Simply food


English Trifle: a perfect dessert for this time of year.

Olivia Potts, writing in The Spectator, which I confess to being my favourite British magazine, says that this year she will not be making any of the traditional dishes for Christmas. Her excuse is that she will be 40 weeks pregnant. Reasonable. Usually, I have two feasts at this time of year. One for my family before or after the actual date, as I have to share them with my ex, whose turkey filled extravaganza takes precedence. And another on Christmas Day for a band of friends who might otherwise be alone. At both an excess of goodwill, food and booze makes us all jolly.

This year I have an even better excuse than Olivia, as three days before 25 December I will be undergoing surgery for a torn Achilles tendon. A spot on my surgeon’s schedule opened up suddenly, and rather than wait until the end of February or later, I jumped at the chance to get this wretched affliction fixed. On Christmas Day, I will be booted for the following six weeks, and thence on crutches for three months. Finally, as Spring arrives, I will be able to gambol with the lambs – or at least throw away the crutches and the cane I have been using since a horrific car crash back in May. (Head on collision at 60 kph, both cars written off, not my fault!)

So, while we will have a very, very quiet holiday, I agree with Olivia that a proper English Trifle is a perfect dish and Christmas would not be the same without it. Her recipe for Sherry Trifle differs slightly from mine (she prefers raspberries and canned peaches), I settle for strawberries. My own recipe was published in 2013, along with a story of how I made it while appearing on live television, but to save you checking the link (although please do!), I have reproduced it below.

I will make the trifle the day before surgery and it will wait in the fridge, covered in plastic wrap, with all the sherry-soaked ingredients “getting to know each other very well,” as Olivia says, until the moment of its consumption. The whipped cream and toasted almonds for the topping, I think I can manage, even on crutches. It may even last until left-overs day (I mean Boxing Day).

Meanwhile, David, Jim and I wish all of our family, friends and readers a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.


Shopping list

  • 9 in square plain sponge cake (bought on this ocasion)
  • 1/2 jar (125 ml) good strawberry jam
  • 1 cup (about 1/4 bottle) medium dry sherry
  • 2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
  • 1 cup (250 ml) table cream
  • 1 tsp liquid vanilla essence
  • 1/4 cup (50 ml) fine white sugar
  • 1 tsp corn flour
  • 5 large eggs, yolks only


  • 1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup blanched and toasted slivered almonds
  • 1 lb (454 g) fresh strawberries, fresh seasonal berries or sliced bananas

Preparation and cooking

  1. In a saucepan mix the milk and table cream together, bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer, stir in vanilla essence.
  2. In a large bowl mix sugar and corn starch together. Separate the eggs and discard the whites. Add the yolks to the mixture and beat in well with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour on the warm milk mixture, stirring constantly until the custard is completely smooth.
  3. Bring the water to the boil in the bottom half of a double boiler (or suspend a metal bowl in a saucepan of boiling water). Pour the mixture into the top half and stir until it thickens into a rich, creamy custard. Set aside for about 45 min to cool. If the custard starts to curdle, just whip it back to smoothness. If the wait is going to be longer, cover the custard with plastic wrap, letting it touch the surface. That way a skin won’t form.
  4. Split the sponge cakes to the size of a thick slice of bread and spread generously with strawberry jam. Make into sandwiches and cut into 1 in fingers. Arrange the sponge fingers in the serving dish. If using a shallow dish a single layer will suffice, but in a deep dish criss-cross the fingers so as to leave plenty of space between them. TIP: Using a glass dish or bowl allows the sponge layers to show through as well as the colours of the jam and custard.
  5. Pour the sherry onto the sponge fingers so they are completely soaked. Then add the cooled custard to cover the sponge. Make sure the custard runs down between all the sponge fingers. Then cover with plastic wrap touching the surface and set in the fridge to cool.
  6. When ready to serve, whip the cream until it is not too stiff, top the layer of custard and smooth out with a spatula. Decorate with the slivered almonds (toasted in a pan and cooled) and whatever fruit you have chosen. If you wish you can change the jam to match the fruit you are using, but whatever you do, use top quality ingredients. This guarantees the best English trifle every time.

Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook is now available through several international distributors such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you haven’t done so, please click on your favourite online retailer and buy a copy. It’s only 9.99 ($US, $CAN, £GBP and €EURO) in any currency. Just in time for Christmas!

Featured image: A chilled bottle of Louis Roderer Champagne awaits the Christmas feast

Please LIKE this blog, if you have enjoyed the article, or add a COMMENT — clickable at the top of each story. Click on the FOLLOW button at the bottom of the page if you would like to receive email notifications of new articles.

This is Nigel’s 328th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories, or check under CATEGORIES.

1 reply »

  1. Trifle is one of my very favourite things. My mother made the traditional type for Christmas or New Years when I was a kid. My first taste of booze no doubt. I have a trifle bowl and will be making Gingerbread Cinnamon-Custard Chocolate Trifle this week, which is THE BOMB!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.