The most successful party I've given recently was by accident. After a big reception, we had a surplus of desserts. Friends dropped by in the way they sometimes do, and before we knew it, a party was in full swing. Looking back, I should have known. Nothing succeeds like a luscious dessert.

Take trifle, for example, which is a far cry from a trifling combination of poached fruit and cake soaked in sherry and fruit juice, topped with vanilla custard, whipped cream and toasted almonds. Shades of my childhood. To anyone British, trifle evokes images of Victorian England and leisurely Sunday lunches.

Strawberry Charlotte Malakoff has a touch of the Russian about it. Malakoff was a fortress in the Crimea and more than one dish has been named for battles in that tragic mid-19th century war. Appropriately, the bucket shape of a charlotte mold resembles a castle, fortified here with walls of ladyfingers, filled with strawberries, ground almonds, sugar and cream. Like trifle, this dessert keeps extraordinarily well, setting so it can be cut in neat wedges for serving.

Savarin is firmly French, named for 19th-century gastronome Brillat-Savarin. The cake consists of a yeast dough, baked in a ring mold, and soaked in sugar syrup laced with rum or your favorite spirit. In this recipe I've suggested filling the ring with a salad of exotic fruits -- mango, pineapple, guava, passion fruit. With air freight delivery, fruits no longer seem to have a season, so take advantage of whatever happens to be in your market.

Perhaps it is no accident that all these desserts date from the 19th century. They have a prosperous luxury, a flamboyancy that ignores fashion or epoch. Served with coffee or tea in the afternoon, or with a glass of sparkling white wine for an evening gathering, they celebrate the holidays in historic style.

Timetable Perfect for a do-it-yourself party, all the cooking for this menu can be completed three hours ahead. Note that individual recipes serve six persons, adding up to enough for 18.

Up to one week ahead: Bake savarin and store in an airtight container.

Up to three days ahead: Make trifle and refrigerate. Make charlotte and refrigerate.

Up to 12 hours ahead: Prepare fruit salad and keep in refrigerator. Chill the wine.

Up to three hours ahead: Make chantilly cream and decorate trifle and charlotte; store in refrigerator. Soak savarin with syrup, add glaze, and refrigerate it.

Fifteen minutes before serving: Brew coffee or tea. Add fruit salad to savarin and set it along with the trifle and the charlotte on the table.

TRIFLE (6 servings)

Commercial pound cake is fine for trifle. The dessert should be made at least a couple of days ahead so flavors mingle and mellow.

16-ounce pound cake

1/2 cup raspberry jam

1/2 cup medium dry sherry

2 pounds canned, sliced pears or peaches, drained

12 to 16 whole browned almonds


1 quart milk

1/4 cup cornstarch

10 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla


1 1/2 cups whipping cream

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cut cake in 1/2-inch slices. Sandwich slices with raspberry jam and cut in 1-inch cubes. Put cake in bottom of a 3-quart serving bowl, sprinkle with sherry, and press down lightly. Top with drained fruit, spreading it flat.

For the custard sauce: scald milk in a saucepan. Stir together cornstarch, egg yolks, and sugar in a bowl. Whisk in boiling milk. Return custard to the pan and bring it just to a boil, stirring constantly so it thickens smoothly. Add vanilla extract and let it cool slightly. While still warm, pour custard over fruit and leave in refrigerator to set. Cover and refrigerate trifle at least a day and up to 3 days so flavor matures.

Not more than 3 hours before serving, make the chantilly cream. Whip cream until it holds a soft peak. Add sugar and vanilla and continue beating until stiff. Using a pastry bag and a medium star tube, pipe a lattice of cream on top of the trifle so the custard shows through. Decorate the edge with rosettes of cream and top each with a browned almond. Chill the trifle until serving.


Lacking strawberries, a half cup of chopped, mixed candied fruits can be substituted.

16 to 18 ladyfingers

3 tablespoons kirsch

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups ground almonds

1 pint strawberries, sliced

3/4 cup whipping cream, whipped until it holds a soft peak

6 to 8 whole strawberries (for decoration)


1 cup whipping cream

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Butter a 2-quart charlotte mold or souffle' dish and line base with a round of waxed paper. Line sides of mold with ladyfingers, trimming them so they fit tightly. Sprinkle remaining ladyfingers with half the kirsch.

Cream the butter, add sugar, and beat until soft and light. Stir in ground almonds, sliced strawberries and remaining kirsch. Fold in the lightly whipped cream. Note: do not beat mixture or cream will curdle and separate.

Fill mold halfway with mixture and add soaked ladyfingers. Add remaining mixture, smoothing the top. Cover and chill charlotte until firm, at least 4 hours. It can be refrigerated up to 3 days.

Up to 3 hours before serving, finish the charlotte: trim ladyfingers level with almond mixture. Unmold charlotte onto a plate. Make chantilly cream; whip cream until it holds a soft peak. Add sugar and vanilla and continue beating until stiff. Using pastry bag and medium star tube, decorate base and top of charlotte with rosettes of cream. Top charlotte with whole strawberries and chill until serving.


Savarin is best baked well ahead, as the cake absorbs the maximum amount of fruit syrup when it is dry.

1 tablespoon ( 1/4 ounces) dry yeast or 1/2 ounce compressed yeast

4 tablespoons lukewarm water

2 1/3 cups flour

4 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2/3 cup unsalted butter

3 tablespoons rum

1/2 cup apricot jam for glaze


1 cup sugar

2 cups water

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

4 pounds assorted tropical fruits, cut in pieces

2 to 3 tablespoons rum or 2 teaspoons vanilla

Sprinkle yeast over lukewarm water and let stand until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Sift flour into a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in dissolved yeast and add eggs, salt and sugar. Mix them together with your fingers, gradually drawing in flour to form a soft dough. Cup your hand and knead the dough, lifting it and letting it fall with a slap into the bowl, until it is elastic and very smooth, about 5 minutes. Cut butter in pieces and set around edge of dough. Cover bowl with a wet cloth and leave in a warm place until dough rises until doubled in bulk, 45 to 60 minutes.

Generously butter a 5-cup ring mold. Beat dough 1 to 2 minutes to knock out air and work in the butter. Spoon dough into prepared mold, cover with a wet cloth and leave again in a warm place to rise until the dough fills the mold, 30 to 40 minutes.

Bake savarin in a 400-degree oven until it is brown, and shrinks from sides of mold, 20 to 25 minutes. Run a knife around the edge and turn it onto a rack to cool. Savarin can be baked ahead and stored in an airtight container up to a week, or it can be frozen.

Up to 12 hours ahead, prepare the fruit salad. In a saucepan, heat sugar with water over low heat until dissolved. Add lemon zest and simmer 5 minutes. Take from the heat, add lemon juice, and leave to cool. Prepare the fruit and put it in a bowl. Strain sugar syrup into fruit and shake to mix. Cover and refrigerate it.

Up to 3 hours ahead: soak the savarin. Drain syrup from fruit salad and bring it just to a boil. Set savarin on a rack over a tray to catch drips. Baste savarin with hot syrup, reheating any that falls into the tray, until the savarin is swollen and shiny. Sprinkle savarin with the 3 tablespoons rum. Stir any remaining syrup back into fruit, with rum or vanilla.

To glaze the savarin, melt apricot jam in a pan with 1 to 2 tablespoons water. Sieve it, reheat until melted, and brush the savarin with the glaze. Transfer it to a serving dish and keep in the refrigerator. Just before serving, fill the savarin with fruit salad, serving the rest separately