March 2, 2010

a proper English trifle

I've always wanted to make one. It's a dessert that appeals to both my fondness for culturally specific foods, and my love of all things creamy. Desserts that combine fruit, cake, custard and whipped cream cannot be anything but delicious, now can they?

I started ogling big glass trifle bowls a couple of years ago, wondering if I should splurge for the perfect one at Williams-Sonoma not too long ago. But then I decided it was foolish to buy a bowl that really only served one purpose. A proper trifle bowl apparently has straight sides instead of round and has a platform base, the better to see the beautiful layers in this rich dessert.

I wanted to make one for a dinner party so I did what I usually do when I need something but don't want to spend lots of money: I headed to my local thrift store. Lo and behold, there was a perfect big glass bowl for only $3.99. I would finally get to make my English trifle!

Besides doing it ahead of time so it has time to chill overnight, it's pretty easy to make. There are millions of trifle recipes out there but I found one for cherry trifle in Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess. I love her easy-going, laid back approach to things. She recommends using any kind of bowl large enough to hold it, and either store-bought ladyfingers or "any stale cake lying around."

I happened to have a 6-in round almond cake in the freezer that was left from the wedding cake testing. Perfect. I bought some mixed berry jam and some strawberries and already had the morello cherries in the fridge. All I need to make were the custard and the whipped cream topping.

Cherry Trifle (adapted from Nigella Lawson)


* 1 pound cake or 8 store-bought ladyfingers
* 1/2 cup cherry or other berry jam
* 1/2 cup cherry brandy plus 1 split vanilla bean
* 2 cups drained bottled cherries (recommended: Morello)
* 1 cup strawberries (if desired)


* 1 1/3 cups whole milk
* 1 1/3 cups heavy cream
* 8 egg yolks
* 1/4 cup sugar


* 2 1/4 cups heavy cream
* 1 T cherry jam
* juice of 1/2 lemon
* 3 T slivered almonds
* 1 T water


Make the brandy-vanilla infusion by bring 4 T brandy to a boil with split vanilla bean, then boil for 2 min until thickened. Remove from heat and set aside.

Slice the pound cake and make jam sandwiches with the cherry jam, and layer the bottom of a large wide trifle bowl. Pour over the vanilla brandy so that the cake soaks it up, and then top with the drained cherries (and strawberries). Cover with cling wrap and leave to macerate while you make the custard.

In a saucepan warm the milk and cream. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl. Pour the warm milk and cream into the bowl whisking it into the yolks and sugar mixture, and pour the custard back into the saucepan. Cook over a medium heat until the custard thickens, stirring all the time. Make sure it doesn't boil, as it will split and curdle. Keep a sink full of cold water so that if you get scared you can plunge the bottom of the custard pan into the cold water and whisk like mad, which will avert possible crisis.

Once it is ready, pour into a bowl to cool and cover the top of the custard with cling wrap to prevent a skin from forming.

When the custard is cold, pour and spread it over the fruit and cake layer in the trifle bowl, and leave in the refrigerator to set, covered in cling wrap overnight, or for at least 12 hours.

When you are ready to decorate, softly whip the cream for the topping and spread it gently over the layer of custard. Then toast almonds for a few minutes and make syrup by heating and stirring the cherry jam, lemon juice and water over medium heat until thickened. Let cool slightly. Drizzle cherry syrup over whipped cream and sprinkle with toasted almonds. Serves about 10 people, or makes lots of leftovers!

Bring to the table in a flourish of oohs and ahhs and dig in. People will definitely have seconds of this delicious dessert. Cheers!


  1. Oh my, this is simply beautiful! Bringing it to the table with flourish must be quite the thrill.

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