Recipes to accompany the article on Trifles.
Classic English Trifle
Beginning with two award-winners – Jonathan’ Trifle, which Jane Grigson praised for it’s authentic components, including flour-free custard; and Silvija Davidson’s Slow Food Trifle Tasting winner, which does include flour in its custard but in my view is similarly authentic. These two recipes provide perfect templates for a classic English Trifle.
Jane Grigson writing British Cookery in 1984 gives the trifle recipe from Jonathan’s of Oldbury in Gloucestershire, which won the Trifle Competition organised by the AA in 1983.
Serves 12 (n.b. this quantity needs a really large bowl, half the custard would suffice for a normal bowl depending on dimensions)
Day–old homemade whisked sponge cake made with 2 eggs
4 fl oz cream sherry
2 tbsp brandy
8 eggs yolks
8 tbsps vanilla sugar
1 pint single cream
good raspberry jam
6 oz fresh raspberries
½ pint cream sherry
6 tbsps caster sugar
½ nutmeg, finely grated
juice of ½ lemon
1 pint double cream
Cut the sponge cake into cubes and place in the bottom of a large glass bowl. Pour the sherry and brandy over carefully, so that all of the cake is well soaked but not swilling in liquid.
To make the custard, whisk the eggs and sugar until pale, scald the cream and pour onto the egg mixture, whisking well as you do so. Pour the custard back into the pan and stir over a low heat until the mixture thickens. Allow the mixture to cool until barely tepid before pouring over the sponge. Cover and cool in the fridge until the custard sets. Meanwhile combine all of the syllabub ingredients apart from the cream to allow the flavours time to mingle.
Heat a little raspberry jam so that it can be spread in a thin layer over the custard. Allow a little to trickle down the sides. Cover with fresh raspberries, reserving some to decorate the top.
Add the cream to the rest of the syllabub ingredients and whisk until really thick. Spread over the top of the trifle. Cover and chill for several hours decorating the top with fresh raspberries just before serving.
Silvija Davidson’s Trifle with Mara des Bois Strawberries
This recipe was published in 2006 in the second edition of the late Sarah Freeman’s The Best of Modern British Cookery. We three knew one another through working for Slow Food and Silvija made this trifle for one of the many tasting events that were organised. It was pronounced the very best trifle ever.
For the sponge cake: for a 20cm/8″ cake tin (n.b. this will make twice as much as needed for the trifle)
100g/3½ oz caster sugar
4 large or standard eggs
½ tsp vanilla essence
100g/3½ oz fine plain white flour
Pinch of fine salt
For the custard:
600ml/1 pint single cream or Channel Island milk
1 vanilla pod
6 large eggs
50 g/20z caster sugar
25g/10 sauce flour (or extra fine plain white flour)
½ tsp vanilla extract
For the syllabub:
350ml/12 fl oz double cream
1 organic lemon
60g/2¼ oz caster sugar
100 ml/3½ fl oz Muscat flavoured dessert wine
For the trifle:
25g/10z flaked almonds
50g/2oz Turkish Delight or 2 tsps rosewater (optional)
350g/12 oz jar strawberry conserve
6 tbsps Malaga or sweet sherry
500g/1lb 2 oz Mara des Bois strawberries
150ml/¼ pint strawberry or raspberry coulis, or lightly sweetened purée
20 ratafia biscuits
Crystallized rose petals and mint leaves (optional)
Cake Bake and cool the sponge cake first. It needn’t be stale, but should be cool when used. Butter and flour the cake tin – and base line it too, if possible. Whisk together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla until the mixture is thick and pale, and lifting the whisk leaves a “ribbon” trail. Very gently fold in the flour and salt (superfine flour doesn’t need sifting) until just amalgamated. Tip the mixture into the cake tin, smooth the surface, and bake in a pre-heated oven set to 180˚C, 350˚F, Gas Mark 4 for 30-35 minutes, or until the mixture springs back when pressed in the centre and/or a thin skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool a little in the tin, then turn out on to a wire rack. Remove any backing paper once the cake reaches room temperature.
Custard Heat the milk or cream and vanilla pod in a saucepan until hot, but not boiling. Remove the vanilla pod, and scrape the seeds into the milk. Separate the eggs. Only the yolks are needed for this recipe so keep the whites for a soufflé or meringues. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour, and pour the hot milk or cream over the mixture, continuing to whisk. Return the mixture to the saucepan and stir continuously over a low heat until the mixture thickens, coating the back of a spoon quite thickly. Stir in the vanilla extract and set aside to cool (in a bowl of iced water for speed), stirring or whisking from time to time.
Syllabub Make sure that the cream is very cold. Scrub the lemon, finely grate the zest, and squeeze the juice. Mix together the lemon zest, juice and sugar, ensuring that the sugar dissolves completely and, if possible, set aside for a couple of hours. Stir in the wine. Whisk the cream until it just holds its shape, then whisk in the lemon and wine mixture gently. Keep chilled while assembling the trifle.
Trifle Toast the almonds. Mix the rosewater or Turkish Delight with the conserve if you are using them. Split the cake once vertically and once again horizontally, and sandwich generously with the conserve. Cut to fit the base of your trifle bowl, trying to ensure there are no gaps. Sprinkle with the Malaga or sherry. Cover with strawberries, halving any large ones. Pour over the coulis or purée. Arrange the ratafia biscuits over the strawberries. Spoon the custard mixture on top, smooth the surface, and spoon the syllabub over the custard, swirling it as far as possible. Just before serving, sprinkle with the toasted almonds and any crystallized petals or leaves.
The Trifle can be refrigerated, tightly covered with plastic film, for 24 hours, but decorate just before serving , so that the nuts remain crunchy and there is no colour bleeding from the crystallized leaves.
Elements in Focus
A close-up on some of the constituent parts of a trifle, each of which is very worthy of making in its own right, beginning with Syllabub, then an alternative sponge – Almond Swiss roll with low-sugar. Raspberry Jam.
Elizabeth David’s Everlasting Syllabub
One small glass, or 4 oz of white wine or sherry, 2 tablespoons of brandy, one lemon, 2 oz of sugar, ½ pint of double cream, nutmeg.
The day before the syllabub is to be made, put the thinly pared rind of the lemon and the juice in a bowl with the wine and brandy and leave overnight. Next day, strain the wine and lemon mixture into a large and deep bowl. Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved. Pour in the cream slowly, stirring all the time. Grate in a little nutmeg. Now whisk the mixture until it thickens and will hold a soft peak on the whisk. The process may take 5 minutes; it may take as long as 15. It depends on the cream, the temperature and the method of whisking…The important point is to recognise the moment at which the whisking process is complete.
Katie Stewart’s Strawberries with Syllabub
8 oz strawberries
½ pint double cream
4 oz caster sugar
finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
4 tbsps medium dry sherry
Put the creams, sugar, lemon rind, lemon juice and sherry into a mixing bowl. Beat well until the cream is thick.
Slice the strawberries into 6 serving glasses, reserving 3 for decoration.
Spoon the syllabub onto the strawberries and chill for several hours.
Almond Swiss Roll
This recipe came from Josceline Dimbleby’s Christmas Book and, when flavoured with cocoa powder, forms the basis for a Yule Log. Freshly ground almonds give a more sophisticated flavour, lighter texture and, of course, avoid the gluten in flour. Filled with Raspberry Jam it is my preferred sponge for a trifle.
Swiss Roll Tin (mine is approx 12×10) – greased and lined with parchment
6 medium eggs, separated
5 oz caster sugar
3 oz/75g blanched almonds, ground finely
1½ teasps baking powder
2 tbsps warm water
¼ tsp cream of tartar
Variation: For a chocolate swiss roll add 2 rounded tbsps cocoa powder, sifted, with the other dry ingredients.
Heat the oven to 180˚C.
Whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar until pale and thickened but not stiff. Stir in the ground almonds, baking powder and add water to slacken the mixture.
Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and whisk until stiff. Fold through the egg yolk mixture with a metal spoon. Pour into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes until springy to the touch.
Remove the tin from the oven and leave to cool during which the cake will shrink back slightly from the sides.
When completely cool turn out onto a sheet of greaseproof paper over a clean tea towel. You may need to help the sides away with a knife. Remove the parchment and then roll up the Swiss roll quite tightly using the paper and tea-towel to help. Store in a cool drawer of the fridge overnight.
Raspberry Fridge Jam
Jams that will keep well in the larder need approximately the same weight of sugar as the fruit to be preserved. If you have space to store jam in the fridge you can halve this quantity of sugar. The jam will have a softer set and a fresher taste than conventional jams. Pam Corbin gave this recipe, which she credits to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, in her book Preserves.
Makes 6 x 340g jars
1.5 kg raspberries
750 g jam sugar (with added pectin)
Wash the jars then rinse them in boiling water. Place in a baking tray with a shallow layer of water and put in a low oven (120˚C) whilst you make the jam.
Put half the raspberries in a preserving pan and mash them to release their juice.
Add the rest of the raspberries, leaving them whole, and all of the jam.
Stir over a gentle heat until all of the sugar has dissolved then turn up the heat. As soon as the jam comes to a good rolling boil keep it there for exactly 5 minutes then remove from the heat.
The jam now needs to settle for 5 minutes before potting otherwise all of the pips will rise to the top in the jar. But don’t leave it for longer as to keep everything sterile you also need to pot when everything is hot – not less than 90˚C. Providing this condition has been adhered to the jam will actually keep in a cool place, i.e. a proper larder rather than the fridge, but as soon as it is opened it must be kept in the fridge and used within a matter of days rather than months.
In her book Trifle, Helen Saberi notes that … “Confections resembling, in varying degrees, conventional trifles have sometimes been referred to as “creams”….a main characteristic of anything called Swiss Cream seems to be the presence of lemon and/or lemon rind”. The recipe below by Eliza Acton is an early Victorian and very fine example of Swiss Cream.
Trifles have also inspired many other fine desserts including the family of Tipsy Cakes and the Italian Tiramisù, which could not be ignored here.
Eliza Acton’s Swiss Cream
1 pint rich cream
Juice of 2 lemons plus rind of 1
½ cinnamon stick
4 tsps flour
4 oz macaroons
1-2 oz candied citron
Flavour pleasantly *with lemon rind and cinnamon, a pint of rich cream, after having taken from it as much as will mix smoothly to a thin batter four teaspoonfuls of the finest flour; sweeten it with six ounces of well-refined sugar in lumps; place it over a clear fire in a delicately clean saucepan, and when it boils stir in the flour, and simmer for four or five minutes, stirring it gently without ceasing; then pour it out, and when it is quite cold mix with it by degrees the strained juice of two moderate-sized and very fresh lemons.
Take a quarter of a pound of macaroons, cover the bottom of a glass dish with a portion of them, pour in part of the cream, lay the remainder of the macaroons upon it, add the rest of the cream, and ornament it with candied citron sliced thin.
*The requisite flavour may be given to the dish by infusing in the cream the very thin rind of a lemon and part of a stick of cinnamon slightly bruised, and then straining it before the flour is added.
Katie Stewart’s Coffee Brandy Cake
This, and a Chocolate and Rum flavoured variant, were all the rage when Katie Stewart’s Cookbook was published in 1983. I now recognise it as a variant on the Tipsy Cake theme. Now that I have an espresso machine at home I would use this rather than instant coffee/coffee essence.
6 oz/75g plain flour
2 level tsps baking powder
½ level tsp salt
5 oz/150g soft light brown sugar
6 tbsps corn oil
4 tbsps milk
2 tbsps coffee essence
½ pint/300ml double cream
Toasted flaked almonds, for sprinkling
4 oz/100g granulated sugar
¼ pint /150ml water
2 tsps instant coffee
2 tbsps brandy
Heat the oven to 350˚F/180˚C/Gas mark 4. Grease an 8″/20cm layer cake tin and line with greaseproof paper, then grease the paper. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir in the brown sugar. Separate the eggs, cracking the yolks into a small bowl and the whites into a separate larger bowl. Add the corn oil, milk and coffee essence to the egg yolks and mix with a fork. Add the flour to the mixture and beat with a wooden spoon to make a smooth batter. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form and, using a metal spoon, gently and evenly fold into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and spread level. Place in the centre of the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes.
Put the sugar and water for the syrup into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes to concentrate the flavour. Draw off the heat and stir in the coffee granules and brandy. Prick the surface of the hot cake with a fork or skewer and spoon over the hot syrup. Leave to soak in the tin overnight.
Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Turn the cake onto a serving plate and swirl whipped cream over top and sides. Chill for several hours, then sprinkle with toasted flaked almonds just before serving.
This popular dessert probably originated in Venice although this has been disputed in Siena where an older similar recipe has been found. Nevertheless it was the Venetian reincarnation that bought the dessert international fame. The mascarpone is often beaten with eggs, the yolks first and then the whites whipped and folded through to lighten. Raw egg recipes are not often served nowadays and I have in any case found them unnecessary, preferring instead to lighten the mascarpone with good thick Jersey cream, but if you want to use them, two yolks and one white would be about the right quantity for the recipe below. I now often use mascarpone in place of custard when making a trifle.
3 tbsp vanilla sugar
375g/12 oz mascarpone
1-2 tbsps thick Jersey cream
200 ml/8 fl oz espresso coffee
4 tbsp coffee liqueur (Kahlua or Tia Maria)
30 Savioardi biscuits
1 tbsp cocoa powder
Beat the mascarpone together with the vanilla sugar and sufficient cream to make the mixture easy to spread.
Add the liqueur to the coffee and pour into a bowl large enough to be able to dunk the Savioardi biscuits. Dip each one in briefly, but not for so long it breaks. Use to line the base of 6 individual serving bowls (or one large bowl). Top with the Mascarpone mixture and chill overnight.
Sieve cocoa powder over the top before serving.
Some Seasonal Trifles
I hope all of the forgoing has given you inspiration for trifles – or almost trifles, for every season. Here are a few of my favourite combinations.
Rhubarb & Ginger: Savoiardi or ginger biscuits soaked with rhubarb syrup and Kings Ginger Liqueur, rhubarb fool (made with custard) and ginger syllabub.
Rhubarb and Ginger Trifle
Rhubarb and custard are a classic pairing and so for this trifle the second layer is a rhubarb fool made with custard. Both the sponge layer and the syllabub are flavoured with ginger. Illustrated at the top of this page.
For the rhubarb fool:
1½lb/750g forced rhubarb (prepared weight)
3-4 oz/80-120g Demerara sugar
Juice of half an orange
¾ pt cold custard (made with 4 egg yolks, 1 oz caster sugar, 1 tsp cornflour, ½ pt double cream)
Trifle Sponge/Boudoir biscuits
20 Ratafia biscuits
2 fl oz Kings Ginger Liqueur
2 fl oz rhubarb juice
4 fl oz Ginger Wine
Thinly pared rind and juice of 1 lemon
2 oz caster sugar
2 tbsps ginger syrup
½ pint double cream
2-3 knobs of stem ginger, finely diced
Pistachio nuts to decorate
Cut the rhubarb into lengths of approximately 2″ adjusting for varying thickness of the stems so that all the pieces will take about the same time to cook. Add the sugar, if the rhubarb is very young the lower amount should be sufficient. Squeeze over the orange juice, which should provide enough moisture until the rhubarb starts to release its own juices. I find it cooks more evenly in the oven, at a low temperature of 130˚C. As soon as it is becoming tender remove the pan from the oven and leave it, covered, to continue cooking as it cools. This should keep the delicate pink colour and some texture.
When cold, drain the rhubarb reserving the juice. Put the flesh into a food processor or liquidiser and purée. Fold in the sufficient custard to make a good fool.
Put 2 fl oz of the reserved rhubarb juice in a bowl with an equal quantity of Kings Ginger liquor. Soak trifle sponges and line the base of a trifle bowl with them.
Top the trifle sponges with rhubarb fool and then top this with ratafia biscuits, again pre-whetted in rhubarb juice/Kings Ginger.
Put all of the syllabub, apart from the diced stem ginger, into a large mixing bowl and whisk until the mixture is thick. Now fold through the diced stem ginger and spoon over the ratafias.
Decorate just prior to serving with pistachio nuts that have been roughly crushed to reveal more of their lovely green and pink colour.
Traditional Raspberry: Homemade almond roulade filled with raspberry jam, soaked in sherry and topped with raspberries & syllabub. See recipes for the individual components above.
Orchard Fruit: Amaretti biscuits soaked in rum, apple & quince purée, pears poached in Perry, Perry or Quince Syllabub.
Chocolate & Cherry (Black Forest): Chocolate & almond roulade, spread with Morello Cherry Jam & soaked with Cherry Liquor, Preserved Morello Cherries in mascarpone (or chocolate custard), whipped cream topped with cherries and chocolate shavings. This is illustrated here. Another, “almost-trifle” version is given below:
Gâteau Pavé with Cherries
This is my variation on a Katie Stewart recipe conceived to use some excellent local morello cherries in apple eau-de-vie.
2lb loaf tin
30 sponge fingers
1 bottle of cherries in eau de vie
4 oz icing sugar
8 oz dark chocolate
4 oz unsalted butter
250g mascarpone cream cheese
6 egg yolks
8 fl oz double cream, whipped
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over gently simmering water. Turn off the heat, but leave over the hot water whilst you beat in the egg yolks, one at a time.
Cream the butter with the icing sugar until soft and pale, then beat in the mascarpone cheese and chocolate mixture. Use some of this to cover the base of the loaf tin.
Tip some of the cherry eau-de-vie into a dish wide enough to take the sponge fingers. Soak each sponge finger well, but not so much that it disintegrates. Place the first 15 fingers on top of the chocolate layer in the loaf tin, spread with another layer of chocolate and stoned cherries. Repeat the layers ending with a final layer of chocolate. Cover and chill for several hours, preferably overnight.
Turn the gateau out of the tin and cover with whipped cream before serving. Decorate with chocolate shavings and cherries if desired.