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For the type of metal, see Pewter.
Course Dessert
Place of origin England
Main ingredients Sponge cake, custard, fruit, whipped cream
Cookbook: Trifle  Media: Trifle

Trifle is an English dessert dish 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 earliest use of the name trifle was for a thick cream flavoured with sugar, ginger and rosewater, the recipe for which was published in England, 1585, in the book The good huswife's Jewell by Thomas Dawson.[1] Sixty years later eggs were added and the custard was poured over alcohol soaked bread.[2]

Research indicates it evolved from a similar dessert known as a fool or foole, and originally the two names were used interchangeably.[3]

While some people consider the inclusion of jelly to be a recent variation, the earliest known recipe to include jelly is from later editions of Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery. In her recipe she instructed using hartshorn or bones of calves feet as the base ingredient for the jelly.[4] The poet Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote of trifles containing jelly in 1861.[5]


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.[6] In the Southern US, a variant of trifle is known as tipsy cake.

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[edit]

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. Bakeries in New Orleans have been known to produce such cakes out of their left-over or imperfect baked goods.[citation needed] 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, English Soup.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Good Husvvifes Ievvell. World Cat. Retrieved 2015-06-07. 
  2. ^ "Trifle History". What's The Recipe Today. Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  3. ^ "Three British Desserts: Syllabub, Fool and Trifle". Article by Diana Serbe. Retrieved 2010-07-19. 
  4. ^ Hannah Glasse (1774). The Art of Cookery. Internet Archive. p. 285. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 
  5. ^ "Practically Edible article on Trifle". Practically Edible; The Web's Biggest Food Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-07-19. 
  6. ^ Maw Broon (2007). Maw Broon's Cookbook. Waverley Books; (18 October 2007) ISBN 1-902407-45-8, p111
  7. ^ English Pudding and Punschtortes. Retrieved on 2011-12-04.

External links[edit]