Just a Trifle, Nobody’s Fool

Trifle in Hattie Morgan’s cut glass bowl

It all started when I made a cake that didn’t quite turn out right. In trying to get the cake to cook through to the middle, the entire cake got a bit too dry. We ate most of the cake, but I didn’t want to throw the rest out. Then I remembered that I’d been meaning to try making a trifle.

What is a Trifle?

Trifle recipes today generally call for ladyfingers, but the general construction can be quite flexible. Basically, you will have some kind of cake, moistened with some kind of liquid, spread with some kind of preserves or jelly, layered with custard (and more recently, fruit and maybe nuts) and topped with a layer of whipped cream.

The trifle will show off its colorful layers best in a glass dish with plain sides. Thus, you can buy a dish specifically for trifle, like this one by Libby’s glass, advertised at Amazon.

A Bit of History of Trifle

1585 The Gud Huswife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson, who apparently mansplained to huswifes how to cook.

1774 Hannah Glasse added jelly to the Trifle in her book, The Art of Cookery. (see her recipe below.)

Scots have their Tipsy Laird (tipsy Lord), with whiskey to moisten the cake. That name morphed to a more democratic Tipsy Parson or Tipsy Squire in Colonial America.

A neighbor who dropped by to sample my trifle said that in her mother’s case, the cake would macerate for several days and everyone in the household might add a few drops of booze to the cake. She called it Tipsy Cake. Appropriately, her family lived in the South, and the dessert is commonly called Tipsy Cake in the South.

So what’s this about Fools? Although the term is used interchangeably, the fool does not have pudding and cake–just a tangy fruit, cooked and cooled, mixed with whipped cream. But Fools originated about the same time as trifles and both feature whipped cream.

I want to share an earlier recipe for Trifle, but in case you are impatient to start cooking, I’ll jump to the modern recipe first.

Trifle with strawberries
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Strawberry Trifle

The traditional English trifle made with a different fruit juice, strawberries and almonds and a  pudding mix.
Course Dessert
Cuisine British
Keyword fruit, pudding, trifle, whipped cream
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Cooling Time 2 hours
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 10

Ingredients

  • pieces dry or stale cake equivalent of 9″ layer cake
  • 1/4 cup fruit juice or sherry
  • 1/4 cup rasberry preserves or flavor of your choice
  • 1 pkg pudding mix
  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1 cup heavy or whipping cream
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4-1/2 cup almonds, sliced

Instructions

  • Make pudding mix according to instructions.  If cooked, let cool in refrigerator with plastic wrap spread across top to prevent 
  • Cut cake in one inch cubes. Lay the cake cubes out on a cookie sheet and brush with the liquid.
  • Spoon dabs of preserves on cake and spread with back of spoon.
  • When pudding is cool, start layering in deep glass bowl–cake, then pudding, scatter some almonds, then fruit–2 or three layers according to size of bowl.
  • Whip cream with sugar and vanilla.  Spread on top or drop swirls in decorative pattern.  Top with whole strawberries, almonds, or other fruit or garnish.
  • Put whole bowl into refrigerator for an hour or until ready to serve.

Notes

Times given assume you have the cake on hand and use a  boxed pudding mix. Allow more time, if you are baking a cake to use, or are making custard from scratch.
Some recipes for decorations include flowers.  Fruits other than or in addition to strawberries might include sliced bananas, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries.
Brandy or sherry are traditional, but I used cranberry-mango juice for a very good taste.

18th Century Version–Hannah Glasse

To Make a Trifle

Cover the bottom of your dish or bowl with Naples biscuits broke in pieces, mackeroons brlke in halves, and ratafia cakes. Just wet them all through with sack, then make a good boiled custard, not too thick and when cold pour it over it, then put a syllabub over that. You may garnish it with ratafia cakes, currant jelly, and flowers and strew different coloured nonpareils over it. Note, these are bought at confectioners.

Glossary

Naples biscuits:  no longer used–a cookie made with egg whites and flavored with rose water.

mackaroonsMrs. Glasse provides a recipe for a cookie made with almonds pounded fine (like almond flour) , sugar and eggs whites 

ratafia: Almond liqueur, and the flavoring in ratafia cakes or biscuits.

syllabub: A drink or dessert of whipped cream with wine or other acidic drink. Mrs. Glasse has several recipes, including one for “solid syllabub, which I imagine is the type you would use for the trifle.

sack: no longer used term for a fortified wine, although sherry is close.

I hope you’ll have fun trying your own version of trifle, and will come back and share your results in our comment section.

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2 thoughts on “Just a Trifle, Nobody’s Fool

  1. Bro

    We can’t make this wonderful treat because we don’t have a crystal dish to show it off in. You got all the good stuff.

    Reply

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