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A punch bowl cake is a type of trifle which is traditionally served in a punchbowl. Like other desserts in the trifle family, punch bowl cake consists of a series of layers, including a layer of sponge or yellow cake, a layer of fruit, a layer of pudding or gelatin, and a topping of whipped cream. This dessert is typically served chilled.
Trifle is an ancient dessert which has been made in England since at least the 1700s. This layered dessert is usually served in clear containers so that consumers can appreciate the beauty of the layered effect. Many trifles are served in individual cups or glasses, while punch bowl cake is designed to be broken up into an assortment of servings. A clear punch bowl is still preferable, however, since presentation is half the fun.
To make a punch bowl cake, start with a layer of cake which is broken or cut into chunks. Yellow cake is a good choice, as are sponge and angel cakes. Sponge cake holds up particularly well to the liquids in punch bowl cake. Following the layer of cake, spoon in a layer of pudding; vanilla pudding is a classic choice, although you can also use a fruit flavored gelatin. The pudding is covered in cooked, sweetened, and spiced fruit, which is topped with whipped cream and nuts.
Some cooks like to make punch bowl cake with readily available commercial ingredients, rather than individually preparing each layer. In this case, a store bought sponge or angel cake is a good base, and it can be covered with pudding made from a box mix and followed with prepared pie filling; many markets sell canned cherry and blueberry pie fillings, for example. Whipped cream can be purchased in pressurized containers, or you can use a non-dairy whipped topping.
The elaborate construction of punch bowl cake makes it most suitable for parties, especially during the holiday season. Cooks can spice it up a bit by soaking their cake in alcohol or a syrupy fruit solution, and the cake can also be topped with candles, sparklers, or other decorations for special occasions. In addition to cherries and blueberries, cooks can also try fruits like pineapple, mango, and papaya for a tropically themed punch bowl cake, in which case they may want to top the cake with coconut cream and soak the pieces of cake in rum. For an especially ornate punch bowl cake, try making two sets of layers instead of just one.