The Best English Trifle

The Best English Trifle, it’s not an easy sentence for a Scot to type. But I have to concede when it comes to wobbly fruity creamy desserts, my English friends are hard to beat.

This delicious dessert is full of Christmas memories for me. Mainly because that’s the only time it was made in our house, but that’s not to say that’s the only time it should be made. Actually, Mum made two, yes, because I come from a family of what I would call big eaters, other people may say greedy, yes, that too, but also because she made one version for the adults and one for the kids. Which meant one with sherry and one without.

Even as an adult, I still don’t like sherry, so I don’t add it to my trifle. This one has a little nip of alcohol, nothing harsh, just the smooth sweetness of Marsala wine.

This is not my Mum’s recipe, she didn’t have one. She didn’t possess any recipes, except for Sweet and Sour Pork. Being exotic (the recipe, not my mum), that particular recipe hadn’t been handed down from granddad. It came from the collection she saved up for by cutting out coupons on the side of margarine tubs.

Recipe for The Best English Trifle

Preparation Time:  50 minutes plus time for the jelly to set.
Cooking Time: none

Ingredients for 6 to 8 Servings

Layer 1 : The Cake and Jelly Base
400gr / 14 oz. strawberries chopped roughly
3 or 4  tbsp Marsala wine
2  tsp icing sugar
500ml / 1 pt.  (roughly) of strawberry jelly
300gr / 10.5 oz. of a shop bought Swiss roll style cake cut into 1.5cm / 0.6 in. slices

Layer 2: Crème Patissiere
6  large egg yolks
120gr / 4 oz. caster sugar
60gr / 1.7 oz. plain flour
500ml /  1 pt. of whole milk
4 or 5 drops of  vanilla extract
A  little icing sugar

Layer 3: Cream and Decorations
300ml / 10 fl. oz. cream for whipping
Optional – 1 x tbsp Marsala wine to mix into the cream
You can decorate as you wish, but some of my favourite decorations are chopped strawberries, pomegranate seeds or other berries.


The Cake and Jelly Base

  1. To start, the base.  Place the strawberries in a bowl with the icing sugar and 2 x tbsp of the Marsala wine, mix through and  set side to macerate for 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Place your Swiss roll slices evenly and tightly into the bottom of your trifle serving bowl, drizzle over the other 1 or 2 tbsps of Marsala wine.
  3. Make the strawberry jelly as per the instructions on the packet.
  4. Cover the cake with the chopped strawberries, spreading them as evenly as you can.  Pour the jelly over carefully, not too quickly, allowing it to get down into all the nooks and crannies and soak into your cake.
  5. Place the base in the fridge to allow the jelly to set.  Normally this takes about 4 hours.  I very often make the base the day before I plan to serve the trifle.

The Crème Patissiere

  • I tend to make crème patissiere rather than custard as it gives a thicker, stiffer finish.  Custard tends to stay a bit runny, and the trifle collapses after the first spoonful is served.  To start the crème patissiere take an electric whisk and beat the egg yolks in a bowl with about a third of the sugar until the mix becomes pale yellow.
  • Add the flour and whisk until everything is incorporated evenly, no lumps, and the it has thickened a little.
  • Heat the milk in a pan (not a non-stick pan) with the rest of the sugar and the vanilla.  Just as it comes to the boil, remove your pan from the heat and pour about two thirds of the hot milk into your bowl containing the egg and sugar mix.  Stir quickly with a metal hand whisk for a minute then add the rest of the milk and continue stirring quite firmly until everything is smooth and evenly incorporated.
  • Put the pan back on a medium heat and pour your crème patissiere into the pan.  Stir continuously with your metal whisk.  As it thickens you may have to stir quite vigorously.  Let it bubble gently for 2 minutes and then remove from the heat.
  • Sprinkle over a very thin layer of icing sugar and allow your crème patissiere to cool.  The layer of icing sugar prevents the formation of a ‘skin’.
  • Once completely cool it will be quite thick. Spread it over your set jelly base.  Be a bit gentle as you do not want to break the top of your jelly.

Cream Topping and Decorations

  1. Whip your cream with the icing sugar until it becomes stiff and holds its shape.  You can fold through the Marsala at this stage should you wish to use it.
  2. Spread the cream over the crème patissiere layer.  I like to do this very roughly, not smooth, lots of peaks and bumps makes it look attractive.
  3. Sprinkle over your berries and decorations.

Tips and Variations

  • You can of course make your own jelly using gelatin sheets, and add fresh flavours.
  • I like to keep it simple by using shop bought Swiss Roll, but of course you can make your own cake.  Simple ones work best, like Madeira cake.  It’s also a great idea to add some of the flavour you are using through your trifle in the cake base.
  • Once you have practiced this a few times you can play around with the fruit flavours to keep it seasonal.
  • If  the crème patissiere is cooled, but not as thick as you would like it, put it on your jelly base and then return it to the fridge for a couple of hours to set it stiffer.

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