Course Dessert
Place of origin England
Main ingredients Sponge cake, custard, fruit, whipped cream

Trifle is an English dessert dish made from thick (or often solidified) custard, fruit, sponge cake (often soaked in sherry or other fortified wine), fruit juice or jelly (gelatin in American English), and whipped cream. These ingredients are usually arranged in layers.


The earliest use of the name trifle was for a thick cream flavoured with sugar, ginger and rosewater, the recipe for which was published in England, 1596, in a book called "The good huswife's Jewell" by Thomas Dawson.[1] Sixty years later eggs were added and the custard was poured over alcohol soaked bread.[2]

Research indicates it evolved from a similar dessert known as a fool or foole, and originally the two names were used interchangeably.[3]

While some people consider the inclusion of jelly to be a recent variation, the earliest known recipe to include jelly dates from 1747, contained in the Art of Cookery authored by Hannah Glasse. In her recipe she instructed using hartshorn or bones of calves feet as the base ingredient for the jelly.[4] The poet Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote of trifles containing jelly in 1861.[5]


Some trifles contain a small (or very large) amount of alcohol such as port, or, most commonly, sweet sherry or madeira wine. Non-alcoholic versions may use sweet juices or soft drinks such as ginger ale instead, as the liquid is necessary to moisten the cake.

One popular trifle variant has the sponge soaked in jelly when the trifle is made, which sets when refrigerated. The cake and jelly bind together and produce a pleasant texture if made in the correct proportions.

The Scots have a similar dish to trifle, Tipsy Laird, made with Drambuie or whisky.[6] In the Southern US, a variant of trifle is known as tipsy cake.

Layers of a trifle dessert.

A trifle is often used for decoration as well as taste, incorporating the bright, layered colours of the fruit, jelly, jam, and the contrast of the creamy yellow custard and white cream. Trifles are often served at Christmas time, sometimes as a lighter alternative to the much denser Christmas pudding.

A Creole trifle (also sometimes known as a 'Russian cake' or a 'Russian Slab') is a different but related dessert item consisting of pieces of a variety of cakes mixed and packed firmly, moistened with alcohol (commonly red wine or rum) and a sweet syrup or fruit juice, and chilled. The resulting cake contains a variety of colour and flavour. Bakeries in New Orleans have been known to produce such cakes out of their leftover or imperfect baked goods. A similar dessert in Germany and Austria goes by the name of Punschtorte.[7]

In Italy, a dessert similar to and probably based on trifle is known as zuppa inglese, meaning English Soup.

See also


  1. ^ Alan Davidson, Tom Jaine (2006). The Oxford companion to food. Oxford University Press, 2006
  2. ^ "Trifle History". What's The Recipe Today. Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  3. ^ "Three British Desserts: Syllabub, Fool and Trifle". Article by Diana Serbe. Retrieved 2010-07-19. 
  4. ^  
  5. ^ "Practically Edible article on Trifle". Practically Edible; The Web's Biggest Food Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-07-19. 
  6. ^ Maw Broon (2007). Maw Broon's Cookbook. Waverley Books; (18 October 2007) ISBN 1-902407-45-8, p111
  7. ^ English Pudding and Punschtortes. Retrieved on 2011-12-04.

External links

  • Time-lapse video of a trifle being constructed