top of page

Mixed Berries Trifle

Photo by dishingupdelights / CC BY

Fruit Fool(e)

Photo by thesuttonfamily / CC BY

Christmas Jelly Trifle

Photo by stephcookie / CC BY

Cherry & Almond Trifle Serve in a Small Glass Cup

Photo by 71430589@N02 / CC BY

OTHER NAMES: Tipsy Cake or Pudding, Tipsy Squire, Tipsy Hedgehog, Tipsy Parson, Tipsy Squire


The word Trifle comes from the old French term Trufle, and literally means "something whimsical" or "of little consequence". [1] Trifle is an English dessert made from layers of cake base, thick custard, fruit, fruit juice or jelly (gelatin), and whipped cream. It is usually made in a transparent bowl so that it reveals the colorful layers of ingredients.



Depending on the ingredients you choose, your trifle will result with different textures and flavors. Usually, it is wet and soft with layers of soaked cakes, cream, jam, etc. Fresh fruits will add freshness to the dessert. Crushed nuts will add crunchiness.


Sometimes, due to too many wet ingredients, trifle will become really soggy and all the flavors mingle together too much. Sometimes, well-balanced ingredients will do a good job in structuring the layers and retain its unique flavor and texture: Wet, creamy, chewy, crunchy, etc. [2



Trifles is very likely originated from a recipe called Fools/Fooles, an English dessert that folds pureed stewed fruit into sweet custard. The earliest use of the name trifle was in a 1596 recipe book published in England called “The good huswife's Jewell" by Thomas Dawson. The recipe is basically a thick cream flavored with sugar, ginger and rosewater. [3] Although the recipe was called a trifle, this recipe wasn’t close to what we have today.


A more modern trifle may have began from King Charles I’s cook, Joseph Cooper. In 1654, he published a book called "The Art of Cookery Refined and Augmented" and included a Foole recipe that soaks white bread with flavors and seasonings. [4]


Slice a Manchet very thin and lay it in the bottom of a dish, and wet them with Sack, boyle Creame, with Eggs, and three or foure blades of Mace; season it with Rosewater and Sugar, stir it well together to prevent curdling; then pour it on the Bread and let it coole; then serve it up to the Table." [Ed: Manchet is an old word for white bread.]



Later on, fruits, alcohol, and jelly were added into trifle recipes. The first recipe that added jelly dated back to a 1747 recipe book called "The Art of Cookery", authored by Hannah Glasse. In her recipe, she used hartshorn or bones of calves feet as the base ingredient for the jelly. [5] With the invention of refrigerator and gelatin products, cake and jelly can bind together.


Due to trifle's unlimited possibility, it became a very common dessert, especially it is also a great way to use leftover cream, jam, cake, and other sweets. Today, Trifles are usually made in a glass bowl so you can see all the colorful layers. This dessert is particularly popular during Christmas time or at large gatherings. [6] In Southern US, trifle was served not only as a dessert, but as something to enjoy with tea causally. [7]



A glass bowl is commonly used to make trifle because it shows the coloring layers of ingredients. Ideally, a flat bowl is better to arrange layers than sloped bowl. Usually, trifle is made in large proportion; however it can be prepared in a smaller glass/plastic cup for individual serving.


Before making a trifle, lay out all the ingredients you will add into the dessert. First, bottom layer starts with cake or biscuit. Then, add juice, jelly or alcohol to soak the cake layer. Add fruits, jam, custard, or pastry cream. Finish with whipped cream. If more layers can be added, repeat the process starting with cake layer again. Finally, add toppings and decorations.


Wrap the trifle and refrigerate for over 8 hours or up to 24 hours to let all flavors bind together. [8]




Cake (a staled cake is more ideal so it can absorb more juice or alcohol), spirits, fruit/jam, custard, cream

*For children, omit any alcohol.




sponge cake, pound cake, ladyfingers, or macaroons


juice, jam, puree,


white wine, brandy, port, sweet sherry or madeira wine (Drambuie, whisky, or Scotch in Scottish Trifle) red wine or rum in Russian Trifle

Fresh or preserved fruits:

strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, peaches, pears, kiwi

Custard & Cream:

Pastry cream, lemon curd, mascarpone cheese, eggs, whipping cream, chocolate


crushed cookies, toasted nuts, cocoa powder, shaved chocolate, fruit, candied fruits, whipping cream





A Slice of Tiramisu Cake

Photo by 21045446@N00 / CC BY

The word, cake, is of Viking origin, from the Old Norse word "kaka". [1] The Oxford English Dictionary traces the English word cake back to the 13th century. In other languages, cake is translated to Gateau (Gateaux in plural) in French and Torte in German. [2]


Cakes can be savory or sweet, light or rich, porous or dense. Determining whether a given food should be classified as bread, cake, or pastry can be difficult. [3] For example, banana bread is a quick bread, but it has a texture of a cake and uses same ingredients as if a cake would have. There are many dispute on what category these desserts should be classified, but why don't we simply enjoy these goodies!


The earliest cakes were very different from what we have today. They were more like bread and usually made with simple ingredients like moistened crushed grains or nuts. [1] In Ancient Egypt, emmer and barley were used to make cakes, breads, and beer. Only the wealthy can enjoy cakes made with milled flour. There was no sugar at that time so honey was the primary sweetener. Sometimes, nuts and fruits like dates were added in the recipe too. [2]


In Asia, cakes were mainly made with rice, called rice cake. ("Nian Gao" in Chinese, "Mochi" in Japanese, "Tteok" in Korean) [3] It was first made around the period of Zhou Dynasty, [4]


Cakes covering with icing were first introduced in Europe around mid-17th century when cooking tools were more advanced and more ingredients were available. Icing was first made with only sugar and egg whites. [5]


Cakes were not only a meal or dessert to enjoy, it was used as symbols and representation for religious ceremonies and occasions celebrations from ancient times. Starting from at least the 8th century BC China, it was already a tradition to eat rice cakes during Chinese New Year for bringing good luck in the coming year. [1]


The first known birthday cake was recorded in the first century BCE from the book, Tristia, written by Latin poet Ovid. From his book, Ovid mentioned about celebrating his birthday with a birthday party and cake. [2] Today, cakes still play an important role in family gatherings, holiday celebrations, and ceremonial occasions like weddings, anniversaries, Christmas, etc.


In different cultures and regions, different cakes are made to celebrate the same holiday. For example, fruitcake is the Christmas cake consumed in France, Germany, and United States. In Japan, a frosted sponge cake with strawberries are more common during Christmas times. [3]

bottom of page