Nothing says old-school dessert like trifle. From a beautiful berry version to a lemon and chocolate twist, these recipes are ideal for special occasions – or ordinary mid-week evenings.
Unless you’re really into your retro desserts, though, you probably wouldn’t say trifle. Which is a shame, because this multi-layered beauty deserves far more credit than it gets these days.
Consider the mix: light-as-air sponge, dollops of creamy custard, peaks of whipped cream and a sprinkling of jewel-like berries. Not only are trifles beautiful to look at, but they’re a cinch to make, which is ideal for days when you’re craving something sweet but can’t face putting the oven on again.
You don’t have to go down the old-fashioned route when making a trifle, either, because the recipe was made for customisation. Prefer crumbled cookies to a sponge base? Bananas instead of berries? A splash of Baileys to sherry? This dessert was made for makeovers.
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There’s only one way to decide which flavour combination you prefer, though, which is why we’ve three delightful recipes to share here.
If you’re searching for an antidote to cold grey days, scroll straight to Claire Thomson’s lemon trifle: the fragrant mixture of lemon curd and elderflower cordial is like sunshine in a bowl. Jane Hornby’s stylish berry trifle, meanwhile, is a rich assortment of jewel-toned fruits alongside slabs of buttery brioche.
For a trifle that really has the wow factor, Danielle Alvarez’s citrus and chocolate mousse trifle elevates the traditional recipe by way of sweet dulce de leche and poached kumquats.
Assemble in advance for a ready-to-go marvel: all that’s left to do is spoon yourself a generous portion.
Claire Thomson’s lemon trifle
- about 325g lemon curd (1 jar)
- 100g sponge fingers, cut into 2cm cubes
- 200ml Moscatel dessert wine, or use diluted elderflower cordial (for alcohol-free)
- 100g amaretti biscuits, plus 50g crushed to decorate
- 600ml double cream
- 120g caster sugar
- zest and juice of 2–3 unwaxed lemons
- 30ml elderflower cordial
- 500g fresh or canned custard
Spread the lemon curd over the base of a trifle bowl and scatter over the sponge cubes. Pour 50ml of the dessert wine over the cake, scatter the amaretti biscuits over the top, then pour over another 100ml of the dessert wine. Refrigerate while you prepare the cream.
Pour 300ml of the double cream into a saucepan and add 70g of the sugar. Bring to a boil over a moderate heat, then turn down the heat and leave the sweetened cream to simmer for 2 minutes.
Stir in 60ml of lemon juice (about 1 ½ lemons – but could be more depending on your lemons), then pour this mixture over the sponge fingers.
Refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight, until set.
Stir the elderflower cordial into the custard and pour it over the lemon cream layer to cover.
Whip the remaining cream with the remaining sugar, two thirds of the lemon zest and the remaining 50ml of the dessert wine until it forms soft peaks.
Place spoonfuls of the flavoured cream over the trifle and decorate with the crushed amaretti and the remaining lemon zest. Chill until ready to serve.
From Home Cookery Year by Claire Thomson (£30, Quadrille), out now
Jane Hornby’s berry trifle
Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus cooling and chilling
Cooking time: 10 minutes
- 400g raspberries
- 300g blackberries
- 100g redcurrants or blueberries, if not available
- 100g blackcurrants or blueberries, if not available
- 120g sugar, plus a little extra
- 350g strawberries
- 4 extra large eggs
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 300ml whole milk
- 600ml double cream
- 1 vanilla bean
- 200g good-quality brioche or Madeira cake
- 5 tbsp orange liqueur (or orange juice for a non-alcoholic version)
Put three-quarters of the raspberries, blackberries, and currants or blueberries into a medium saucepan, then add two-thirds of the sugar and 2 tablespoons of water.
Simmer for 2 minutes, until the berries are surrounded with juice but mainly still intact. Hull the strawberries by slicing off their tops, then cut each one in half or quarters, if large. Stir most of the strawberries into the hot fruit, then let cool.
To make the custard, separate the eggs, putting the yolks into a large bowl. (Use the egg whites in another recipe.) Add the remaining sugar and the cornflour.
Whisk everything together until smooth.
Put the milk, 300ml of cream, and half of the vanilla seeds (see note) into a medium saucepan, then bring just to a boil.
Pour the hot liquid onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly as you pour, until smooth and even.
Return the custard to a clean saucepan, then bring to a boil over medium heat until thick and smooth, stirring all the time. Strain into a bowl, sprinkle the surface with a little sugar (this will stop a skin from forming), and cool until warm. Cover and transfer to the fridge to cool completely.
When the fruit and custard have cooled, it’s time to layer up the trifle. Tear the brioche or cake into pieces and put some into the bottom of a large serving bowl or trifle dish at least 9cm deep and 1.5-litre capacity. Sprinkle with some of the liqueur and let soak in for a few seconds.
Spoon over some of the fruit and its juice, then layer the rest of the brioche and fruit until it has all been used and the brioche is totally covered in juice. Keep adding a little liqueur as you go, saving 1 tablespoon for later.
Give the custard a quick whisk to make sure it’s smooth, then spoon it on top of the fruit and spread to the edges. Chill the trifle for a few hours or overnight.
Whip the remaining cream with the rest of the vanilla and liqueur, until thickened but not stiff.
Spoon the cream over the trifle, then decorate with the reserved fruit.
To remove currants from their stems, hold over a bowl, then run a fork along the stem from top to bottom. The currants will come off easily.
To scrape the vanilla seeds from the bean, slit the bean along the length, then run a small knife along each side.
From Simple & Classic by Jane Hornby (£29.95, Phaidon), out now
Danielle Alvarez’s citrus and chocolate mousse trifle
For the sponge cake:
- 30g butter, plus extra for greasing
- 60ml whole milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 100g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 35g cocoa powder
- 3 eggs plus 3 egg yolks
- 170g caster sugar
For the poached kumquat:
- 150g whole kumquats
- 150g sugar
For the custard:
- 30g cornflour
- 4 egg yolks
- 100g sugar
- 500ml whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
- 2 tbsp Cointreau
- 150ml cream
For the chocolate mousse:
- 160g Valrhona dulcey chocolate (or use 60–70% dark chocolate with 40g caster sugar), roughly chopped
- grated zest of ½ orange
- 2 eggs, separated
- 180ml cream
- 80ml Cointreau
- 400ml cream
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 60g cacao nibs
- zest of ½ orange
Start by baking your cakes. Preheat the oven to 175°C and set a rack in the middle of the oven. Grease and flour two 21cm round cake tins and place a round of baking paper in the bases.
Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan over a low heat until the butter has just melted, then add the vanilla, set aside and keep warm.
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder in a mixing bowl and whisk a few times to combine and get rid of any lumps.
In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip your eggs and yolks with the sugar on high speed until ribbons form. The eggs should have significantly lightened in colour, tripled in size and, when you pull the whisk out of the mixture, it should briefly leave a ribbon on the surface before falling into the mixture.
Fold one-third of the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, then alternate adding the warm butter and milk mixture and the egg mixture to the dry ingredients until everything is light, fluffy and combined. Folding gently is key here; you want as much air in the mixture as possible.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared tins and bake for 30 minutes until the cakes are set, springy and bouncy, and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tins on a wire rack.
Next, poach your kumquats. This can be done days in advance and refrigerated. Slice the kumquats, skin and all, as thinly and evenly as possible, and remove any seeds.
Combine the sugar with 150ml water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the kumquat and poach gently over a medium heat for 7–10 minutes until the fruit is slightly more tender and softened.
Set aside to cool in the liquid.
For your custard, combine the cornflour, egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk until lightened and the sugar has dissolved.
At the same time, heat your milk, vanilla bean and a pinch of salt in a saucepan over a medium–low heat. Stir every so often with a spatula to make sure the bottom isn’t catching.
Once small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan, the milk is hot enough. Begin ladling a small amount of the hot milk mixture into the eggs while whisking at the same time. Once you have ladled about half the milk into the eggs, pour everything back into the saucepan. Place over a low heat and stir with a spatula until the mixture is thickened and bubbling.
Once it is bubbling, allow it to bubble for another full minute. The cornflour doesn’t activate until it has reached a certain temperature, and don’t worry about the eggs curdling either; the starch deactivates the proteins in the eggs that coagulate at high temperatures.
Remove the vanilla bean, as it should have done its job by now, and pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into another bowl.
At this stage, add the Cointreau and whisk to combine. Cover the bowl with a piece of baking paper so a skin doesn’t form as the custard cools. Set aside. Once cooled, lightly whip the cream in another bowl and fold this into the custard. Transfer the mixture to piping bags, or just cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
To prepare the mousse, heat the chocolate with the orange zest in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Once melted, set aside.
In one bowl, whip your egg yolks by hand until light and fluffy.
In another bowl, whip the whites to soft peaks. If using dark chocolate, add the extra sugar to your egg whites during the whipping process. The sugar will dissolve and create more stability in the mix if added towards the middle instead of at the beginning.
To put everything together, fold the yolks into the chocolate, followed by the whites. Once you have folded in the whites, whip the cold cream to soft peaks in the same bowl used for the egg whites.
Finally, fold this into the chocolate mix gently and set aside. For ease, I suggest putting the mousse into a piping bag for assembling the trifle later, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
To assemble, spoon one-third of the custard into the bottom of a trifle bowl. Next, add a layer of cake (aim to use a trifle dish the same diameter as your cakes, but if the size isn’t quite right, just break up the cake and add it in one tight layer).
Spoon half the Cointreau onto the cake, then add another one-third of the custard. Sprinkle half the poached kumquat on top of this. Next, pipe on a layer of mousse, starting from the outside working your way in.
Repeat the layers with the remaining cake, Cointreau, custard, kumquats and mousse. At this stage, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. An hour before you want to serve your trifle, remove it from the fridge to allow the mousse to soften slightly.
For the final steps, whip the cream with the sugar until soft peaks form. Pour that over the trifle and sprinkle the top with cacao nibs and orange zest. Serve immediately.
From Always Add Lemon by Danielle Alvarez (£26, Hardie Grant), out now
Photography: Sam Folan; Benito Martin and Jess Johnson
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.