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Place of originEngland
Main ingredientsVariable: Sponge cake, Sherry, custard, fruit, whipped cream
  • Wikibooks-logo.svg [[:b:Lua error in Module:WikidataIB at line 482: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).|Cookbook: Trifle]]

Trifle in English cuisine is a dessert made with fruit, a thin layer of sponge fingers or sponge cake soaked in sherry or another fortified wine, and custard. It can be topped with whipped cream. The fruit and sponge layers are suspended in fruit-flavoured jelly, and these ingredients are usually arranged to produce three or four layers.

The name trifle was used for a dessert like a Fruit fool in the sixteenth century; by the eighteenth century, Hannah Glasse records a recognisably modern trifle, with the inclusion of a gelatin jelly.



Illustrations from Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861

The earliest use of the name trifle was in a recipe for a thick cream flavoured with sugar, ginger and rosewater, in Thomas Dawson's 1585 book of English cookery The Good Huswifes Jewell.[1] Trifle evolved from a similar dessert known as a fool, and originally the two names were used interchangeably.[2]

Jelly is first recorded as part of the recipe in later editions of Hannah Glasse's eighteenth century book The Art of Cookery. In her recipe she instructed using hartshorn or bones of calves feet as the base ingredient (to supply gelatin) for the jelly.[3] The poet Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote of trifles containing jelly in 1861.[4]


Trifles may contain a small amount of alcohol such as port, or, most commonly, sweet sherry or madeira wine. Non-alcoholic versions use sweet juices or soft drinks such as ginger ale instead, as the liquid is necessary to moisten the cake and are simply known as fruit trifle without any mention of a spirit before the name of the trifle.

One popular trifle variant has the sponge soaked in jelly when the trifle is made, which sets when refrigerated. The cake and jelly bind together and produce a pleasant texture if made in the correct proportions.

The Scots have a similar dish to trifle, tipsy laird, made with Drambuie or whisky.[5] In the Southern US, a variant of trifle is known as tipsy cake.

File:Trifle 4layer.jpg

Layers of a trifle dessert

A trifle is often used for decoration as well as taste, incorporating the bright, layered colours of the fruit, jelly, jam, and the contrast of the creamy yellow custard and white cream. Trifles are often served at Christmas, sometimes as a lighter alternative to the much denser Christmas pudding.

Similar desserts[]

A Creole trifle (also sometimes known as a Russian cake or a Russian Slab) is a different but related dessert item consisting of pieces of a variety of cakes mixed and packed firmly, moistened with alcohol (commonly red wine or rum) and a sweet syrup or fruit juice, and chilled. The resulting cake contains a variety of colour and flavour.[6] A similar dessert in Germany and Austria goes by the name of Punschtorte.[7]

In Italy, a dessert similar to and probably based on trifle is known as zuppa inglese, literally "English Soup".[8]

See also[]

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  • Cassata
  • List of custard desserts


  1. The Good Husvvifes Ievvell. World Cat. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  2. "Three British Desserts: Syllabub, Fool and Trifle". Article by Diana Serbe. Retrieved 19 July 2010.
  3. Hannah Glasse (1774). The Art of Cookery. Internet Archive. p. 285. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
  4. "Practically Edible article on Trifle". Practically Edible; The Web's Biggest Food Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19 July 2010.
  5. Maw Broon (2007). Maw Broon's Cookbook. Waverley Books; (18 October 2007) ISBN 1-902407-45-8, p111
  6. "russian creole trifle cake". Delia online. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  7. English Pudding and Punschtortes. Retrieved on 2011-12-04.
  8. "Zuppa inglese". Larousse Gastronomique. New York: Clarkson Potter. 2001. p. 1310.

External links[]

Template:English cuisine