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A Bite of Britain: Easy Easter Trifle

A Bite of Britain: Easy Easter Trifle

Ruby Moukli serves her own take on her Nan’s fantastic Easter Trifle.
By Ruby Moukli

Do you remember that episode of ‘Friends’ where Rachel makes a ‘Traditional English Trifle’ with a layer of ground beef because she confused the recipe with Shepherd’s Pie? Luckily we’re not all as ditzy as Rachel and, when recipes cross borders, most people do get it right.

My British grandmother brought this trifle recipe over to America from England when they emigrated in the early 1960s. The recipe has the stamp of post-war rationing all over it. Full of store cupboard finds, the only fresh ingredient is the whipping cream on top. Over the years I think the original ingredients were replaced with American ones, such as instant ‘Jell-o’. The result is a cheap and cheerful, and very easy, dessert that looks deceptively difficult to the untrained eye. Perfect for occasions when you want to impress, but have a million other things to be doing than slaving over one dessert all day.

I suppose I could try and recreate the original from scratch, in a misguided search for purity. I say misguided because I know the result wouldn’t taste anything like what I’m used to from Nanny’s trifle. Let’s face it, when I make Nan’s trifle I want Nan’s trifle. I want to relive the combination of flavours, textures and sensations that is unique to her recipe and that brings back floods of memories of gleeful childish gourmandise.

So I make this hybrid recipe every year. It wouldn’t pass muster with the food police, full as it is of processed and prepared ingredients. But you know what? There’s a time and place for everything, even guilty pleasures like this one. I serve it once a year, often at Easter rather than Christmas (as is traditional in the UK) because, to me anyway, it feels a lot more like spring than winter. And it is consumed in grateful silence by family and friends, even the gourmets among them. Come to think of it, they’re probably just glad I left out the ground beef.

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4.0 from 4 reviews
Easy Easter Trifle
Makes one large trifle (as pictured). All measurements are very relaxed, as much will depend on the size of your serving dish and whether you're making one large trifle or individual ones (in wine glasses or champagne flutes for example).
  • Sponge cake to cover bottom of dish twice (plain angel cake or lady fingers work well)
  • A few large spoonfuls of raspberry jam
  • Generous splash of sherry
  • 2 large cans fruit cocktail (save juice for jello)
  • 2 packets instant raspberry gelatine (Jell-o or similar)
  • 2 cups (500 ml) prepared vanilla custard (such as Bird's) or pudding
  • 1 cup (250 ml) fresh whipping cream, whipped
  • Handful of small, candy-coated chocolate eggs, to decorate
  1. Line bottom of dish with slices of sponge cake.
  2. Spread jam over cake.
  3. Cover and soak in sherry (the more the better, said Granddad as he nudged Nan’s pouring arm, but this can be left out if you prefer)
  4. Add a layer of fruit.
  5. Pour jello mix (made with the juice from the fruit in lieu of water) on top.
  6. Refrigerate and let jello set.
  7. Spread prepared custard over jello layer.
  8. Cover in plastic wrap to avoid a skin from forming and refrigerate.
  9. Once custard is set you can either proceed to next step to finish trifle or go back to #1 to add another layer, depending on how deep your dish is. It may be easier in that case to make the jello in a separate bowl and spoon it on once almost set. (That's how I did the one pictured.)
  10. Top with whipped cream and decorate as you wish.
1. Nanny decorates her trifles with the more traditional glacé cherry halves and slithered almonds, but I like to use the chocolate eggs (as above) for Easter, or else fresh fruit or flowers. Be creative! 2. Trifle is best when made the day before you plan to serve it, but only add the whipped cream no more than a few hours prior to serving or else it will droop and look sad. 3. Yes, I serve this to my kids complete with sherry. What little there is in each portion is negligible (no more than cough syrup anyway) but if you're uncomfortable with that then by all means leave it out (or make two - one with booze and one teetotal).

View Comments (10)
  • This is a great recipe, perfect for any festivities or just for any day of the week. A great one to prepare with the kids. Very easy to prepare and deliciously yummy.

  • This is pretty much how we make it now in Britain. Not so much jelly now. Try using chocolate sponge, melt dark chocolate into the custard and add a couple of espresso shots or mix enough hot water into a couple of teaspoons of instant coffee and add that to the chocolate custard. Use dark rum or amaretto or coffee liqueur instead of sherry and tinned mandarins instead of fruit cocktail.
    And to go with the cheese and onions sandwiches try cheshire cheese with marmite and salad cream sandwiches.

  • There does not seem to be any ‘jell-o’ on the UK market today that does not contain pork gelatine. Is there any way of making a Jew friendly trifle?

  • Matt, agar-agar (made from various seaweeds) is an increasingly common gelatine substitute suitable for vegans. I believe that makes it friendly to just about everyone except the poor seaweed. You should be able to find it in most health food shops in the UK.

  • I love this recipe, especially adding the chocolate eggs. I am making this for Easter Sunday Dinner 2015

  • This recipe is exactly as my Aunt Dot made it in England. I was born in Ipswich with an English father and Canadian mother. The reverse of most marriages during the war. Story behind that but not for here. Many times there were two desserts depending on the number of people and it would be made with and without the jello. I wanted to make the jello version but just needed to check to see if I remembered.
    Thank you I will let you know how it turned out for my family.

  • My husband is from England, and he recently asked me to make a “trifle.” I used this recipe, and he loved it! I love how you re-use the fruit juice in the jello (or “jelly” as they call it). This is a little different from the American trifle that I am used to, but it is really tasty, and definitely authentic! Thanks for the recipe!

  • This is lovely! My husband is British and kept asking me for a trifle, and nothing was what he wanted. Well I must say, he loves this one! Authentic and fun. Thank you for helping a fellow American bring this flavor from across the pond!!

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