7 Recipes for a Perfect Holiday Trifle

Grand Raspberry Trifle

Grand Raspberry Trifle / Martha Stewart Living

It’s the holidays! Which means it’s time for impressive desserts, like trifles and Christmas pudding. I broke out Nigella Lawson‘s How to Be a Domestic Goddess for info and inspiration. But when I read the first line of the section — “I came to trifle relatively late in life, which is probably just as well.” — I knew I needed guidance from another source.

So I turned to our British friend, Helen — smart, funny, and never without an opinion, I knew she could help explain the various layers of complicated feelings around this traditional English dessert. Here’s what she had to say — plus, of course, some recipes.

So, trifles — what’s the deal? Why are they such popular Christmas desserts in England?

They’re impressive — trifle counts as an “occasion” dessert, but it’s easier than a Christmas pudding.

Christmas pudding is very involved?

Oh, God, yes! It takes months! You have let it stew in alcohol for ages. My family would buy one that came in a ceramic basin and you’d boil it for hours and then put in coins and charms and whoever finds them has good luck. Then when you serve it, you douse it in brandy and flame it. I don’t think people make their own anymore.

I know you’re not really a fan of trifle, and Nigella doesn’t seem to be, either. Why not?

That’s where class comes in. It’s so British! In nice homes, you would never have it, you’d have Christmas pudding. When you say trifle, it means — common. I never grew up with them. It’s not a posh thing to do. People like Nigella would think of horrible dry cake soaked in cheap sherry and layered with red Jell-o, mandarin oranges, or pineapple — things from a can — and bright yellow custard. Then topped with candied cherries and maybe sliced almonds.

But made with good, fresh ingredients, a trifle could be nice, right?

Yes, and they look good because of the layering. And a trifle is quick to make even though it’s best to let the boozy cake soak overnight. But you need a real trifle bowl — a large glass dish with deep sides. That’s the essence of it all. It can involve any kind of cake, but lady fingers are often used in England. Pound cake works, too. Then you pour alcohol over, add jam and fruit, and put whipped cream on top.

Nigella‘s Easy Holiday Trifle — with dried apricots, pistachios, and Greek yogurt — seems to be popular….

I don’t know, dried apricots — seems like chewiness might be an issue! It’s about texture — you want it to be soft. Something light and soft — like raspberries — may be better. You want to avoid a really “solid” feeling — trifle should be an antidote to Christmas pudding, which is dense. And make the alcohol nice alcohol!

Thanks, Helen!

Alcohol, by the way, may be traditional, but isn’t mandatory. There are tons of recipe variations out there. And, sans alcohol, the kids are bound to love it — cake + custard + fruit and whipped cream = way kid-friendly.

Here are a few that sound worth trying if you’re feeling in the trifle way this holiday season.

Raspberry and Lemongrass Trifle

Cranberry Cognac Trifle

Almond Sherry Christmas Trifle

Poached Pear and Raspberry Trifle

Easy Holiday Trifle

Grand Raspberry Trifle (pictured)


Our “Trip” to England, Complete with Super-Fast Mini Pear and Raspberry Trifles

3 Responses to “7 Recipes for a Perfect Holiday Trifle”

  1. 1 foodelf December 8, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Oh dear, I think there’s a serious misunderstanding here. Nigella’s remarks “I came to trifle relatively late in life, which is probably just as well.” meant that she was sorry not to have tried it sooner, not that she didn’t like it as this post seems to imply.

    As an ex-pat Brit, I can certainly assure you that trifle is definitely not regarded as common – although there are versions which do deserve that label and those are the ones which include jello/jelly and canned products as mentioned above.

    I think it’s one of those dishes/recipes about which everyone has fairly strong feelings, like Shepherd’s Pie. I remember witnessing a Canadian woman berating a counter-person at a high-end store which sold its own because her husband insisted that it wasn’t authentic … I can’t remember if it was missing peas or didn’t have carrots – whatever – there’s really no such thing as an authentic one.

    Similarly an authentic trifle … but those that are done well are terrific and it’s no coincidence that it’s practically the first thing to go at a holiday dessert table.’

    See what you’ve done? Now I really, really need trifle.

  2. 2 Melisa December 8, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Hi foodelf, Sorry for any confusion! Of course I have no idea what exactly Nigella really meant by that remark, only that it implied to me — there’s more involved here than, trifle is a great dessert and you should make one tonight! As you say, Brits tend to have certain feelings about certain foods — everything’s a bit complex. Anyhow, I’m glad you found us — and now I want trifle, too! Hope the recipes above will inspire you as they have me.


  3. 3 Paula/adhocmom December 9, 2010 at 9:05 am

    Nigella’s HOW TO EAT is one of my all time favorite cookbooks. It’s her first – no fancy pictures. I’ve learned everything from better roasted potatoes to spaghetti carbonara in this book. It’s the kind of book where if you don’t have any food in the house – you’ll be able to find a few great ideas. I’ve given it as a gift about a billion times.

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