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.
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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!
How to Make English Christmas Trifle
To make this Christmas trifle recipe, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- Almond pound cake
- Creme anglaise (custard)
- Fresh raspberries
- Poached pears
- Whipped cream
- Amaretto and Marsala wine (you can also use sherry in place of the wine)
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.
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.
Begin again with another layer of pound cake, Marsala and Amaretto, fruit, and custard. Repeat one more time for 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.
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!
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
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 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.
This post was originally published on December 6th, 2012 and has been updated.
We have a nut allergy- what can I sub for amaretto?
Instead of amaretto, substitute brandy, sherry or Marsala. For the pound cake, a Sarah Lee or a homemade pound cake that’s nut free is great.
Sandy Meacher says
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.
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.
Sheila K. says
Oh MY, it looks great! Can’t wait to cook em this Sunday!
This recipe is just like the incredible trifle I grew up making in the UK – it’s the real classic. Lovely!
Thank you June! I appreciate your comments.
Combination of pears and raspberries is yum. This dessert is a treat. Love your presentation too.
TAYLER ROSS says
We make this trifle all year round! It’s way too delicious to save it for Christmas only!
I agree! Perfect for Easter and Mother’s Day too!
Suja md says
Outstanding recipe thanks so much! tasted so much good!
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!
Thank you! Yes, there are a lot of moving parts, but a lot can be made ahead of time.
Hayley Dhanecha says
Being a British girl, I love my trifle all year round. It was so tasty and amazing!