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Traditional English Trifle

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Made with pound cake, Grand Marnier, creme anglaise, whipped cream, and fresh raspberries, each bite of this Traditional English Trifle was pure bliss. Decades ago,  while my parents were living in Scotland for the year, I was introduced to my first trifle.

That Scottish version was made with sponge cake, sherry, Bird’s Custard mix, whipped cream and fresh raspberries from the yard, and was simple and unforgettable. My past trifles have been anything but traditional, so I channeled my memories of that Scottish trifle and created this Christmas Trifle.

Traditional English Trifle side view in a glass trifle bowl

Traditional English Trifle

For a holiday luncheon last week, I brought this traditional English trifle to share with my friends. I’ve made loads of trifles in the past, like this incredible Strawberry Cheesecake Trifle and this chocolate lover’s Brownie Trifle, but wanted to make something closer to what I tasted years ago in the British Isles. From the reaction of my friends, I’d say it was a huge success.

What is in a Trifle?

The ingredients I used in my Christmas trifle are pretty traditional, though the alcohol can vary and many recipes use a custard or pudding instead of creme anglaise. Dorie Greenspan has used melted vanilla ice cream in place of creme anglaise, which gives you an idea of the consistency of the sauce. Bird’s Custard is frequently used in Britain, and in the states, boxed pudding mixes are also options. PRO-Tip: Look in the international aisle for Bird’s as it’s a great shortcut.

Trifle has a Scottish origin and dates back to the late 1500s! It’s definitely stood the test of time!

Cream sherry is commonplace in a trifle, but I like to use liqueurs like Grand Marnier, Frangelico or Amaretto to add a little sweetness. For the cake component, spongecake like ladyfingers work well and soak up the alcohol. For a shortcut, I like to substitute cubes of Sara Lee pound cake.

I also added jam, berries and whipped cream to my Christmas trifle. Garnishing with red berries and green mint sprigs, made this a stunning holiday dessert. And delicious and decadent enough for any celebration!

Traditional English Trifle topped with whipped cream and fresh raspberries

How Do You Serve Trifle?

A trifle bowl or any glass bowl will showcase the beautiful layers and is the most common way to serve a trifle recipe. PRO-Tip: Aim for even layers for the most beautiful presentation.

Alternatively, use clear, glasses with relatively wide openings to make individual desserts. It may be a little more challenging not to smear the sides of the containers, but who doesn’t love their own dessert!

Can You Make Trifle The Day Before?

Yes, but leave off the whipped cream topping until the day of serving as it can separate as time goes on. Making it in advance actually gives the cake more time to absorb the liqueurs and juices, which is a good thing! Make sure to keep your partially composed trifle in the refrigerator since the custard contains eggs.  

How To Whip Cream

If you’re new to whipping cream, no worries. It’s very simple. Now you’ll mostly find ultra-pasteurized whipping cream and heavy cream in the markets. They are almost impossible to overwhip.  When I started baking, years ago, overwhipping would result in clumpy cream instead of billowy whipped cream. It could be fixed by adding more liquid cream, but I’m delighted not to deal with those types of disasters anymore.

My biggest tip is to place the bowl you’re using in the freezer for about 15 minutes before you start the process. PRO-Tip: A chilled bowl will help keep the fat in the cream cool and result in light and fluffy whipped cream.

Once you add the cream (plus sugar and vanilla if you’re using those) to the bowl, whisk or beat just until stiff peaks form. Stiff peaks are when the cream stands up straight when the beaters or whisk are lifted from the bowl.

Tips for Making an English Trifle

Making a traditional English trifle is all about layering. Here are some tips for making a beautiful Christmas trifle.

  • You need to carefully layer each component. If you smear the sides of your glass trifle bowl with custard, the presentation will not be as attractive. It’s easier to prevent a drip than to clean one up, but I’ve had to do the latter more than once!
  • Start with a bed of cake. I like to make sure they’re bite-sized pieces for easy serving and eating. If you want to add jam to your trifle, spread a bit on each cake slice or just drop spoonfuls across the surface of the cake. Pick a flavor that complements the fruit in your trifle. I used fresh raspberries and raspberry jam.
  • Drizzle the cake with the alcohol of your choice, but note that it’s totally optional. The cake absorbs the flavor and then softens. Again choose a liqueur that complements your specific trifle. Cream sherry is classic choice, but there are some lovely liqueurs that work well. If you want to avoid alcohol, try using orange juice instead.
  • Next you can layer the fruit, then the “pudding,” which can be custard, creme anglaise, homemade pudding or pudding made from a box. Note that the creme anglaise is more of a sauce, so try to aim for the center of the bowl when pouring it, so some of the layers still show through the sides of the trifle bowl. If you’re determined to see the layers in your traditional English trifle, you may want to use a custard instead.
  • Add a layer of whipped cream and repeat the layers! There are no set ingredients or layering order. I only added whipped cream at the top and repeated the other layers once.
  • Garnish the top with more fruit, nuts or whatever might reflect your fillings. Garnishing with red berries and mint make a perfect Christmas trifle! Chill for a few hours before serving.
Traditional English Trifle topped with mint and fresh raspberries

More Holiday Desserts:

Traditional English Trifle topped with whipped cream and fresh raspberries

Traditional English Trifle

A classic holiday trifle with raspberries, pound cake, creme anglaise and whipped cream!

Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Yield 16 servings


  • 10 ounces pound cake (I used a Sara Lee frozen pound cake)
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 12 ounces fresh raspberries (reserve a few to garnish the top of your trifle)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Sliced almonds to garnish, if desired


Cut the pound cake into bite sized cubes. Spread some jam on half the cubes and place in the bottom of a trifle dish. Spread jam on the rest of the cake and set aside.

Sprinkle half the Grand Marnier, then half the raspberries over the cake layer.

Make creme anglaise by heating the 2 cups of cream in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Beat together the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale yellow. Set aside.

Just before the cream starts to boil, remove from heat. Very slowly drizzle some of the hot cream into the sugar/yolk mixture while beating or whisking constantly.

Return the mixture to the pan and cook over low until mixture thickens and can coat a spoon. Do not allow to boil for the smoothest texture. Run through a strainer if desired. Allow to cool before adding to the trifle.

When the creme anglaise is cooled, pour about half in the middle of the trifle, then layer more cake, sprinkle with the rest of the Grand Marnier and raspberries, then the rest of the creme anglaise.

Whip the 2 cups of heavy cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Smooth whipped cream over the top of the trifle and garnish with raspberries and almonds, if desired.


Inspired by English Trifle to Die For on

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 352Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 135mgSodium: 87mgCarbohydrates: 30gFiber: 2gSugar: 21gProtein: 5g


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22 comments on “Traditional English Trifle”

  1. That really turned out pretty! I love the raspberry and almond garnish on top:@)

  2. What a beautiful trifle! It’s quite a nice dessert to make, everything in a big container, looks gorgeous and everyone just digs in. I should consider this for next year’s Chinese New Year dinner.

  3. This sounds absolutely luscious! So beautiful 

  4. This looks gorgeous! Haven’t made a trifle in ages, and I don’t know why. They look great, taste better. Wonderful holiday fare. Happy Holidays!

  5. Trifles are so pretty yet I’ve never made one myself. I think I’m too much of a perfectionist and would have to have everything perfectly spaced and even knowing that it’s just not possible in something like this. Yeah – I’m a little OCD. 🙂

  6. Beautiful! I remember while I was growing up that triffle was one of the fanciest desserts I could imagine. It still looks amazing!

  7. This sounds lovely Liz. My mother used to always make a trifle for my father’s birthday…which is actually on Christmas Day. I just might have to try one myself!

  8. This has bought back so many memories, I love traditional trifle. We still use Birds custard a lot in the UK although fancier alternatives are now becoming popular. Great dessert Liz. 

  9. The best trifle I’ve ever tasted!

  10. Such a beautiful trifle. I bet tons of conversations get started when this trifle is sitting on the table. YUM!!!

  11. Can’t get enough of this trifle dessert! The whole crowd loved it!

  12. this would surely be a huge hit in our home perfect for Fathers Day coming up too! thanks Liz~!

  13. I made 4 big pans of this triple and one one huge bowl of dump cake for church it was all gone.
    Barbara coyle

  14. where do I find fresh raspberries? I really wanted to try this recipe, I was interested in it

  15. This was a huge hit at my house!! Everyone at my house was impressed!

  16. This trifle was the perfect end to dinner! So easy to assemble and everyone loved it!

  17. Look yummy! One of my favorite Traditional English Trifle, nice to see your recipe, easy to follow, will cook this for family this weekend. Thanks you!

  18. This looks like a lovely dessert, but I’m afraid your memory has betrayed you. That’s not a traditional English trifle. Pretty sure it’s not a Scottish one either! (We are both British however).
    The key ingredient that you are missing, and I think you’ll thank me when you try it, is the layer of Jelly. I had to laugh when I saw you adding Jam to the cake! I know a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in England is peanut butter and jam, but I assure you they are not the same thing.
    Soak your lady fingers in grand mariner or sherry. Put in the bottom of your serving dish with fruit of your choice, usually strawberries or raspberries, then pour over jelly (it comes in a packet, either as powder or as a small gelatinous block. You dilute it with boiling water) let it cool and you’ll have a solid Jelly with the lady fingers and fruit inside.
    Then custard, which is thicker than when we want it as a sauce, so that it also solidifies when cooled to create another neat layer. then whipped cream. Done
    You can add an extra layer or fruit of your feeling extra layery!
    Us British like traditions and get offended when they are missquoted.

    • Thanks so much for your expertise! Next time I make this I’ll hunt for the proper jelly (I haven’t seen this in our markets!) and incorporate all your tips. I appreciate your feedback.

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