English Christmas Trifle

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Christmas Trifle is a classic English dessert with layers of pound cake, crème anglaise, fresh fruit, and whipped cream. This holiday trifle uses raspberries and poached pears, making it as delicious as it is beautiful.

Christmas trifle with layers of pound cake, custard, raspberries, pears, and whipped cream.

Traditional Christmas Dessert

I have warm memories of Christmases spent in England. We’d drive up from London for a few days to my friend’s family home in North Yorkshire. The dining room was large enough to hold one long table which sat 24 family members and one far-from home expat-Californian.

Mr. R., as the host, wore a smoking jacket and “slippers,“ while all the other men wore dinner jackets with fancy waistcoats. We women wore gowns. Christmas dinner was definitely a black tie affair. It was all very “Downton Abbey!”

In addition to the plum pudding brought to the table soaked in alcohol and set afire, there was a gorgeous Christmas trifle dessert.

Ever since then, Christmas really isn’t Christmas without it. Last year, Mom set the dessert bar even higher when she adapted Emeril Lagasse’s Poached Pear and Raspberry Trifle.

Mom made a few changes. Instead of using a store bought pound cake, she made a gluten-free almond pound cake, (my favorite flavor!) sprinkled with a combination of Amaretto (more almond flavor!) and Marsala. It’s definitely the best Christmas trifle recipe we’ve had yet!

Overhead view of trifle.

How to Make English Christmas Trifle

To make this Christmas trifle recipe, you’ll need the following ingredients:

It’s best to make the pound cake, creme anglaise, and poached pears a day or two in advance. (Check out these step-by-step photos for how to poach pears.)

Assemble the trifle the day you will eat it. Having the ingredients ready means you can put the whole dessert together in less than 30 minutes. The whipped cream should be made just before you plan to use it.

You’ll need a large glass bowl so the layers of the trifle can be seen. You can use a salad bowl, but to make it a real show-stopper, use a glass Christmas trifle bowl.

You will make three layers. Start with about ⅓ of the pound cake and layer it in the bottom of the trifle bowl. Sprinkle the cake with some of the Marsala and Amaretto.

First layer of trifle pound cake.

How do you stop the trifle from going soggy? Make sure your cake pieces are cut thick! 

Next, layer some pears and raspberries on top of the cake. Then pour about 1/3 of the creme anglaise over the fruit. 

Raspberries and pears in a trifle bowl.

Begin again with another layer of pound cake, Marsala and Amaretto, fruit, and custard. Repeat one more time for three layers.

Custard poured on top of the fruit in trifle bowl.

Finish with a thin layer of whipped cream. I use this as a base before I pipe on the rosettes.

Spreading whipped cream on a trifle.

Garnish with more raspberries, toasted slivered almonds and fresh mint.

Putting almonds on a trifle.

Want to simplify this trifle recipe?

I use this gluten-free almond pound cake, but you can use store-bought pound cake and canned pears packed in their own juice for an easy Christmas trifle.

For an easier version of creme anglaise, try Bird’s custard powder. It’s not as fresh tasting and yummy as from scratch, but it’s a classic British ingredient and far easier. Bird’s can be found at most grocery stores or on Amazon

From there, you’ll just need to assemble the trifle. Just don’t cheat on the fresh whipped cream! 

Christmas Trifle topped with whipped cream, raspberries, almonds and fresh mint.

More Christmas Trifle Ideas

There are many ways you can make a trifle. Here are some different ideas for making this special dessert:

  • Peppermint Bark Trifle with brownies, candy canes, and shaved white chocolate
  • Banana Trifle with bananas, banana pudding, and sponge cake or ladyfingers
  • Gingerbread Trifle with vanilla pudding, caramel sauce and gingerbread cookies
  • Strawberry Shortcake Trifle with strawberries, shortcake, and vanilla custard
  • Black Forest Trifle with black forest cake, cherries, and chocolate pudding
Classic English Trifle:Poached Pear and Raspberry Trifle with Almond Pound cake.

English Christmas Trifle

Christmas Trifle is a classic English dessert with layers of pound cake, crème anglaise, fresh fruit, and whipped cream. This holiday trifle, adapted from Emeril Lagasse, uses raspberries and poached pears, making it as delicious as it is beautiful.
5 from 130 votes
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Course Dessert
Cuisine British
Servings 18 servings
Calories 500 kcal


  • 3 cups creme anglaise (or prepared Bird's custard)
  • 1 prepared pound cake about 12 ounces, crusts trimmed
  • 1/3 cup marsala wine or sherry
  • 1/3 cup amaretto
  • 4 pears poached, and sliced into wedges.
  • 4 cups fresh or frozen and thawed raspberries
  • 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • fresh raspberries and mint leaves for garnish


  • In a medium bowl, beat 2 cups cream with the confectioner's sugar until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
  • In a separate mixing bowl toss the berries with 2 tablespoons Marsala, stirring to bruise the berries slightly.
  • To assemble the trifle cut the cake into 1/2-inch thick slices to fit tightly into the bottom of a trifle bowl (or a 1 1/2-quart decorative glass bowl).
  • Drizzle or sprinkle the cake layer with Marsala and Amaretto.
  • Layer 1/3 of the pears and raspberries over the top of the cake, followed by 1/3 of the creme anglaise or custard.
  • Repeat the process, creating a total of three layers with the remaining ingredients.
  • Spread whipped cream on top, then pipe rosettes of whipped cream.
  • Garnish with raspberries and slivered almonds.


  • Pears can be poached a day ahead of time.
  • Bird’s Custard powder can be used instead of homemade custard.
  • prepared pound cake can be substituted for homemade. 
  • Nutritional values are hard to calculate. I’ve based it on the recipe card’s nutritional data base for a purchased pound cake and prepared custard.
  • Servings can range from 16 to 24. Nutritional value is based on 18.


Serving: 1servingCalories: 500kcalCarbohydrates: 27gProtein: 6gFat: 10gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 56mgSodium: 122mgPotassium: 152mgFiber: 3gSugar: 15gVitamin A: 441IUVitamin C: 9mgCalcium: 48mgIron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

This post was originally published on December 6th, 2012 and has been updated. 

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  1. Could the following substitutions be made:(1) vanilla pudding in place of the custard; (2) strawberries for raspberries; (3) canned pears for poached pears? Thank you.

    1. Strawberries and canned pears absolutely. For the vanilla pudding a better option would be to use Bird’s Custard which you can get via my Amazon link or if you’re close to a CostPlus World Market they definitely have it! Possibly even a regular grocery store? If you’re in a large cosmopolitan city and have a British market they’d have it too.

  2. 5 stars
    This recipe is just like the incredible trifle I grew up making in the UK – it’s the real classic. Lovely!

  3. 5 stars
    We make this trifle all year round! It’s way too delicious to save it for Christmas only!

  4. 5 stars
    Love this trifle so so much! I was nervous that it might be complicated or overwhelming, but if you make all the components ahead of time as instructed it’s actually super manageable. The assembly itself is really straightforward and not at all intimidating. Can’t wait to make it again!

  5. 5 stars
    Being a British girl, I love my trifle all year round. It was so tasty and amazing!

  6. 5 stars
    This is such a gorgeous holiday dessert!! I’m adding this to our Christmas party menu – I know our guests will love it and it’s perfect for serving a big crowd!

  7. 5 stars
    I made this for Xmas day as I was asked to bring dessert and thought nothing is more christmassy than trifle. This was a show stopper. Everyone could not stop raving about how good it tasted. I made the poached pears in a red wine and spice syrup. I made a Creme anglaise from scratch and made the pound cake myself. I did exactly what your recipe stated with the assembly and was very easy to follow and prepare. Definitely will be making this again. 100% satisfaction.

  8. 5 stars
    I made this … my first trifle! For Christmas dinner. I poached the pears and prepared the custard the day before. I followed your recipe exactly and it turned out beautifully and delicious!

5 from 130 votes (81 ratings without comment)

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