Classic Trifle


I associate trifle with Christmas – my great aunt Maud (who was British) used to make trifle – the kind with sponge cake in the bottom doused in sherry or brandy, a layer of fresh or tinned fruit, Bird’s custard and whipped cream on top – but it’s truly a year-round dessert. This is my aunt Maud’s trifle bowl, the stand long since broken off – I decided to bring it back this holiday, after chatting with a friend’s mum visiting from Worcestershire about trifle and the Great British Bake-off and the jelly-vs-no jelly debate (I say no jelly). It can be as summery or wintry as you like, and it still seems festive to me when made with a quick sponge roll spread with blackberry jam from the height of summer.


If you’re not familiar with trifle, it’s a British thing traditionally made with layers of custard poured over sherry or brandy-soaked sponge cake, jelly roll or ratafia (similar to amaretti) and jam, stewed fruit or jelly (gelatin), depending on where you grew up, and topped with whipped cream. Delicious, right? And so easy – it’s something you can assemble even if the thought of baking makes you nervous, and is the ideal solution if your cake doesn’t survive re-entry.


In this version, Mary Berry and Sheila Fennell confirmed my memories of aunt Maud’s trifle, but the great thing about it is that you could combine virtually any kind of cake, fruit and custardy-pudding and call it a trifle. Gingerbread and sautéed pears! Chocolate cake and cherries! Pound cake with eggnog custard! Seriously, once you’re down with the concept of spooning out layers of cake and cream, anything goes.



Classic Trifle

Recipe link


December 27, 2016


1 jelly-filled Swiss roll or plain sponge cake

1 14 oz (398 mL) can pear halves in syrup (optional)

1/2 cup dry sherry

1/4 cup Bird’s custard powder

1/4 cup sugar

3 cups milk (or eggnog)

1/2 cup jam or preserves (optional)

1-2 cups whipping cream

2 Tbsp. icing sugar (or 1 Tbsp. sugar)

1 tsp. vanilla

1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted


1Cut the jelly roll into slices or the cake into cubes or fingers, and fit them into the bottom and sides of a straight-sided trifle dish or other glass bowl. Drain the pear halves and pour about 1/2 cup of the syrup into a small bowl or measuring cup along with the sherry. Pour the mixture over the sponge cake or jelly roll, letting it soak up the syrup. Let it sit while you make the custard.


3In a medium saucepan, whisk together the Bird’s custard powder, sugar and milk. Bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes, whisking constantly once it starts to bubble and thicken. If you like, spread (or drop in spoonfuls) the jam or preserves over the cake. Cut the pears lengthwise into thirds and lay them over the cake (or jam). Pour the custard overtop and let stand until it cools somewhat, then refrigerate until set. (You can do this part ahead and refrigerate overnight, or until you need it.)


5Whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until it holds softly stiff peaks. Spread over the custard and sprinkle with toasted almonds. Serves 8-10.


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2 comments on “Classic Trifle

  1. Anonymous
    January 4, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Hi Julie, you never fail to inspire, delight and amuse me! “if the cake doesn’t survive re-entry” was my chuckle for this afternoon. Thank-you for this Trifle recipe and reminding me that it is indeed an “anything goes”and an all season recipe.

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