Trifles are the alternative to traditional Christmas pudding on the Christmas table in Britain, but are also made all year round. It’s very easy to make, can be prepared in advance and can be adapted according to taste and which ingredients you happen to have in the store cupboard! Most fruits can be used and many people include a layer of fruit jelly too.
The name “trifle” was first used in a book called “The good houswife’s Jewell” by Thomas Dawson and described a thick cream flavoured with sugar, ginger and rosewater – very different to the trifles made today. The recipe for the original trifle was published in 1596. Sixty years later milk was added to the recipe and the custard was poured over alcohol soaked bread. In Italy, a dessert similar to trifle is known as “zuppa inglese“, meaning English soup (an Englishman abroad is going to get quite a surprise, if ordering that in Italy, expecting vegetable broth!)
The word “trifle” means a thing of little value or importance…and yes, it’s not a dessert that will test the expertise of a cook to their limits, but that makes it no less delicious and more importantly these days, means a stress-free dinner party option…
Preparation: About 1 hour. Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving. Use 6-8 glasses of whiskey (depending on their size, the amount is enough for 6-8 people). The recipe has 4 stages, it is not fast, but in practice it is easier than it seems.
Ingredients (serve 6-8)
For the trifle base
8 – 10 sponge fingers (or pieces of stale or sponge cake size 10×2 cm)
2-3 tbsp orange marmalade
150 ml Grand Marnier or Cointreau or other Triple sec
For the caramel oranges
2 large oranges
1 orange zest
2 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
1 tbsp Cognac or Metaxa3*
For the custard
5 large egg yolks (or 6 medium)
25 g sugar
1 tsp cornflour
a few drops pure vanilla extract
425 ml double cream
For the topping
275 ml double cream, whipped
2 tbsp hazelnuts, lightly toasted under the grill and roughly chopped
Preparing the sponge fingers: First of all, spread each sponge finger with marmalade on each side, cut each one into three, then arrange the pieces in the base of each glass. Now carefully pour the Grand Marnier all over them, as evenly as you can, then put to one side for the sponges to soak the alcohol up.
Preparing the oranges: Next, grate the zest from one of the oranges and keep on one side. Place the remaining 2 oranges on a board and, using your sharpest knife, take off all the skin and pith. Then, holding each orange in one hand over a bowl to catch the juices ( you will need 1 tablespoon for the caramel) cut out the segments making sure that you cut between the pithy membrane separating each segment. Cut each segment in half and place in a small bowl with the grated zest.
Making the caramel: Dissolve the 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar with the 1 tablespoon of reserved orange juice in a small pan over a gentle heat and, as soon as the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up to caramelise the mixture: it is ready when it turns one shade darker and looks syrupy and slightly thicker than before. Take the pan off the heat and add the Cognac. Pour the caramel mixture over the oranges.
Making the custard: Mix the egg yolks, sugar, cornflour and vanilla in a bowl, then pour the cream into a saucepan until it reaches simmering point and pour it over the egg mixture. Whisk well, return the whole mixture to the saucepan and re-heat gently, still whisking, until the custard has thickened.
NOTE:Don’t worry if it looks curdled at this stage – the cornflour will ensure that it will eventually become smooth when you take it off the heat, if you keep whisking it.
Let the custard cool.
Finishing the orange trifle : Strain the orange segments, reserving the caramel juice. Arrange the oranges among the sponge fingers in the glasses, tipping them from side to side to make sure all the Grand Marnier has soaked in.
Add the caramel juice to the custard and pour this on top of everything in the bowl. Cover the glasses with cling film and chill for several hours (at least 3-4).
Half an hour before serving whip the cream, add it to the glasses and put back in the fridge.
Serving: Serve the orange trifles chilled, sprinkled with the toasted hazelnuts.