How to Make a Trifle: Recipe + Step-by-Step Guide

For a beautiful dessert with little to no fuss, learn how to make trifle from scratch.

Did you just get that last-minute invite to a soiree, and now need to find a showstopper dessert 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 a trifle.

How to Make the Perfect Trifle

The trifle we build here is a guide to making a “quick and dirty” trifle. We want to show you that prepared, store-bought ingredients can come together to create an impressive, “it looks homemade” showstopper dessert. Of course, you can make every layer from scratch should you have the desire to, but sometimes time gets away from you and you need a quick solution. (Am I right?)

As mentioned above, you will want a few harmonious ingredients that can make distinctive and tasty layers. Here’s what we used for this trifle, but please note you may need more of each item, depending on the size and shape of your vessel.

Ingredients

Trifle Shopping items - how to make trifleJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

  • 1 loaf (10-3/4 ounces) frozen pound cake, thawed and cut in 1/2-in cubes
  • 4 cups fresh strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 package (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix, prepared OR 2 cups custard
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 4 store-bought coconut macaroons

Directions

Step 1: Choose the right vessel

Cake coverJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

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!

Flipped trifle bowlJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

Here, we used a cake dome flipped into its base.

Step 2: Start with a sturdy base

Bottom layer - how to make trifleJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

The traditional English trifle starts with a layer of ladyfingers or sponge cake soaked in liquor, fruit juice or even coffee.

Here, we used strawberries to add moisture to the cake base. We smashed the strawberries and let them sit with a couple of tablespoons of sugar for a few minutes before spooning the mixture over the pieces of pound cake.

Layer two of strawberries and bananas - how to make trifleJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

It’s important to choose an ingredient that holds up well at the bottom of the trifle dish. For this reason, we 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.

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

Step 3: Add a creamy layer

Pastry cream layer 3 - how to make trifleJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

After laying the base, a fluffy layer of creaminess is a must in a trifle. Homemade or store-bought custard, pudding or whipped cream help bind the dish together, adding a light and delicious layer that breaks up the heavier ingredients. (Note: In our example here, we made a vanilla pastry cream.)

Editor’s tip: If you want to go the extra mile, add 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

Blackberries trifle layer - how to make trifleJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

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. Just make sure the fruit is cut into bite-sized pieces for easy serving.

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

Step 5: Repeat

Trifle topped with cream and raspberries - how to make trifleJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

After adding the fruit, you can return to Step 1, and start all over, or take liberty and layer the ingredients as you would like until the trifle dish is full. This is where your creativity reigns!

Step 6: Sprinkle with toppings

Coconut macaron topping - how to make trifleJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

Then the dish filled to the brim, it’s time to add the finishing touch! Whipped cream is a popular crowning glory for a trifle, and homemade whipped cream is easier to make 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. Here, we used more berries and crumbled macaroons. Trifles are so versatile, there’s no wrong choice!

Step 7: Serve the trifle

Keep the trifle chilled until no more than an hour before you’ll be serving it. Though it makes an impressive centerpiece, you want to keep the more delicate layers—like the custard and whipped cream—at the right temperature for food safety.

While some trifles may be stiffer—depending on layer ingredients—and therefore cuttable, we dove right into ours with a large serving spoon. We enjoy the casual nature of trifle and love the mixing of ingredients. With such fresh and tasty layers, there are nothing but tasty bites!

Tips for Making Trifle

What can I use if I don’t have a trifle bowl?

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.

The key is to find something that is tall enough with a reasonable circumference. Something to keep in mind: If you pick a vessel that is too wide, you will have thinner layers. (You will notice that our trifle has thinner layers, but they still added up to the rim of the bowl.)

What are the layers of a trifle?

We recommend, from bottom to top: cake, a moisture layer (fruit/liquor, etc.), creamy custard and fruit; then repeat layers until you almost reach the top. (Trifle often has three sets of layers, but it all depends on your vessel.) Finally, top with whipped cream and any decorative toppings you think will add the finishing touch.

Truth is, there are no rules, so layer to your heart’s content.

Can you make trifle the day before?

You can absolutely make trifle the day before. In fact, it is best after the flavors have time to marry. We recommend serving anytime between 4 and 24 hours after the trifle is made. However, for the best presentation, hold off on adding the top whipped cream layer until just before serving.

Store your trifle in the refrigerator, tightly covered. If cared for properly, trifle should last three days. After three days’ time, the integrity of the dessert will reduce; however, it will still be tasty and safe to eat.

How do you make a trifle custard set?

As you look at delicious trifle recipes, you will see that many use flavored gelatin. Those recipes typically have you make gelatin, let it set and cut into cubes to layer.

Our recipe used pastry cream, which thickens on the stove. When it came time to add it to the layers, it was thickened yet still spreadable.

If you need to set your custard layer, we recommend making your custard (for example, a pudding mix), and letting it cool. Once cooled down, stir it a bit and spoon it over the previous layers. Tightly cover and set the trifle bowl in the refrigerator for about half an hour until it is set, as needed.

Now that you know just how easy it is to make a trifle, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor! Your family will think you spent hours in the kitchen. Shh! We won’t tell if you won’t.

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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.
Jennifer Schwarzkopf
Half Chilean, half Irish descent and all joie de vivre, I'm a food writer/photographer who loves to share stories about different cultures and the magic that is sharing a meal together. When not doing that, you'll find me working on my culinary degree, hanging with family & friends, and just trying to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life." Salud!