We have the British to thank for the trifle, a luscious layered treat steeped in tradition. "Trifle" is from the Middle English word "trufle"…which means something of little importance. That definition hardly fits this stunning dessert!

In the 18th century, when preparing this dessert, English cooks started with dry cake, soaking it in sherry or brandy to add moisture. (Even today, many trifle recipes call for dousing cake or ladyfingers—even if they aren't dry—with spirits.) The cake was then surrounded with a vanilla-flavored custard sauce (creme anglaise). Over time, fruit was added.

Glass Shows It Off

To serve a trifle, (like in Raspberry Cream Trifle shown at right) use a deep, clear glass bowl or a footed glass trifle dish so the pretty layers can be seen. Don't worry if the layers look slightly uneven or if the layers mix a bit—that's the way of a trifle.

As an alternative, you can transform a trifle into parfaits, using tall glasses for individual servings.

No Limit on Variations

Most modern-day trifles include layers of cake, fruit or jam, custard, whipped cream and a topping of nuts, grated chocolate or other garnishes. With these guidelines, it's easy to make up your own version, using your family's favorite ingredients. Here are a few ideas:

  • Low-fat—use angel food cake, sugar-free pudding and reduced-fat whipped topping.
  • Hawaiian—mix pineapple, papayas, mangoes, etc. for the fruit layers and top with toasted coconut.
  • Black Forest—layer chocolate cake with cherry pie filling.
  • Patriotic—make it red, white and blue…with strawberries or raspberries, angel food cake and vanilla custard, plus blueberries.

Search for mouth-watering trifle recipes with the Taste of Home Recipe Finder.