Sunday Spring Cleaning: Trifle

spring-cleaning1OK, so I know it’s Tuesday, not Sunday.  But I was away visiting friends for the weekend, and anyway, last week was rough in my kitchen.  No cooking other than lots and lots of cake…  (Also, I apologize for the lack of pretty pictures, but I still don’t have my camera back from Kami’s birthday party).

Trifle is another of those things for which about a billion recipes exist.  There are many good things about trifle: it’s truly quick & easy (as opposed to those “quick & easy” recipes that find me swearing in my kitchen, covered in flour and/or batter, vowing that I’m going to give up this whole cooking thing and next time just buy Entemman’s); it can be very casual and down-home (for those relatives or friends who roll their eyes over your warm fig and raspberry tart with marsala sabayon), or you can dress it up with gourmet ingredients and fancy presentation; the basic recipe is very flexible, hence you can feed an army, or make single-serving sizes for an intimate dinner for two; trifle is one of the few desserts that is easy to make completely local, with homemade sugarless jam or fresh fruit, honey as a sweetener for whipped cream or cookies, and local sweet wine or homemade raspberry cordial.  But the best thing about trifle?  It’s perfect for cleaning out the fridge!  Say you have some one or two-day old cake, a box of going-stale Nilla wafers, or I don’t know, maybe 6 or 7 overbaked, dense & dry cake layers on hand.  Say also that there is an inch or two of cognac that’s been gathering dust in the liquor cabinet, a little less than a cup of heavy cream that needs using, but isn’t really enough for a recipe, a half-jar of peach preserves that been living in the door of your fridge for far too long.  Hey, presto!  You’ve got trifle.  If you get truly ambitious, you can make individual serving sizes and spring-clean lots of tiny little bits of jam or fruit preserve, the odd tablespoon of Kahlua or creme de cassis, the last piece of pound cake and a few broken ladyfingers.  The trifle is limited only by your imagination.

A trifle is infinitely flexible, and the amounts really depend on the size of your bowl or dish, the amount of people you are serving, and the amount of ingredients you have on hand.  Large trifles are usually served in a straight-sided glass bowl, so that people can see (and ooh and ahh over) all the pretty layers.  I don’t have one of these trifle bowls, so if I make a large trifle, I usually make it in a pretty ceramic bowl or sometimes one layer in a deep-dish pie plate.  Individual-sized trifles can be made in wine glasses, champagne flutes, small glass bowls, footed desserts bowls, pint glasses; really, anything glass will do.  (Bear in mind that people will be eating out of the glass with a spoon, so perhaps not the best use of your Riedel collection).  A trifle is also generally considered to be a lighter dessert; fruit, whipped cream, some sort of yellow or white cake.  While there are chocolate trifles, I always prefer the simple fruit-and-whipped-cream variety, especially in Spring, when we all seem to want to lighten up, and need a break from the heavy, rich food of winter.

I’ve listed below a “recipe” for the trifle that I just put together, based on some things that I needed to clear out of the fridge. I’ve also listed some other flavor combinations that may surface in my kitchen over the next few weeks (did I mention the 6 or 7 cake layers to use up?).  The amounts are there as a guideline; really, let you imagination run wild and pile in whatever you think will taste good.  As long as you don’t add ground beef, it’s hard to go wrong.

For more Sunday Spring Cleaning recipes, click here.


Everyday Trifle


  • 1 8- or 9-inch cake layer (over-cooked or day-old cake works well)
  • 1/4 cup Chambord or other berry-flavored liqueur
  • 1/2 cup strawberry puree and/or strawberry jam
  • about 1 cup heavy cream, for whipping
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp sugar or honey
  • about 1/2 cup Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
  • fresh berries, for garnish


  1. Add the cream, vanilla and sugar to the bowl of a small food processor or mini-prep.  Turn on and process for about 1 minute, or until you see the cream thicken and begin to slow down in the bowl.  Watch very carefully, because if you let it go too long, you will end up with butter instead of whipped cream.  Taste, and adjust vanilla and sugar if necessary. Alternatively, you can whip the cream in a high-sided bowl with a hand mixer, or in the bowl of a KitchenAid or stand mixer (although this takes longer, it does make airier, fluffier whipped cream.  I don’t find the fluffiness necessary for this recipe, as it will get weighed down with other ingredients anyway).
  2. Chop the cake layer into chunks roughly 2 inches square (or smaller if you are making individual portions).  Layer cake pieces along the bottom of a bowl or glass. Squish the cake pieces down a little bit so that they touch and cover the bottom of your bowl.
  3. Drizzle some of the Chambord over the cake pieces.  Depending on how dry you cake is, and how many layers you plan on making, use about 1/4 to 1/2 of the total volume of liqueur.
  4. Next spoon on top the strawberry puree or jam (I used a combination of both).  If you don’t have enough to do an entire, even layer, simply dot the fruit throughout the dish; it will all blend as it sits in the fridge. 
  5. Next add a layer of whipped cream. Again, use 1/4 to 1/2 of the total amount, depending on how many layers you plan on making.
  6. Begin with another layer of cake, then fruit puree, then whipped cream, etc., until you’ve used up all of your supplies (and/or reached the top of the bowl).
  7. Top with the strawberry frosting.  Store refrigerated for 8 – 24 hours.  The trifle gets better as it sits, as the cake absorbs the alcohol and the flavors blend. 
  8. Just prior to serving, top with fresh berries, and maybe a sprig of mint, as garnish. 

Serves 4 to 6.


  1. Endless, but here are a few ideas, based upon what is kicking around in my pantry. The assumption is that any leftover cake, muffin or cookie will work as a base:
    • Peach rum sauce, Captain’s Morgan spiced rum, whipped cream with a bit of whole vanilla bean scraped in, a bit of cinnamon & cocoa powder sprinkled on top as garnish
    • Blackberries (thawed from frozen), with blueberry vodka and lemon curd
    • Pumpkin butter, dulce de leche and whiskey, and whipped cream, garnished with a drizzle of dulce de leche and a sprinkle of cinnamon
    • Peach almond conserve, Amaretto, red raspberries (thawed from frozen), and whipped cream, garnished with toasted, slivered almonds


Should keep well in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.


Year-round, although Spring and Summer seem the traditional time for trifle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: