Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Gooood! (English Trifle)

If you can hear the word "Trifle" and not think of that episode of "Friends" where Rachel makes a traditional English Trifle which includes a layer of lady fingers, a layer of jam, fresh custard - which she made from scratch - and ground beef mixed with peas and onions, well then I don't even know what to do with you.  Here... watch it and then we can proceed.

Done?  Ok, let's go.

Since both my sister and I got married in 2010, we had to do some finagling with our family's holiday celebration schedule.  We knew one thing, that we wanted to make sure that we still got to celebrate our holidays together so we proposed an alternating schedule with our husbands' families.  In 2010, we celebrated Thanksgiving with our respective in-laws and Christmas with our family.  This means that in 2011, we celebrated Thanksgiving with our family and Christmas with the in-laws.  My mother does not react well to this situation.  So in an effort to appease everyone, we agreed that we would gather at my parents house to celebrate Christmas on the 26th.

I of course volunteered to bring the dessert.

And since December 26th is celebrated as Boxing Day in Great Britain, I decided to make a Traditional English Trifle as our dessert.

My mom used to make trifle for parties in the late 80s and I will never forget the joy of seeing that trifle bowl on the table and knowing that I would get to snag a few scraps of yellow cake as she cut it up to fit into this tasty layered dessert.  As I progressed into adult life, the thought of yellow cake combined with fruit and whipped cream filled me with great joy.  What I'm saying is, how I haven't made myself a Trifle yet is beyond me.

We're going to start the night before you need the Trifle with a pre-cooked yellow cake.  I used this recipe, but since you are going to cut it up, let it get stale and layer it with delicious jam and cream, you could easily use a boxed mix of your choice.  I baked mine in two round cake pans so that it would fit better into the trifle bowl, but my mom always baked hers in 1/4 sheet pans.  Made for more scraps.  I was always a fan of more scraps.

Cut the cakes into rough squares and lay them out on a baking pan to dry out.

I also went ahead and put the first layer into the trifle bowl.  I used the curved edges along the border so that each layer will fully show from the outside.  I then filled in the center with a random center piece.  

See how the layer is nice and even and the edges all touch the glass?  That is why I chose to use round cake pans.  Now you could be asking, why didn't I just use cake pans the size of the trifle bowl for a solid layer?  Well there are three main reason: a) The trifle bowl gets a bit wider as it goes up, so that would have required three different size pans; 2) You actually want the grooves and breaks between the pieces for the jam to settle in; d) 8" pans are what I had, so 8" pans are what I used, done and done.

Next grab your closest bottle of booze.  The traditional choice is cooking sherry but I had brandy on hand from some sangria we'd made at the end of the summer.  So brandy is what I used.  Pour some into a small cup and grab a pastry brush.

Apply the brandy over the cake pieces with the brush.  You can go as heavy or as light as you are comfortable with.

Finally, place clean dish towels over the soaked cake pieces and let them sit over night.  This will allow the alcohol to evaporate and for the flavor to settle in.

While the cake is setting, we're going to move on to the custard.  For my Trifle, I decided I didn't want a super custard-ey filling, instead I opted to use a light and delicious pastry cream.  Because I can.

Start by bringing milk and 1/4 cup of sugar to a simmer over medium heat.

When the milk and sugar have come to a simmer, add some vanilla bean paste.  Give it a gentle stir and remove the pot from the heat.


Meanwhile, combine another 1/4 cup of sugar with 6 egg yolks.

Whisk them together until they are light yellow and frothy. 

Add in the flour and whisk just to combine.

Next, we need to temper the eggs by adding 1/2 cup of the milk mixture into the egg mixture all the while whisking swiftly.

Whisk for one minute to full combine the milk with the eggs.

Finally, pour the egg mixture into the pan containing the rest of the milk mixture and return it to medium heat.

Using a spatula, gently stir the cream for about a minute until it fully thickens to the point where you can dip a small metal spoon into the cream and it doesn't drip.

Remove the cream from the heat, add in the butter and stir until it is all melted and combined.  Avoid the temptation to lick the spoon and then finish off the potful of this sweet and delicious cream.

Pour the cream into a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap pressed right up against the top so that a skin doesn't form.  Put the bowl in the refrigerator and let it chill over night.

Fast forward to the next day, it is time to assemble.

Start by pulling the cream out of the refrigerator and giving it a gentle stir.  Next, pour a jar of seedless raspberry jam into a bowl and give it a stir to smooth it out.

To assemble, spread some of the jam over the first layer of cake.  Make sure to spread all the way to the outside so that you'll see all the layers from the side.  Also make sure to fill in all the gaps in the middle.

Next, layer on a third of the cream.

On top of the cream, add another layer of cake.  

Lather, rinse, repeat for three total layers. 

Cover the top layer with plastic wrap - once again pressed into the cream to keep a skin from forming - and place it in the refrigerator until it is time for the party. 

When you are ready to serve, top the Trifle with some fresh whipped cream just to the top of the bowl. 


To serve, spoon out pieces and enjoy.

Shopping List for Traditional English Trifle - Serves about 20 people

  • Cooked Yellow Cake
  • Cooking Sherry or Brandy to Taste
  • 12oz Seedless Raspberry Jam
  • Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream
    • 2 Cups Milk
    • 1/2 Cup Sugar (divided)
    • 1 Tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
    • 6 Egg Yolks
    • 4 Tablespoons Flour
    • 4 Tablespoons Butter (regular salted stuff)


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Marie! I had dreams of that pastry cream last night.

  2. From the title I thought you were going to put meat in there, and that sounded...interesting. Then I remembered the Friends episode.

    1. Haha. That would taste like feet (per Ross)