A mere trifle. No, we don't mean a lightweight irrelevance, a thing of little value or importance. It’s December, Christmas is coming. So this trifle is that delicious dessert tradition at this time of year. Sponge cake and fruit, covered with layers of custard, jelly, and cream. Fruit, cream, custard, sponge...
What's not to love about this traditional layered dessert?
And traditional, in the English sense, it sure is.
A dessert with history
The history is long. The name trifle was first used in a recipe for a dessert like a fruit fool, way back in the 16th century. That’s over 400 years ago.… A thick cream flavoured with sugar, ginger and rosewater. And it’s described in the delightfully-named 1585 book of English cookery, The Good Huswifes Jewell.
Then by the 18th century, jelly came into the mix. Don't think too much about it, but The Art of Cookery suggests using bones of calves feet as the base ingredient, for gelatin for the jelly.
So trifle comes to us from the English ancestors. And, as with many of New Zealand’s food traditions, travelling here with immigrants to this place, we now have a New Zealand trifle tradition.
Often served at Christmas, sometimes as a lighter alternative to the denser Christmas pudding, here’s one to make our own with our perfect summer berries and kiwifruit. It’s as much a part of the New Zealand Christmas table as that other favourite, the pavlova.
Delicious to look at, and to taste
The basic ingredients are always the same. Sponge cake or fingers soaked in drink (sherry, brandy, sometimes juice), covered with jam or jelly and then an egg custard, all topped by whipped cream. The cream is decorated with fresh fruit, and perhaps toasted nuts, ginger, rose petals.
Layer upon layer upon layer, usually served in a large cut glass bowl. And best approached with a long-handled spoon, to plunge through to the bottom rather than eat one layer at a time.
It’s a celebratory dish, no need to skimp on quality or quantity.
And it’s delicious to look at too, often used for decoration as well as taste, with bright, layered colours of the fruit, jelly, jam, and the contrast of yellow custard and white cream. All in a big cut glass bowl. From above, it looks like a bowl full of whipped cream, with fruit decoration. From the side, its layers are seen through the glass serving bowl.
That’s another part of the trifle’s beauty. Make ahead, and enjoy any leftovers afterwards too. It might even get better with age.
No lightweight irrelevance
The basic formula may be the same. But variations to that formula are endless. Mix and match until you find your perfect combination. A family favourite is a plum, rhubarb and chocolate trifle (yes, extremely delicious). And it’s hard to go past the summer berries version for a summer Christmas. For a true New Zealand trifle idea, click here.
As others have said, trifle might suggest lightweight irrelevance. But this pudding is anything but that. We sure agree. Here’s to a delicious holiday season through New Zealand, and a trifle on every table.