This is a festive holiday dish that creates those rich flavors associated with holiday menus. Walnuts provide the crunchy texture and deep nutty note in contrast to the cream and fruit. You can also use a store-bought cake and simply assemble the layers of flavor to save time. This is an easy dessert that can be made ahead and is a beautiful display for your friends and family.
Cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottoms of 3 9-inch cake pans** with parchment or waxed paper. Spray the insides of the pans with non-stick cooking spray.
Whip sugar and eggs on high in an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment for 5-8 minutes or until pale yellow and fluffy.
Meanwhile, whisk the mayonnaise and cocoa in another large bowl until well blended then whisk in the water and vanilla extract. Add the remaining cake ingredients and whisk until the mixture becomes very thick then finish mixing with a wooden spoon. Fold in the egg mixture in 3 batches. Divide the cake batter evenly among the pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely.
Cherry Layer: Boil cherries with ¼ cup water in a medium saucepan for 1 minute. Strain and reserve the liquid. Transfer the cherries to a glass measure; stir in the jam, brandy, almond extract and enough liquid to make 2½ cups; discard remaining juice.
To assemble Trifle: Whip the cream, sugar and almond extract to form medium peaks. Place one cake round in the bottom of a 9-inch trifle dish Spread 1 cup of the cherry mixture over the cake. Spread about 1 ⅓ cups whipped cream over cherries and scatter ½ cup of walnut pieces onto the top and around the edges. Repeat for second layer. Top with remaining cake round. Remove cherries from remaining cherry mixture and pour liquid over cake. Top with whipped cream, cherries and walnuts.
*To save time, you can replace the scratch cake with either a chocolate fudge cake mix or a ready-made 1 lb. chocolate loaf cake. For the cake mix, prepare as directed, place into 3 9-inch circular pans and bake for 15 minutes. For the ready-made cake, cut into 12 slices and layer 4 slices per cake layer as outlined above.
**Note: 2 9-inch and 1 8-inch cake pans can also be used. Bake 8-inch layer about 5 minutes longer, if necessary.