What is Trifle?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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We have the British to thank for the decadent-looking dessert called a trifle. This dish is similar to its smaller cousin, the parfait, in the sense that both use layers of fruit, cake, custard and whipped cream. A traditional English trifle, however, is meant for decoration as much as for consumption, meaning it quite often appears as a centerpiece on formal dinner tables. In fact, many of the more elaborate recipes are meant to be served in specially designed trifle bowls. These bowls are considerably oversized, resembling large brandy snifter glasses.

A traditional English trifle uses cubes of stale sponge or pound cake, which may later be soaked in alcoholic sherry or port wine. Non-alcoholic fruit juices may be used as substitutes. These cubes are layered with fruit compotes or jams in the bowl. A form of vanilla custard may also be mixed into the layers — some recipes call for very firm or solidified custard. Nuts or layers of whipped cream may be added for variety. The cook should continue to build up the trifle until the bowl has been filled completely.


Over time, numerous variations on the original trifle theme have become popular. Some recipes call for chocolate or other flavors of cake as a substitute for the stale pound or sponge cake. The flavor of the custard may also be changed to complement the flavor of the cake. It is not unusual to see mixed berries or other fresh fruits replace the jams.

A trifle may no longer be featured as a centerpiece for the dining table, but it does make an impression on the dessert table. It is usually served with the aid of a large serving spoon and individual bowls. There's usually no need to make very deep cuts into the dessert, since all of the ingredients are present throughout the dish in multiple layers.


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Post 3

One variation that can work for fancy dinner parties is to make individual trifles in glasses. It might seem like extra work, but it's not all that different from making one big trifle, since you don't need bowls and people will just eat straight from the cup.

You can make a fairly easy trifle recipe this way as well, using just a few layers since you don't have to worry about distributing the layers properly or anything. Even just a bit of cake, some custard, some fruit and some whipped cream will do and you've got some very fancy looking desserts.

Post 2

@Mor - Honestly, cheesecake trifle is the most delicious pudding ever. I've only had it once or twice at a friend's house, but I always embarrass myself by going back for thirds and fourths.

And they make it look pretty by using berries around the sides of a special glass bowl. I don't know if it looks elegant, but it is certainly striking.

Post 1

I've never thought of the trifle as something that could be decorative, to be honest. I've always seen it as a kind of messy dessert, because it is topped by cream and, once you start scooping into it, it often turns into a soup of different ingredients, rather than remaining in layers.

But I looked up a few trifle recipes and I am amazed at how pretty they can look if you take the time to make sure you use a lot of care with the layers.

I think my family mostly makes it because you can add alcohol to it!

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