Trifle, the quintessential British dessert, can be made in endless variations. This crowd-pleasing version is perfect for entertaining--you assemble it in advance and it actually gets better as it sits. The results never fail to impress.
To prepare custard: Whisk eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch, salt and 1/2 cup milk in a medium bowl until smooth. Heat the remaining 3 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat until steaming. Gradually pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return this mixture to the pan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the custard bubbles and thickens. (Use caution, as hot custard will sputter.) Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla. Transfer the custard to a shallow glass dish. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour or overnight.
To roast pears: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Toss pears, 2 tablespoons sugar and lemon juice in a large bowl. Spread the pears on the prepared baking sheet. Roast the pears until tender and golden brown in spots, turning occasionally, 45 to 50 minutes.
While the pears are roasting, toast almonds, if using, in a small baking pan until fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside.
To assemble trifle: Melt apricot preserves in a small saucepan over low heat. Arrange 14 to 15 ladyfingers in the bottom of a trifle bowl (8-inch diameter), trimming them if necessary to fit tightly. Drizzle 1 tablespoon amaretto over the ladyfingers and dot with 3 tablespoons of the preserves. Top with one-third of the roasted pears (about 1 1/3 cups) and a scant 1/2 cup raspberries. Spread 3/4 cup custard over. Repeat layering 2 more times with ladyfingers, amaretto, preserves, fruit and custard. Top with 13 to 15 ladyfingers (you may have leftovers); drizzle with remaining amaretto. Spread remaining custard over the top. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make Vanilla Cream, if using.
Shortly before serving, spread Vanilla Cream (or whipped topping) on top of the trifle, if desired, and garnish with toasted almonds, if desired, and the remaining raspberries.
1 fruit, 2 other carbohydrate