Traditional English Trifle

English trifle with raspberries in a glass bowl

The Spruce Eats / Elaine Lemm

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Chill Time: 60 mins
Total: 80 mins
Servings: 6 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
281 Calories
9g Fat
44g Carbs
6g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 281
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 9g 12%
Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Cholesterol 92mg 31%
Sodium 259mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 44g 16%
Dietary Fiber 3g 11%
Total Sugars 20g
Protein 6g
Vitamin C 12mg 60%
Calcium 182mg 14%
Iron 1mg 8%
Potassium 322mg 7%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

An English trifle is a quintessential dessert that has graced British tables for more than four centuries. This decadent-looking treat is simply luscious and often made with alcohol, some with jelly and some not, while the fruit is a must-have for some and a turn-off to others.

Essentially, an English trifle needs sponge fingers or pound cake, perhaps soaked in sherry—but this is optional only if children are not involved. It also needs jelly (aka Jell-O in the U.S.), a thick layer of creamy custard, and a deep layer of lightly whipped fresh cream. The rest is all about personal preference.

A trifle made with jelly might be more appealing to children, and many adults love it too, because as it soaks into the cake, it gives it more texture. If you prefer a trifle without jelly, simply proceed without it—this will be quicker to make because it doesn't need to set up in the fridge. Both are equally delicious.

A footed trifle bowl is traditional and makes an elegant presentation for the famous British dessert. If you don't have one, make it in any large glass dish, or assemble it in individual glasses.


Click Play to See This Recipe Come Together

"I’ve had trifles before, but never one made with gelatin. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but I think I prefer it. I made this recipe twice using both unflavored (Knox) gelatin and strawberry Jell-O. Both were good, though I preferred the look of the flavored version. It’s a great make-ahead dessert that looks elegant." —Danielle Centoni

English trifle with strawberry garnish in small glasses
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 6 sponge fingers (or 6 ounces sponge cake or pound cake), halved horizontally and cut into thick slices

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons sherry, optional

  • 2 cups fresh raspberries or strawberries (do not use frozen)

  • 2 cups jelly or Jell-O made to packet instructions (or make your own)

  • 2 cups thick homemade custard (or canned)

  • 2 cups softly whipped cream

  • Whole raspberries or strawberries, garnish

  • Toasted sliced almonds, optional garnish

  • Grated chocolate, optional garnish

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for traditional English trifle gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Elaine Lemm

  2. Line the bottom of the trifle bowl or glasses with the sponge fingers or cake in a nice even layer. If you want to use sherry, now is the time to add it. Brush it on the sponge and let it soak in for 5 minutes.

    Ladyfingers lined in the bottom of a clear glass bowl for English trifle

    The Spruce Eats / Elaine Lemm

  3. Cover the fingers with a thick layer of raspberries or strawberries. Slowly and gently pour over 1/3 of the liquid jelly and put into the fridge—doing this will set the sponge and fruit into the bottom of the bowl. Once this layer is set, pour over the remaining jelly and leave to set.

    Raspberries in a glass bowl for English trifle

    The Spruce Eats / Elaine Lemm

  4. Once set, spoon a thick layer of custard on top.

    Custard layer for English trifle over the raspberries in a glass bowl

    The Spruce Eats / Elaine Lemm

  5. Finish with a thick layer of whipped cream either spooned over or piped using a piping bag.

    Whipped cream over a thick layer of custard for English trifle

    The Spruce Eats / Elaine Lemm

  6. All that's left to do is to decorate as you wish, with fresh fruit, maybe almonds or chocolate—it is up to you.

    Traditional English trifle in a glass bowl showing layers

    The Spruce Eats / Elaine Lemm

  7. Serve and enjoy.

    English trifle in a clear glass bowl garnished with raspberries

    The Spruce Eats / Elaine Lemm


  • If you don't have sponge cake, you can use 6-ounce/160-gram packages of trifle sponges or sponge fingers instead.
  • If you have some trifle leftover, cover the dish and store it in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to three days. The sponge will soak up the layers, and it will not look as beautiful, but it will remain delicious.

Recipe Variations

This traditional British trifle recipe is just the beginning, and you can take it anywhere you like.

  • Some people add multiple layers of fruit and custard.
  • Brandy, Madeira, or a sweet white wine can replace the sherry.
  • Explore other trifle recipes such as a decadent chocolate trifle, a rum-infused panettone trifle featuring the Italian fruitcake, or enjoy the seasonal taste of a pumpkin and gingerbread trifle.
  • The trifle is so popular that other desserts have been adapted to this form. For instance, there's a red velvet trifle, a banana split trifle, and a black forest brownie trifle that happens to be gluten free.

Can a Trifle Be Made in Advance?

Over time, a trifle will settle to the bottom and lose its layers, so you don't want to make it too early. If using jelly, prepare the bottom layers with enough time for them to set up. You can also prepare all of the ingredients and have them ready in the refrigerator. It's generally best to finish assembling a trifle no more than an hour in advance.