Traditional English Trifle

Trifle looks spectacular when you bring it out, and tastes even better. But really, especially if you buy some stuff (canned custard, sponge cake from the bakery section of the grocery store) pre-made, it’s the easiest thing in the world to make.

I like to imagine that trifle was invented by a couple of food lovers who said; “Hey, you know what tastes good with sponge cake? Berries.” “Hey, you know what else does? Custard.” “Oh yeah, and how about some whipped cream and let’s soak the cake in some alcohol and sprinkle almonds over everything”.  At any rate, that’s all trifle really is – layers of booze-soaked cake, berries and custard and whipped cream. You’ve just put it in a large bowl for everyone.

At any rate, here is how I make it every year for Christmas Dinner. I’m a very recent convert to canned custard (I’m updating this post as of December 2009).

24 ladyfingers or 9″ sponge cake

1/4 cup orange-flavoured liqueur (such as Grand Marnier)
2 pkgs (300 grams each) frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 cups real whipping cream, divided (500 ml carton)
4 cups custard (recipe below) or 2 cans (14 oz/398 ml) each, vanilla
1 tsp vanilla
Sliced almonds, toasted

1. If not using ladyfingers, cut sponge cake into thin slices. Arrange the ladyfingers or slices of sponge cake in the bottom of a large trifle or glass bowl. Sprinkle with liqueur.

2.  Spoon the thawed raspberries over ladyfingers in bowl; set aside.

3. Beat 1/2 cup of the whipping cream until light. Fold custard into the whipped cream. Spoon custard mixture over fruit layer in bowl.

4. Beat remaining whipping cream until light, flavouring with the sugar and vanilla.  Spoon over custard layer in bowl.
5. Chill for at least 3 hours or overnight. Decorate with sliced, toasted almonds.

Trifle Custard
4 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups milk
3 tbsp custard powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice

1. In a bowl, beat the eggs and add sugar, beating until the sugar has been incorporated. Add remaining ingredients, beating until well combined.
2. Pour into a large saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. (If the heat is too high, the custard will curdle.)
3. Slowly bring the custard to a boil and continue to stir until it thickens (about 10 min). Let cool before using. (If cooling it in the fridge, cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming.)

10 to 12 servings

Adapted from: James Barber, Milk Calendar (year unknown)


  • Travels well for potlucks – just remember keep the box your trifle bowl comes in. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and pop it in the box.