with a squash casserole. It was also a nice change from the egg, bread crumb and cheese mixture that usually accompanies the sometimes watery squash. Finally, I blanched some fresh greens beans and then sauteed them with butter and toasted, sliced almonds (beans and nuts, as my Dad always called them).

I did cut corners in the roll department, but I have actually used these Sister Schubert rolls for many years and they are very good. You can find them in various flavors (yeast, whole wheat, and cinnamon) in the frozen foods department (at least here in the South). I use the single yeast rolls. I brush them with some melted, unsalted butter before popping them in the oven and they are really close to a yeast roll that you would get out in a restaurant. Great in a pinch.

For the big finale, I think my English Trifle made up for the cheating on the yeast rolls. The alternative name is a Christmas Trifle and I know why. You probably don’t want to make it more than once a year. It is time consuming, but well worth the effort. Everyone was here for dessert and a movie (Public Enemy) and it was a hit. My son raved, so I know it must have been good. It also is a beautiful dessert and perfect for a larger crowd. Since we did not have a big crowd, too bad, we have lots of leftovers!

This recipe has been adapted from a couple of older cookbooks. I have changed and made additions over the years. I have tried many custard recipes and other variations on the cake combination, but this seems to give the prettiest and tastiest results. So many trifle recipes now use gingerbread or chocolate. This is the perfect original English Trifle that was so popular many years ago. The original custard recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of butter, but I always use 2 Tablespoons and it is equally as delicious and rich. Gotta cut calories somewhere (ha ha with this meal).

Old English Trifle

Serves 10-12

For the cake layers:
1 whole pound cake loaf (I use the vanilla pound cake from Whole Foods)
Seedless raspberry jam (You will need about 10 oz.)
1/2 cup dry sherry

For the custard:
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups whole milk
6 egg yolks, at room temperature
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract (I use Nielson-Massey)

3 cups fresh fruit (I used sliced strawberries, blueberries and peaches, but you can use any combination you choose)
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
Fresh fruit for garnish

1. Cut cake into 1-inch cubes. Split cubes in half. Spread jam on one side of half of the cube and reassemble by placing the two halves back together. This is time consuming, but very pretty.As you start to stack the cubes in a bowl, sprinkle with sherry as you go (I use a squeeze bottle). Set aside cake cubes for one hour.

2. Mix the sugar, flour and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan. Slowly whisk in milk. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Temper the egg yolks by whisking in a little of the hot milk slowly (about 1/2 cup), then pour the mixture back into the pot and cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Let stand until cool.

3. To assemble the trifle, layer 1/3 of the cake cubes in the trifle dish. Be sure to place the cubes in the dish so that the jam shows in between the cubes. Top with 1/3 of the fruit, then with 1/3 of cooled custard mixture. Repeat 2 more times. You should have 3 layers ending with the custard.

4. Whip the cream with the powdered sugar until soft peaks form and then top the trifle with the whipped cream.

5. Refrigerate for at least 6-8 hours. Top with fresh fruit right before serving.

It was a really nice Christmas with family and great food. The dog even had a big day. I know that we are always searching for new dishes and reinventing the recipes we have. I do it much of the time myself. Many of the cooking magazines this season had features on Christmas dinners that were inspired by other countries and cuisines. While these dishes are fun to try at other times during the year, I find at Christmastime it is comforting to stick with some of the old-time favorites. They can truly be the best. Hope you all had a Merry Christmas too.

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