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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 an English 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.

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 lady fingers 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 version. 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

Tips for Making an English Trifle

Making a 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.
  • 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
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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!

  • Author: Liz Berg
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: 16 servings 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Simmering
  • Cuisine: British

Ingredients

1011 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

Instructions

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.

Notes

Inspired by English Trifle to Die For on allrecipes.com

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12 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!

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