How to Make the Ultimate Trifle (Without It Becoming a Sweet Bowl of Mush)

Dust off that trifle bowl and follow these expert tips for a showstopping dessert.

Taste of Home

Did you just get that last-minute invite to a soiree, and now need to find a showstopper dish to prepare? Don’t have time to make a dessert from scratch? Fear not, I’ve found your solution: the trifle. Traditionally, this old-school dessert consists of cake pieces, custard and sliced fruit layered in a clear dish. Trifles require little cooking and there are infinite combinations of ingredients you can mix and match. Follow along for expert tips on how to make the ultimate trifle.

How to Build the Perfect Trifle

Step 1: Choose the right vessel.

A trifle bowl is your best bet here: They are typically glass (to show off your yummy ingredients) and tall and deep (so you have room for adequate layers). Many trifle bowls have a pedestal bottom that raises the dessert high for everyone to see. Edible centerpiece? I think yes!

If you don’t have a trifle bowl or aren’t able to track one down at the local secondhand store, use any deep bowl with tall sides. In a pinch, a clear ice bucket, a glass punch bowl or mason jars (for individual servings) will do the trick.

Step 2: Start with a sweet and sturdy base.

The traditional English trifle starts with a layer of ladyfingers or sponge cake soaked in booze. (Hello, boozy dessert!) If you decide to forgo the booze, there are many options to choose from. Make it easy by picking up prepared brownies, angel food or pound cake from a store. Crumbled cookie pieces and macaroons work, too. My personal favorites for the holiday season are pumpkin bread, spice cake and gingerbread.

It’s important to choose an ingredient that holds up well at the bottom of the trifle dish. For this reason, I favor dense base desserts, rather than soft and airy ones. (Those lighter desserts end up becoming a pile of mush once the rest of the ingredients are laid on.) Stale cake or cookies that have been hanging out on your kitchen counter work wonders in trifles.

Pro tip: Cut the dessert base into small pieces or squares. This will make assembly a breeze. See how it’s done in our favorite Chocolate Strawberry Punch Bowl Trifle.

Step 3: Add a creamy filling.

After laying the base, a fluffy layer of creaminess is a must (or at least, most likely expected) in a trifle. Homemade or storebought custard, pudding or whipped cream help bind the dish together, adding a light and delicious layer that breaks up the heavier ingredients.

Pro tip: Go the extra mile by adding extra flavor to the whipped topping. Fruit curd, caramel or even Nutella are amazing drizzled over the top of the cream layer.

Step 4: Lay on fresh fruit.

Seasonal fruit helps provide the right juiciness and sweetness to a trifle. Layer fresh fruit like strawberries, bananas and raspberries on top of the cream. If your fave fruit is out of season, frozen, canned or preserves are other options. Just make sure the fruit is cut into bite-sized pieces for easy serving.

Pro tip: Place slices of fruit flush against the wall of the trifle dish for a striking visual.

Step 5: Repeat!

After adding the fruit, return to Step 1 and start all over. Layer the ingredients until the trifle dish is full.

Step 6: Sprinkle with toppings.

Is the dish filled to the brim? It’s time to add the finishing touch! Whipped cream is a popular crowning glory for a trifle. (Psst! Homemade whipped cream is easier than you’d think.) Sprinkle with other toppings like graham cracker crumbs, cookie crumbs (from the bottom of the bag) or chopped candied ginger. Ground cinnamon or cocoa powder works too. Trifles are so versatile, there’s no wrong choice!

Pro tip: Drizzle chocolate syrup or caramel sauce across the top of the trifle. Toasted, chopped nuts work well and provide crunch.

Now that you know just how easy it is to make a trifle, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Your guests will be fooled and think you spent hours in the kitchen.

Here are our top-rated trifle recipes to get you started.
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Rashanda Cobbins
When Rashanda’s not tasting and perfecting Taste of Home’s recipes, you’ll find this food editor sifting through our recipe collection, curating digital content or tracking the latest culinary trends. While studying for her bachelor’s degree in culinary arts, Rashanda interned in Southern Living’s test kitchen and later spent nearly a decade developing recipes and food content at ConAgra Brands. In her spare time, she loves scoping out local farmers markets and having picnics in the park.