Trifle: Complex Sponge-Based Dessert With Jelly

A trifle dessert packed with jelly and whipped cream
Look at it! Thanks to Recipe Tin Eats for the image.

Along with the spotted dick dessert, trifle is one of the very best after meal type foodstuffs anyone can enjoy.

It’s got jelly, it’s got whipped cream, and it’s pretty ruddy epic. Even if it’s about as healthy as eating a bowl of sugar. But life is for enjoying, right!?

What’s a Trifle?

The trifle is a traditional English cuisine consisting of fruit, jelly, sponge, whipped cream, and custard.

However, trifle creators (i.e. chefs) are free to add whatever they like to the recipe. This can include fruit, sherry, fortified wine, chocolate, coffee, or vanilla.

And also, famously in the 1999 episode of Friends (The One Where Ross Got High, season 6), Rachel added beef.

Whatever you want to do, it’s about layering up the ingredients to create a mighty extravaganza. The trifle must look spectacular.

And as Friends proved in 1999, trifle is a dessert that’s popular all the way across the world.

Although us English did invent it. You hear!? We type this as we clutch a daily to dab away nationalistic tears whilst blasting God Save the Queen at full volume.

The History of Trifle

Trifle’s origins date back to the 16th century. In the 1585 cookbook The Good Huswifes Jewell, that’s the first recorded mention of the dessert.

There’s another popular dessert in England called a “fool” (excellent, eh? We’ll get to that one soon enough) that the trifle evolved from.

In 16th century trifles, there wouldn’t have been any jelly. This is because gelatin wasn’t really a thing back then.

It began turning up in trifles from the 18th century onward, first noted in The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (1708-1770).

Now, that’s not the fun wobbly and colourful jelly kids go ape over. Cooks had to use the bones of calves feet as the base ingredient.

So Rachel’s use of beef in her Trifle back in 1999 isn’t too far removed from reality.

And you can see an example of these gelatin jelly trifles, with the below from the Book of Household Management (1861) by Isabella Beeston (1836-1865).

Early trifle desserts drawings from Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management

And it really was the 18th century, especially during the Victorian era, when trifles became very bloody extravagant.

Maria Eliza Rundell (1745-1828) created a remarkable thing in her 1806 work A New System of Domestic Cookery.

In more recent decades, the trifle has grown in extravagance and become more freely accessible to the scumbag masses. Even gross working class people. Her recipe involved:

  • Macaroons
  • Ratafia biscuits
  • Raisin wine
  • Custard
  • Raspberry jam
  • Whipped cream

Obviously, those gross and lazy poor people from the era would rarely have access to such extravagant ingredients.

But in recent decades, the trifle is a readily available dish for all. Even those inferior working class people.

We often spot a trifle in the local supermarket. You can a real fancy big tub for about £3.

They’re often quite stripped back, featuring mainly whipped cream, sponge, and custard. Bloody tasty! Just rather unhealthy, too.

How to Make Trifle

Here he is again! Jaw dropping masterpiece of a man Jamie Oliver. Look at the way his hands majestically construct that trifle. Glorious.

Anyway, the ingredients you’ll need are:

Whipper Cream,

What happens next is a kind of construction process where you need to arrange everything neatly. It’s a multi-layered tapestry, is a trifle!

We can’t just rely on Oliver’s input, though, as we have Nigella Lawson.

She’s a far less attractive man than Jamie Oliver, of course, but she’s still able to cobble together something magnificent.

Good, eh? Did you know Nigella Lawson is 360 years old? She just never ages. And that’s because she eats a lot of trifle (possibly).

How to Make Trifle (the Victorian way)

If you want to go back to the days of Victorian times, then you’ll need a time machine.

Or just use YouTube and refer to the above time travelling chef, who’s super skilled in making a bloody enormous trifle thing.

Cripes. It looks dangerous, like an atom bomb or some such. Just with more sugar and wobbly jelly.


  1. I made a trifle once. Wasn’t too bad despite the fact that the usual Kiwi Bloke Cooking Method, as in the only one I know, involves throwing everything on to a barbecue hot plate while drinking beer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We grew up having trifles in all our birthday parties. First time to know its British. Thanks for all the info. Would like to know more about “the fool” dessert. I’m from Egypt by the way. Enjoyed your post

    Liked by 1 person

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