A classic trifle is made with fresh berries, sponge cake, and custard. This is a delicious no-bake dessert and only takes a few minutes to prepare.

This was one of my favorite desserts growing up. My grandma used to make hers with jellies, fruit or jam, and pudding or custard. It was always something I looked forward to on Sunday night dinners. Secretly, I think I like trifle too, because my brothers didn’t like it that much, so there was more for me 😊

It is one of those no-fuss desserts. There really are no rules for making a trifle. You can put whatever you would like in it, and it is almost guaranteed to be delicious. It is supposed to be messy, but it tastes so great.

What is a English Trifle?

For those who have never had trifle or have never heard of it, it is a no-bake layered dessert made with custard, cake, fruit, jelly or jello, and whipped cream. You can really customise a trifle to your preference or what you have on hand. My grandmother always kept day-old cake and made a trifle from what she had. If she had fresh strawberries or berries left over, she would use those in there. If you have them on hand, I like to use canned peaches or canned mandarin oranges.

Originally, English trifle included soaking the sponge cake in sherry or wine, but these days that step is skipped and we use a simple fruit syrup. This dessert dates back to the 1500’s. With all the varieties of this dessert, there are many flavors to try over and over again.

The Classic English Dessert, English Trifle, strawberries, mint, shortcake
The Classic English Dessert, English Trifle, strawberries, mint, shortcake

How do you serve this layered dessert?

Trifles are prepared by layering cake, custard, and fruits with whipped cream. I find most people just layer it in an opaque container or a bowl, but the best way to layer this dessert is so that you can see all of the gorgeous layers. I like to use a clear glass bowl or a trifle bowl.

When you are ready to serve, get a large spoon so that you can get right to the bottom so that you have a taste of all of what’s in those layers and still leave it intact.

trifle bowl
trifle bowl

Can you make trifle a day ahead?

Yes, you can just prepare it without the whipping cream. Leave that until you are ready to serve. Making it in advance gives the cake more time to absorb the liquid and juices. Make sure that you keep it refrigerated due to the milk and eggs in the custard. We recommend serving it anywhere between 4 and 24 hours after the trifle has been made.

Ingredients for this layered dessert

  • Cake: For this recipe, you will want to use a cake like pound cake or lady fingers. If you have left-over cake, you can use that as well. You want a cake that will be able to absorb the liquid, and day-old or pound cake works great for that.
  • Cream cheese: You can use low-fat here or regular cream cheese.
  • Heavy cream: creamy goodness for the topping of the trifle.
  • Sugar: The sugar adds a touch of sweetness.
  • Vanilla Pudding: Boxed pudding mix works great for this, or make pudding or custard from scratch using pure vanilla.
  • Milk: You will need this to make either your boxed pudding mix or scratch-made pudding.
  • Strawberries: For this recipe, I’m using strawberries, but you can use any fruit you want to use or have on hand.

Variations for traditional trifle

This dessert allows for so much variety, which is always a good thing, I think, because then you can switch up and add what you might have seasonally or readily available. Here are a few variations you might want to try.

  • Cake: There are many varieties of pound cake available to use, for example, almond all the way to chocolate pound cake. I have also used angel food cake or left-over celebration cake.
  • Fruit: There are quite a few possibilities when it comes to adding fruit to this dessert, from tropical fruits to berries. Here are a few suggestions to get you started. Bananas, peaches, kiwi, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries.
  • Pudding: Vanilla pudding is what generally come to mind but if it comes in pudding form or flavor it will work like chocolate or butterscotch
Trifle with mixed berries
Trifle with mixed berries

How to Make English Trifle

A classic trifle is made with fresh berries, sponge cake, and custard. This is a delicious no-bake dessert and only takes a few minutes to prepare.
Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine english
Servings 12 servings
Calories 328 kcal

Equipment

  • 1 sauce pan
  • 1 stand mixer
  • 1 Mixing Bowl
  • 1 whisk
  • 1 trifle bowl
  • 1 set of measuring spoons and cups

Ingredients
  

Custard layer

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 8 egg yolks large to medium eggs
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 4 tbsp corn starch
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup butter cut into small pieces

Cake layer

  • 8 oz pound cake or 9 x 13 yellow cake
  • 3 tbsp raspberry jelly see note if using jello

Fruit layer

  • 2 cups strawberries
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 tbsp sugar

Whipping Cream

  • 1-1/2 cups whipping cream or heavy cream
  • 8 oz cream cheese room temperature
  • ¼ cup sugar or icing sugar

Instructions
 

  • Heat the milk over low-medium heat, stirring frequently, until it just begins to simmer and steam rises from the surface.
  • Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch until light and smooth.
  • take out a 1-1/2 cups of the hot milk mixture and slowly mix it into the egg yolk mixture you want to slowly add it into this mixture to temper it so that you don't end up with scrambled eggs. Just slowly add it into it and once its combined you can add it too the rest of the hot milk mixture.
  • Heat over medium, whisking constantly, until the mixture just comes to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, keep whisking, ensuring that the milk mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pan, until thickened, about 1-2 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in butter. Custard will be thick and smooth. Pour into a shallow bowl and cover the top with plastic wrap so that the plastic is touching the surface of the custard. This will prevent a skin from forming on top. Cool in the refrigerator until chilled.

Cake Layer

  • Cut the cake halves into small squares (about 1-2-inches) and spread jam over the squares.

The fruit

  • In a medium bowl, combine the strawberries, raspberries, and sugar. Stir to coat and allow to macerate. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the trifle.

Whipped Cream

  • Cream the cream cheese and Combine the heavy whipping cream and the sugar or powdered sugar in a larger mixer bowl. Beat on high for 2 minutes, or until stiff peaks form. Keep chilled in the refrigerator until ready to assemble.

Assemble

  • Place 1/3 of the cake cubes in the bottom of the trifle dish, jam side up. Top the cake cubes with 1/3 of the fruit, followed by 1/3 of the custard and finally with 1/3 of the whipped cream. Repeat layers two more times. Decorate the top with fresh fruit. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Notes

* Custard pudding follow directions above or follow pudding box directions
 
Keyword english, traditional, trifle