Summer Recipes: Caz's Traditional English Trifle

IMAG0018With everybody submitting mouth-watering savoury recipes, I thought I would contribute a traditionally English quick and easy dessert idea.

Trifle is a huge favourite here in the UK, and the first known recipe for it appeared in the 1590s, when it consisted of a thick, flavoured cream.

Nowadays, it’s more usually made up of a layer of sponge cake soaked in sherry or other alcoholic beverage of choice (although it’s fine without, too!), covered in jelly (which I believe is known as “jello” across the pond), custard and topped with whipped cream.

That’s normally the variety I make, but the one I’ve given the recipe for here is slightly different in that it doesn’t include the jelly, which makes it a bit faster to put together.


  • 4oz sponge cake (preferably a bit dry!)
  • 4 tablespoons of sherry or madeira (I also find that Amaretto or Cointreau work well)
  • <i>For the custard</i>
  • ½ pint of Single Cream
  • 6 fl oz milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 oz caster sugar
  • 1 level tablespoon cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

For the apricot purée:

  • 15 oz can of apricot halves
  • 1 level tablespoon apricot jam

NB, for the trifle pictured, I used twice these amounts because of the size and shape of the dish.

For the syllabub

  • 1 pint double cream
  • 6 tablespoons sherry or madeira (or whatever you like!)
  • 2 oz caster sugar
  • Finely grated rind and juice of one orange
  • 4 oz ratafia biscuits.  If you can’t get these, amaretti biscuits work just as well.


Bring the single cream and milk to boiling point in a saucepan.  Meanwhile, blend the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla essence and cornflour together in a bowl then pour the hot milk and cream over it, stirring all the time.  Return the mixture to the pan and heat gently, stirring until the sauce has thickened.  Return mixture to the bowl and leave to cool, placing a piece of wet greaseproof paper over the top to prevent a thick skin forming.

Drain the apricots and then add them and the jam to a food processor, or use a hand blender to blend until smooth.

Whisk together the cream, sherry, sugar, orange rind and juice until the mixture stands up in soft peaks.

To assemble the trifle

Place the crumbled sponge in the bottom of your serving dish and sprinkle over the sherry or whatever you’ve chosen. (Orange juice would be a good substitute if you don’t want to use alcohol).

Spoon the cooled custard over the trifle sponges, then arrange the ratafia (or amaretti) biscuits on top.  Spoon the apricot purée over the biscuits and then top with the syllabub.  If you want, you can decorate the top with glacé fruit or nuts.

You can make this up to 24 hours in advance, which will give a chance for the flavours to develop and mingle and for the ratafia or amaretti to soften up.  The whole thing is a bit runnier than the normal jelly-based trifle, but it’s just as tasty!

– Caz AAR


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12/07/2015 8:05 am

Thanks for posting! :)

12/02/2015 11:08 am

thanks for posting.

07/31/2013 9:47 am

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07/20/2013 11:06 am

Oh my. That does sound mouth watering. The closest thing I’ve ever made is an extremely lazy Americanized version where you poke holes in a cooled cake and pour jello over it all before frosting.

maggie b
maggie b
07/18/2013 9:54 am

This looks really, really delicious. I love trifle. For American cooks I did some research on single and double cream and found this at Ochef.com

Double cream is the name in Britain for a very rich cream — containing 48% butterfat. Whipping cream in this country, by contrast, contains between 30% and 40% butterfat. Single cream in Britain is comparable to American half and half (and may also be called pouring cream), with between 10% and 12% fat.

Caster sugar is a sugar with superfine grain. If you can’t find it at a baking shop it can be made in a food processor http://candy.about.com/od/ingredientguides/ht/How-To-Make-Superfine-Sugar.htm

Reply to  maggie b
07/18/2013 3:45 pm

Thanks for the “translations”, Maggie. It never ceases to amaze me that we don’t even call cooking ingredients by the same names, or measure them in the same way! I have the same problems trying to convert American recipes from “cups” to ounces or grammes!

If you make it – I hope you enjoy it! It’s a bit runnier than the normal variety because it doesn’t have the jelly, but it still tastes great :)