This classic Sherry Trifle is made with layers of delicate ladyfinger cookies, raspberry preserves, homemade vanilla custard, plenty of sherry-wine, and mounds of vanilla whipped cream. Edible holly berries and leaves are the perfect decoration for an elegant Christmas dessert.
I’ve been making this Sherry Trifle for years and years, and it’s my absolute favorite version of the classic holiday dessert.
Typically, trifle is made in layers. Usually you’ll find layers of fruit or jello, some sort of sponge cake, a layer of custard and it’s always topped with whipped cream. Of course there are also a million riffs on trifle, with everything from chocolate pudding to crushed cookies thrown into the mix.
However it’s put together, trifle is always served in a pretty glass bowl to show off the layers. My trifle bowl has a capacity of a little more than 12 cups. If you have a smaller serving bowl you can reduce or halve the recipe.
So, a few notes about my trifle recipe. First of all, instead of fresh fruit or jello I use seedless raspberry jam for the fruit element. I like the acidity and concentrated fruit flavor, and the preserves don’t make the dish too gloppy.
For the cake element I use homemade ladyfinger cookies. Ladyfinger cookies seem so delicate, but they’re really super-absorbent little sponge cakes. The ladyfingers absorb the sherry, and they meld with the soft custard to bring all the flavors together.
For a special presentation I sandwich the ladyfingers with the preserves, then cut them into strips to line the sides of the dish. This creates a pretty red and white stripe design that shows through the glass bowl.
Don’t try to serve this dish too soon after assembling or it will be soupy. The ladyfingers need time to do their job. This is a great dessert to make ahead because it needs several hours or, even better, a full night in the refrigerator. I served the trifle in the photo about a day and a half after it was put together and the texture was just perfect!
Click through the slider to see how to put together a Classic Sherry Trifle:
- 6 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp (3 oz, 85g) powdered sugar
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2/3 cup (3.5 oz, 95g) all purpose flour
- More powdered sugar for sprinkling
- 3 cups (24 oz, 710 ml) whole milk
- 4 large eggs
- 3 large egg yolk
- 1/2 cup (4 oz, 115g) granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (6 oz, 170g) seedless raspberry preserves
- 3/4 cup (6 oz, 177 ml) sherry wine
- 2 cups (16 oz, 473 ml) heavy cream
- 1/4 cup (1 oz, 30g) powdered sugar
- 1 Tbsp vanilla
- Line 2 half sheet pans with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 300°F convection or 325°F regular.
- Whip the egg whites to soft peak. With the mixer running on low speed, whisk in the powdered sugar.
- Whip the whites to full peak. Gently whisk in the yolks and the vanilla. Sift the flour over the batter and gently fold it in.
- Transfer the batter to a piping bag fitted with a large plan tip. Pipe the cookies onto the prepared baking sheet into 4" long x 2" wide "fingers". Lightly sprinkle the tops of the cookies with powdered sugar. Bake until light brown and spongy about 10-12 minutes. Cool completely.
- Heat the milk in a saucepan until scalding hot, but not boiling.
- While the milk is heating, whisk together the eggs, yolks, sugar and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.
- Whisk the scalding milk into the egg mixture then return the mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium/low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (see the photo in this post). Pour the custard into a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.
- Spread the raspberry preserves onto the flat side of 1/2 the ladyfingers. Sandwich with the remaining ladyfingers (you should have about 2 dozen sandwiches). Cut a ladyfinger sandwich in half, lengthwise. Stand the ladyfinger on end, with the cut side to the outside of a glass trifle bowl.
- Continue cutting and arranging the ladyfingers until the entire perimeter of the bowl is lined with a "striped" pattern. Use half of the remaining uncut cookies to the line bottom of the bowl. You can break them up to fit pieces into any gaps between the cookies.
- Sprinkle a 1/2 cup of the sherry over the cookies on the bottom and sides of the bowl. Pour half of the custard into the bowl. Arrange the remaining cookies over the custard and sprinkle with the remaining sherry. Pour the other half the custard into the bowl.
- Whip the cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla. Drop dollops of cream over the custard, reserving a little to pipe a decorative border, if you'd like. Smooth the cream to an even layer and use remaining cream to pipe a decorative border. Decorate with fresh fruit or, for the holidays, holly berries and leaves made from marzipan or fondant.
- Refrigerate at least 6 hours (preferably overnight) before serving.
This recipe makes a large trifle. I have a large, 13 cup, trifle bowl. You can halve the recipe for a smaller bowl.
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