How to make a trifle fit for Christmas – recipe

Trifle is that rare and sparkling unicorn: an easy, make-ahead dessert that looks fabulous and tastes even better. You can keep it as simple as you like, with bought cake and custard, plus a layer of jarred fruit, or go all out with this festively spiced version using seasonal citrus and ginger cake, all on a layer of fruity, mulled wine jelly.

Prep 25 min
Infuse 30 min
Cook 30 min
Cool 3 hr+
Serves 8-10

For the jelly
750ml fruity red wine
6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
5 cardamom pods
, bruised
200g caster sugar
8 gelatine leaves
 (or agar agar, prepared according to packet instructions, if you want to the trifle to be vegetarian)
1 ginger loaf cake (see step 3)
2 tbsp Cointreau (or other citrussy alcohol; optional – see step 7)
5-6 clementines, or tangerines or similar
500ml whipping or double cream, to top
Halved marrons glacés (candied chestnuts) and long strips of candied citrus peel, to decorate (optional – see step 9)


For the custard (or use 1 litre ready-made or Bird’s)
1 litre whole milk
2 whole eggs
6 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
80g cornflour
½ tsp almond essence
 (or 1 vanilla pod or other flavouring)

1 Mull the wine


Felicity Cloake’s trifle 01. Mull wine.

Put the wine and spices in a large saucepan (if you’d like to keep the trifle alcohol-free, replace the wine with grape juice, in which case you’ll probably want to reduce the sugar content later, too). Bring to a simmer, turn down the heat and leave to infuse for about 30 minutes.

2 Make the jelly

Felicity Cloake’s trifle 02. Make the jelly. Bowl of red liquid stage.

Strain out the spices by passing the wine through a sieve, then return it to the pan with 100ml water and bring back to a simmer. Stir in the sugar until dissolved, and take off the heat. Soak the gelatine in cold water until pliable, then wring out and whisk into the wine. Pour through the sieve into a 20cm or so glass serving bowl and leave in a cool place or in the fridge for three or four hours, until set firm.

3 Top with the cake and add booze

Felicity Cloake’s trifle stage 3. Slice the cake and put in a bowl.

Slice and arrange the cake on top of the jelly, cutting it as necessary to cover – you could use trifle sponges, boudoir biscuits, panettone, stollen or plain madeira or sponge cake here, if you prefer.

Felicity Cloake’s trifle 06. Pour booze on top of cake layer.

Sprinkle with the triple sec (other citrussy liqueurs would be excellent alternatives, as would amaretto, or the traditional sherry, or a fruit juice or syrup).

4 Lay the sliced citrus on top

Peel five clementines and cut them into horizontal slices.

Felicity Cloake’s trifle 04a. Lay the citrus on top of the boozy cake layer.

Arrange these standing up on one edge all around the inside of the bowl, pressing them against the glass so they stick.

Felicity Cloake’s trifle 4b. Another  picture of laying the citrus on top, but at a slightly later stage.

Fill the middle of the bowl with more clementine slices, peeling and slicing more fruit as necessary, until the cake layer is completely covered.

5 Start on the custard

This custard is a thick creme patissiere, so if you’d prefer it runnier, halve the amount of flour. Equally, if you have a sweet tooth, add 25g more sugar. Put the milk in a large saucepan and bring to a bare simmer (add a split vanilla pod if you want to make vanilla custard).

Felicity Cloake’s trifle 5: whisking eggs, sugar, flour ...

Meanwhile, whisk the whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a large heatproof bowl, then whisk in the flour.

6 Finish the custard

Felicity Cloake’s trifle STAGE 6. Pour about a third of the milk into a heatproof bowl, whisking vigorously as you go, then pour this mixture back into the milk pan, whisking the contents as you do so.

Pour about a third of the milk into the egg bowl, whisking vigorously as you go, then pour this mixture back into the milk pan, whisking as you do so.

Felicity Cloake’s trifle7. Put custard on a low heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the custard comes to the simmer – any lumps should disappear as you continue to beat the custard.

Put on a low heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the custard comes to the simmer – any lumps should disappear as you continue to beat it.

7 Leave the custard to cool

Simmer, still whisking, until thick; add the almond essence, if using (vanilla extract or orange blossom water would also be nice here, as would a grating of nutmeg), and taste and adjust for sweetness. Once the custard is school-dinners consistency, take off the heat and leave to cool slightly, stirring regularly to prevent a skin forming.

8 Top with cream

Pour the tepid custard over the layer of sliced fruit, level it out and leave it to cool and set a little.

Felicity Cloake’s trifle 8. Pour custard on fruit.

Put the cream in a large, clean bowl, and whisk until it forms soft, floppy peaks.

Felicity Cloake’s trifle 9. Pip or dollop  cream on custard.

Spoon in billowing clouds on top of the custard layer, cover and chill (if the trifle is hard to fit in the fridge with the cream on top, whip and top with the cream only just before serving).

9 Finishing touches

Felicity Cloake’s trifle stage 10. Arrange candied peel and nuts on top.

When you’re ready to serve, arrange the marrons glacés, if using, in an evenly spaced circle around the edge of the trifle, then stack the candied peel in a nest in the centre (if you do this any earlier, you risk them bleeding into the cream and discolouring it). Other good toppings include crumbled amaretti, toasted flaked almonds or the classic angelica and silver balls.


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