12 February 2012

My English Trifle!

I did it! After so many months of posting mouth-watering recipes and photos (cranachanBakewell tart, and Heavenly, Gooey, Crusty, Saucy, Brit-tastic, Chocolate Pudding to name a few), I finally tried my hand at an authentic British dessert. It was surprisingly easy and oh, so good

This is the fourth year in a row that my brother and I have hosted a "Valentine's Day" party for our friends. Every year we choose a different theme (1970s, 19880s, random holidays), and this year we decided on an international party filled with costumes, decor, food, games, and experiences from all over the world. I dressed as an Englishwoman (of course), specifically a Regency Era lady. My brother was a Greek fisherman, and our friends were everything from Swedes to a French mademoiselle to Kimono-wearing Japanese siblings. We had so much fun with our party activities, but one of the highlights was the food. Swedish meatballs, Japanese rice, Dominican pollo guisado...it was awesome; but in my opinion the English trifle took the cake.

When  we decided to make an English trifle I wanted to do it right--the authentic British way. Of course there are many variations on the trifle (which is basically cake, cream, custard, and berries or jam), but the recipe I chose seemed to blend the best of everything.

While not from a British recipe per se, this sponge cake Mom made is very traditional. You could also use pound cake, but this was slightly more "nutritious".

You could make raspberry trifle, and I've seen a recipe that calls for peaches, but we decided on good, old-fashioned strawberries. The recipe doesn't call for it, but we took the liberty of sprinkling them with a liberal amount of sugar :)

There's a funny story behind the custard! I found tons of triflerecipes that almost required you to use Bird's custard powder, but I thought, "Yeah right, where am I going to find that?" So Mom was great enough to make some delectalicious custard from scratch.

A few days later we're at an African store looking for halwo and what should we see on the shelf? Bird's custard powder! I was so glad that we didn't have enough homemade custard to cover the whole trifle, so we had to add a bit of this.

Once all of the ingredients were made it was time to assemble the trifle. This is the first step: covering the bottom of a trifle dish with the sponge cake (of course we had to sample the cake to make sure it was good).

Then I smeared sugary strawberry mush over the cake. A really authentic trifle would include lots of sherry at this point, but we were having a party full of underage kids and alcohol didn't sound like a good idea. Next time though....

Then I drenched the top of that with custard--

 --and then another layer of sponge cake (leftovers!)--

--and then more strawberries and custard on top of that.

You can see the final whipped cream layer in the first picture, surmounted by a valiant little flag declaring the dish's country of origin. Does anyone know if trifles are uniquely English? It seems like other countries might have come up with this idea as well...but I'll bet nobody else uses Bird's custard powder!

Here is the recipe I used, by no means definitive, but absolutely delicious.  It comes from Elaine Lemm over at britishfood.about.com.

Traditional Sherry Trifle

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves 6

  • 300g/10oz Madeira, sponge or pound cake, halved and cut into thick slices
  • 300g/10 oz fresh strawberries or raspberries, or defrosted frozen
  • 6 tbsp sweet sherry (omit if serving to children)
  • 500ml/ 2 cups thick home made custard following this recipe
  • 500ml/ 2 cups double or whipping cream, softly whipped
  • Handful flaked almonds, toasted
  1. The trifle can be made in one large glass dish or into individual glasses
  2. Line the bottom of the dish or glasses with the cake slices.
  3. Slice the fruit if fresh and reserve a few for decoration (if using frozen, leave whole) then layer the remaining evenly over the cake. Press lightly with a fork to release the juices. Sprinkle with the sherry.
  4. Spoon over the custard, again in a thick layer.
  5. Finish with a thick layer of whipped cream either spooned over or piped using a piping bag.
  6. Decorate with strawberry slices or raspberries and toasted, flaked, almonds.


  1. Abby, your trifle looks gorgeous! A big bowl of trifle looks so festive, but I usually make individual trifles. Once you start serving the big one, it can get looking very messy! I never use Bird's, but it's good that you were able to try it. Bet it didn't compare with your mother's homemade. I always make my own. It's quite easy really. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you so much, Jean! That means a lot coming from a great cook like you.

      There is a certain charm to something homemade, but I'm not sure that it outweighs the charm of Bird's being authentically British ;)


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