Classic trifle Recipe

For serious bakers, this Make Ahead English Classic Berry & Rhubarb Trifle is one spectacular dessert that will be the envy of everyone at your summer dinner party.

What is in a Classic English Trifle?

Trifle is simply a layered dessert put together in a glass serving dish- think of it like a dessert lasagna or tiramisu.


There are 5 components to the laters: a light sponge cake, a blueberry puree or sauce, (to moisten the cake, a layer of creme anglaise or pastry cream,(think of the filing of an eclair) a layer of rhubarb filling or “jam” and a layer of sweet whipped cream to top it all off. Many classic recipes include a good dose of brandy or Kirsch over the sponge cake.

How to prepare this Classic English Trifle:

  • First- create a simple cake batter by beating egg yolks and sugar, whip egg whites with salt and sugar, fold together with sifted flour, bake the sponge (just a fancy word for cake), let cool, then cut into squares
  • Make the Crème anglaise by heating milk and vanilla beans, temper with eggs and sugar, combine and cook until thick and let cool for 30 minutes
  • Cook a rhubarb jam in a saucepan with a bit of sugar, lemon juice and fresh ginger and let cool
  • Throw the blueberries in a blender and puree til smooth then strain
  • Wash and prep the berries
  • Assemble the Trifle, cover with plastic and let rest overnight
  • Top with whipped cream, chill up to 2 hours or serve right away

Ingredients in this Classic English Trifle Recipe :

fresh ingredients:

  • blueberries, blackberries, raspberries
  • rhubarb
  • lemons
  • ginger
  • eggs
  • heavy whipping cream
  • whole milk
  • butter

Pantry ingredients:

  • all purpose flour
  • sugar
  • powdered sugar
  • vanilla paste or extract
  • lemon paste or extract
  • salt
several stalks of rhubarb on a counter of black stone

Why this rhubarb trifle is so delicious:

First of all, do not be intimidated by the list of ingredients or cooking instructions. This trifle is perfect for a make ahead show stopper dessert. The jam filling takes about 5 minutes to cook in a sauce pan. It is very easy and well worth the time. Most of the cake ingredients you probably have on hand in your pantry. Make a berry puree to moisten the sponge- this takes only 5 minutes.

a pile of diced pink and green rhubarb

More on this classic trifle recipe:

At first I wanted to make an angel food cake, but decided to wait another month for something with a chocolate component. Having watched endless episodes of The Great British Bake Off, I decided a Genoise Sponge Cake would be perfect. Its light and just barely sweet. But, being a purest, I also know not many people want to whip eggs over boiling water, so I opted for a simpler sponge based on The Silver Palates New Basics Cookbook. If you do not have this cookbook in your collection, I urge you to buy a copy.

a stainless steel saucepan filled with chopped rhubarb, grated ginger and sugar

Shortcuts for this trifle and tips:


  • bakery quality bought pound cake or angel food cake. Lady fingers work as well
  • store bought jam


Cutting the sponge in half, I then made little chunks of cake and alternated with layers of the berry sauce, fresh berries and rhubarb “jam” and then topped with the Créme Anglaise and whipped cream. The result- a light, refreshing and oh so summery dessert. I have made this trifle multiple times and it really can take a double amount of creme anglais and berry puree. There is nothing worse than a dry trifle.

If making a sponge cake is too time consuming, I recommend using a store bought or local bakery angel food cake or sponge. A pound cake, like Sara Lee, will be too sweet and heavy.

Other Summery desserts to try:

After deciding on a cake base, I then decided to up the flavor component of the rhubarb by adding fresh ginger- and lots of it. I made a jammy filling with the rhubarb, let it cool and whipped up heavy cream with a scant amount of sugar.

The results: A mouthwatering explosion of summer finest fruits and a delicate moist cake and creamy whipped cream.

  • a round cake pound filled with a baked yellow cake
    the sponge is baked perfectly when it begins to pull away from the sides
  • a round cake cut into pieces
    slice into squares while still warm
  • a round cake cut into pieces placed in a clear glass trifle dish
    put half the sponge into the bottom of the trifle dish
  • a juice soaked pile of cut up cake in a glass dish
    pour half the puree over the sponge then begin to layer
  • a berry topped trifle dish
  • a trifle dish filled with fruit and cream

Common Questions and Tips:

What are a few short cuts?

Here are a few short cuts: buy a bakery made yellow cake or angel food cake. Use a premade blueberry jam instead of making your own and loosen it by adding in lemon juice and a few frozen berries.

Does this dessert freeze?

The cake freezes very well. Just wrap carefully in two layers of plastic wrap and freeze up to three months. Pour the cooled sauce and berry filling int freezer safe jars and freeze up to three months. thaw overnight in the fridge before using. the whipped cream does not freeze well.
Make the blueberry puree ( jam or sauce) had of time.

I do not have a clear glass trifle dish? What else can I use?

First, see if you can borrow a clear bowl or dish from a friend or neighbor. the layers are really the star of the show and worth showing off. But, you can use any deep round dish or mixing bowl. Just make certain it is at least 5-6 inches deep.

Can I use frozen rhubarb or berries?

Yes- frozen works very well. You a see in my photos I am using frozen rhubarb from my neighbors garden?

Can I save the rhubarb leaves for a salad?

NO! Rhubarb greens are very toxic. Just compost or toss.

I am really intimidated by the Créme Anglaise. What else could I use?

Vanilla pudding from the deli counter is an easy substitute or just more whipping cream, But Créme Anglaise is so easy to make, Once you master it, you’ll never settle for store bought puddings or filings again.

a pink silicone spatula over a fine mesh sieve filled with berry jam
strain your berry puree

Crème Anglaise is just a fancy vanilla custard- it takes just a few minutes to make and really takes the cake… ha ha. See the link on how to make mine HERE.

Classic Trifle Recipe

A make ahead show stopper dessert that will be the talk of the town this summer.
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Course: Holiday Baking, Recent Posts, Sweet Tooth
Cuisine: English
Keyword: berry trifle
Prep Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Servings: 10 servings
Calories: 424kcal


For the Sponge

  • 4 large eggs , separated
  • ¾ cups sugar
  • 2 TBSP sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla paste or extract
  • 1 tsp lemon paste or extract
  • pinch Kosher salt
  • ¾ cup All Purpose flour
  • 4 TBSP melted butter , cooled

Blueberry Sauce & Rhubarb Filling

  • 2 cups blueberries
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
  • 6-7 cups rhubarb , cut into 1-2" pieces, stems and leaves removed
  • cup sugar
  • cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 TBSP fresh ginger grated
  • 4 cups mixed berries- blueberries, blackberries, raspberries

Whipped Topping

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 2 TBSP powdered sugar

Créme Anglaise Filling – see this post


    For the Sponge

    • Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9″ spring form pan
    • In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg yolks and 3/4 cup sugar. Beat on high for about 4 minutes until mixture is thick and pale yellow. Add in 1/2 tsp vanilla paste and lemon paste or extract. Scrape into a large bowl. Cover and set aside. Wash the bowl and whisk off the stand mixer.
    • Beat the egg whites, salt until they form stiff peaks. Add in remaining 2 TBSP of sugar and beat about 20-25 seconds more.
    • Fold one third of the egg white mixture Ito the egg yolks and sugar. Sift over one third of the flour. Repeat taking care not to deflate the egg whites until all the ingredients are well combined. Gently fold in the melted butter. Pour the batter into the spring from pan and bake for 25 minutes until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Let the pan cool for 5 minutes, then release from the pan. Once the cake is cooled, cut into 2" cubes. Place one layer of the cubes into the trifle dish. Finish assembling in directions below.

    For the Blueberry Sauce

    • In a blender, add the 2 cups of blueberries, 1 TBSP lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar. Process for 10 seconds or until nearly smooth. Strain through a fine sieve to remove the skins. Set aside until ready to assemble.

    For the Rhubarb filling:

    • In a heavy sauce pan, combine the rhubarb, ginger, lemon juice and sugar. Stir on medium high until Mixture comes to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Stir every minute or so to prevent sticking. after 5 minutes the rhubarb will break down into a "jam". Scrape rhubarb filling into a bowl until ready to assemble trifle.
      a pink silicone spatula over a fine mesh sieve filled with berry jam

    For The Whipped Topping

    • 2 hours before serving, in the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the cream on medium low until frothy: about 30 seconds. Increase speed to high and add the vanilla and sugar. Whip until soft peaks form. Spread over top of prepared trifle. Chill up to 2 hours or until ready to serve.

    For the Créme Anglaise:

    • Follow the directions in this link, then stop after you chill the custard for 30 minutes.

    To Assemble the Trifle:

    • In a glass trifle dish or large glass bowl, add half of the cut sponge cubes.
      Pour over 1 cup of the blueberry sauce.
      Top with 2 cups of the fresh blackberries, blueberries and raspberries.
      Cover with all of the rhubarb jam.
    • Add the remaining sponge cake, blueberry sauce, remaining 2 cups of fresh berries, Crème anglaise. Cover and chill for 8 hours or overnight.
    • Top the trifle with the whipped cream topping .


    • To simplify this recipe: you can substitute store bought jam instead of making homemade.
    • Frozen berries for the blueberry sauce work great. Macerate the berries in the sugar and lemon juice for about 30 minutes to release more liquid.
    • You can bake the sponge and freeze for up to 3 months before using for this trifle.
    • Don’t want to fuss with crème anglaise- just use more whipped cream in between the layers OR an instant vanilla pudding mix. ( gasp- I won’t tell). Chill for only 4-8 hours- not overnight. the whipped cream will breakdown.
    • Make the blueberry sauce and rhubarb filling ahead of time. 


    Calories: 424kcal

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