Trifle is a classic English dessert, with layers of pound cake, Creme Anglais, fresh fruit, and whipped cream. This holiday trifle uses raspberries and poached pears, making it as delicious as it is beautiful.
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 in the “house” 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”!
(Disclosure: This post was originally published on December 6th, 2012 and has been updated. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
In addition to the Plum Pudding brought to the table soaked in alcohol and set afire, there was an English Christmas Trifle.
Ever since then, Christmas really isn’t Christmas without it. I had only ever made it with Bird’s English Custard and Sara Lee Pound cake. Bird’s is similar to Creme Anglaise, (“English Cream”) in the powdered form, and while not as fresh tasting and yummy as from scratch, Bird’s is a classic British ingredient and far easier.
Bird’s can be found at most grocery stores or here on Amazon. 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 an Almond Pound Cake, (my favorite flavor!) sprinkled the cake with a combination of Amaretto (more almond flavor!) and Marsala. For step-by-step photos on how to poach pears, click here. While you can make trifle in a large bowl, to make it a real show-stopper, use a glass trifle bowl like this one.
Want to simplify this trifle recipe?
I use this Gluten-free Almond Pound cake, but you can use store-bought pound cake. Bird’s custard powder, and canned pears packed in their own juice can also be used, but don’t cheat on the fresh whipped cream! From there, you’ll just need to assemble the trifle!
What you’ll need for this English Christmas Trifle
You’ll be making this layered dessert with pound cake, Creme Anglaise, fresh raspberries, poached pears and whipped cream. The cake is sprinkled (soaked?) with a combination of Amaretto for more almond flavor and Marsala wine.
You can also use sherry in place of the wine. It’s best to make all the ingredients a day or two in advance. Assemble the trifle the day you will eat it. Having the ingredients ready means you can put the whole dessert together in about 30 minutes. The whipped cream should be made just before you plan to use it.
To make the custard
You will need a deep glass bowl. A trifle bowl is perfect for this, but you can certainly use a large glass salad bowl as well.
Glass allows the layers to be seen. Start with a layer of pound cake. Sprinkle the cake with some of the Marsala and Amaretto.
You can portion it out, or just eye-ball it. You’ll want to use about 1/3 for each layer. Layer the pound cake with some of the pear wedges and raspberries.
Then pour about 1/3 of the custard over the fruit. Begin again with a layer of pound cake, more of the Marsala and Amaretto and fruit. Repeat layering. There should be three layers.
Finish with a thin layer of whipped cream. I use this as a base before I pipe on the rosettes.
Garnish with more raspberries, toasted slivered almonds and fresh mint.
Use this almond pound cake in your holiday trifle, (or purchase a store bought pound cake).
- 1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Carefully scrap seeds.
- In a saucepan over a medium heat, bring 2 cups heavy cream to a bare boil with vanilla bean and scraped seeds.
- Remove cream from heat. While cream is cooling, beat the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a mixer, until thick ribbons form.
- To temper the egg yolks, and keep them from curdling, gradually add 1 cup warm cream to egg mixture, whisking constantly.
- Add tempered egg yolk mixture back into saucepan, with remaining cream and stir constantly over a medium heat, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Remove from heat and strain through a fine strainer. Remove the vanilla pod. (I rinse it off and dry it, then add it to a bowl of sugar)
- Cool custard slightly and then cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until ready to use.
English Christmas Trifle
- 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 confectioners' sugar
- 2 cups whipping cream
- Fresh raspberries and mint leaves for decoration
- In a medium bowl, 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, layering the remaining ingredients.