English Holiday Trifle

December 2022 View more

By Kelli Ra Anderson

English Holiday Trifle

The decadent, historically “tipsy” trifle customarily served at British tables each Christmas dates back more than 400 years and also was a seasonal favorite of Queen Elizabeth II during her 70-year reign.

Its colorful presentation in the traditional trifle bowl, with its tall glass sides elevated on a pedestal, is traditionally filled with delicious layers of creamy custard, whipped cream, an assortment of fresh fruits, and sponge cake doused in syrups and liqueurs. It’s a winning combination whose endless modern variations (including premade components and/or dietary substitutions) have stood the test of time for royals and the rest of us.

Eggs in a mixing bowl

makes 8 to 10 servings

6 eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup raspberry jam
⅔ cup simple syrup (⅔ cup sugar dissolved in ⅔ cup hot water)
Optional: ¼ cup brandy or sweet sherry

1 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line the bottom of a 9-inch, ungreased, springform pan with parchment.

2 In a mixer with whisking attachment, whip the eggs and sugar on medium-high for 8 minutes until pale yellow and triple in volume.

3 Sift flour and salt together and fold into egg and sugar mixture until just combined (do not overmix or the volume will deflate).

4 Remove 1 cup of batter to a bowl, mix in the melted butter, then return it to the mixing bowl, gently folding until combined.

5 Pour batter into the springform pan and bake on the middle rack for 40 minutes (do not open the oven door before 30 minutes). Cake is done when golden and the middle of the cake springs back to the touch.

6 Cool completely before sliding a knife around the edge to release from the pan. Set aside. Simple syrup and liqueurs (if using) will be added later.

Pro tip: The sponge can be frozen weeks ahead but should be baked at least 2 days before serving the trifle. Losing some of its moisture over that period of time helps to prevent sogginess.


Custard in a mixing bowl


2 cups whole milk
2 cups whipping cream
½ cup corn starch
14 tablespoons sugar
12 egg yolks
4 teaspoons of vanilla paste (or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
Pinch of salt

1 Mix the milk and cream in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it reaches 160 to 180 degrees (steaming but not boiling). Stir in vanilla paste or extract.

2 While milk is warming, in a separate bowl whisk together the yolks, cornstarch and pinch of salt until smooth.

3 Remove ½ cup of the heated milk and slowly drizzle it into the yolk mixture while whisking them to combine. Once combined, return the yolk mixture back into the pot, stirring frequently, scraping the bottom of the pan, while simmering over medium heat (do not boil).

4 Continue to stir to prevent lumps until thick (5 to 10 minutes). Remove from heat. Pour into a bowl and press plastic wrap onto the surface to prevent a film from forming. Set aside to cool and refrigerate.

Pro tip: Custard is done cooking when it coats the back of a spoon; draw your finger through it and if it leaves a trail, it’s done.



12 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 pint raspberries, fresh
⅓ cup raspberry jam, warmed

1 After hulling and slicing strawberries, remove 2 cups of the most decorative slices and set aside for lining the trifle bowl for decoration later.

2 In a large bowl, combine 10 of the remaining cups of strawberries with the raspberries. Whisk the warmed jam until smooth and stir into the berry mixture. Set aside for at least 30 minutes before assembling the trifle.



2 cups whipping cream
½ cup confectioners sugar
Optional: 1 tsp. plain gelatin to stabilize the cream for longer-lasting presentation

1 In a mixer with a whisk attachment paddle, whip the cream on high, slowly adding powdered sugar as it thickens to the soft peak stage. (If omitting the gelatin, whisk to the firm peak stage and set aside to chill.)

2 In a separate bowl, mix gelatin powder with 4 teaspoons of warm water until dissolved. Whisk into the whipped cream until it reaches the firm peak stage. Set aside to chill until time to decorate the trifle.

Pro tip: If using the gelatin, any decorative piping will hold shape and last more than 24 hours.


Assembling the dessert


1 Using a long bread knife, slice the sponge cake into three even rounds.

2 Spread a light layer of raspberry jam over one layer, topped with a second sponge layer. Set aside.

3 Cut the third round in half, sandwiching a layer of jam between the two halves.

4 Slice the sponge cakes into finger-sized lengths. Line the bottom of the trifle dish with half of the cakes.

5 Drizzle the top of the cakes with ⅓ cup simple syrup and a light sprinkling of liqueur.

6 Line the edge of the bowl with decorative strawberry slices. Fill it to the top of the slices, half of the fruit filling (strained to remove excess juices).

7 Add a layer of half the custard.

8 Repeat the layers again until custard is near the top of the bowl omitting the liqueur.

9 Chill for 24 hours or overnight before piping the top with whipped cream and decorating with berries the day it is to be served.

Pro tip: Trifle fans know that dishing out portions of this layered dessert into neat servings is virtually impossible (easily forgiven by those who love it). However, creating individual serving glasses is one way to sidestep that difficulty.


Photos courtesy of Foxburrow Media