Berries and Cream Trifle

This trifle is sweet, yet very light and refreshing. And with only five ingredients (lady fingers, fruit liqueur, whipping cream, sugar, and fresh fruit) and no cooking, it’s a breeze to put together. Everything here is done to taste. Use as much liqueur, whipped cream, or berries as you like! For a truly eye-catching dessert, make it in a springform pan or, for even more simplicity, just use a clear glass trifle bowl.


THE RECIPE


Berries and Cream Trifle

A trifle should be made at least one day before it’s served so that the lady fingers have time to properly absorb the delicious liqueur and soften beneath the whipped cream.

Ingredients

*Note: Because everything in this recipe is done to taste, I give a range of measurements.

  • 1-2 cups heavy cream
  • 1-4 tbsp granulated sugar
  • Savoiardi lady fingers (crisp Italian lady fingers)
  • at least 1/2 cup sweet fruit liqueur or dessert wine (Chambord/Framboise/Marsala)
  • three 1-pint packages blackberries
  • two 1-pint packages raspberries
  • Optional: 3 large, shapely strawberries (red throughout or none at all), hulled, to decorate the top

Directions

Prepare the vessel…

  1. If using a springform pan, cut parchment paper to line the sides of a 9″ pan (like this pan, but without lining the bottom).
    • If you want the parchment to stick better, grease the side of the pan and press the parchment against it. Do not grease the bottom, your cake will be touching this.
  2. If using a trifle dish (or any large enough bowl), just take it out of the cupboard 😉

Make the whipped cream…

  1. Beat the cream in a large mixing bowl to soft peaks, using a whisk, hand mixer, or wire whip attachment in a stand mixer.
  2. Sprinkle over 1-2 tbsp sugar.
  3. Whisk again until incorporated, about 10 seconds.
  4. Taste for sweetness and add more, if desired.
  5. Once whipped cream is sweet enough, continue beating until just before stiff peaks begin to form.

Assemble the trifle…

  1. Put a layer of savoiardi lady fingers on the bottom of the pan, covering the entire thing.
    • You will have to cut some lady fingers with a sharp knife in order to completely cover the bottom. Don’t worry if they break, nobody will see them; wedge in whatever you can.
  2. Drizzle or brush fruit liqueur over the lady fingers so that the tops are just wet, about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp per lady finger.
  3. Spread the whipped cream over the lady fingers in a layer that is at least as thick as the lady fingers.
  4. Cover all of the whipped cream in one layer of berries.
  5. Spread a thin layer of whipped cream on top of the berries.
  6. Add another layer of lady fingers and wet with liqueur.
  7. Add another equally thick layer of whipped cream.
  8. Top, decoratively, with berries.
    • If using strawberries, make thin slices that don’t go all the way through to the top and then fan them out and place them in the center of the trifle.
  9. Cover the pan/dish with plastic wrap or foil, making sure not to touch/shift the fruit, and refrigerate overnight.

Serving the following day…

  1. If using a springform pan, remove the sides and carefully peel the parchment paper away from the trifle. If any berries pull off with the paper, just put them back in place.
    • Using a large, sharp knife, cut just like a cake.
  2. If using a trifle dish/bowl, just grab a really big spoon and enjoy 😉

Tips, Tricks, and Substitutions

Savoiardi: These crisp lady fingers are more appropriate for this dessert than the soft ones and they can be found in most grocery stores’ international aisles or in an Italian produce market. That being said, you should feel free to sub with soft if you can’t find them or even if you just prefer them. I still recommend brushing with liquid to break down the cakey texture so it isn’t as dense.

Fruit Liqueur: The purpose of the liqueur isn’t only for flavor, it’s to soften the crisp ladyfingers. Without it, the cake would be too dense. You should use one that tastes good to you and that complements the fruit you’ve chosen. What I’ve listed in the ingredients is fairly universal and safe for all fruits. If you don’t want alcohol in the trifle, feel free to substitute with a non-alcoholic liquid, such as plain simple syrup, a fruit simple syrup, or even just milk.

Strawberries: If strawberries are sweet and in season, by all means, add more to the trifle so they can be tasted throughout. Since they were out of season when I made this, though, I just used them as decoration for a little extra touch.

Whipping Heavy Cream: I prefer my trifles to have whipped cream that’s just stiff enough. If it’s too soft, the trifle doesn’t hold together as well. If it’s too stiff, it’s not as creamy. If you think you’ve overbeaten the heavy cream, just add more to the bowl and beat again until it looks right. And whatever you do, don’t worry about it. It’s whipped cream and fruit and lady fingers, it will be delicious no matter what state the cream is in!

Make the Fruit Glisten: Have you ever noticed how shiny the fruit is in fresh fruit tarts? That’s usually because they’ve been brushed with thinned out apricot jam. I absolutely hate that. I just don’t like the feel of the gelatin with my fruit. So when I make a fresh fruit dessert, such as this trifle, I don’t do that. Instead, I puree some fresh fruit, strain it, and brush the fruit on top of the trifle with the thick nectar, which leaves a beautiful sheen minus the slick, thick texture of jam.

I like to do this, in particular, when I have raspberries sitting next to strawberries, because the raspberries end up looking very dull. So, I’ll puree a handful of raspberries, strain the seeds, and brush the smooth, bright puree over each raspberry. It’s a bit tedious and not necessary to do, so I left it out of the recipe, but it’s an extra step I like to take to bring the look to the next level.

If you want to get a sheen that doesn’t take on any color, I recommend pureeing and straining fresh peaches.

Building a Trifle on a Springform: I don’t know if others have this problem, but I can never seem to get the trifle off the bottom of the springform pan and I never want it there for serving! So, instead of layering it on the pan bottom, I actually just set the side of the springform on top of whatever I plan to serve the trifle on–it may be a cake stand, a serving platter, or just a cardboard round like from a bakery (which you’ll notice in the photos of this trifle). Then, I layer the trifle right on that surface! When I remove the sides, the entire thing is standing perfectly on the surface on which it’s to be served instead of a slippery piece of metal that doesn’t look as nice atop a pretty little cake stand 😉

Trifle Size: You can make this whatever size you like. Feel free to cut the recipe in half and make a smaller trifle…assemble it in a big rectangular pan in order to serve more people…whatever you like!

Why Chill Overnight? When assembling anything made with lady fingers like this, it needs to chill overnight in order to set up so that it doesn’t fall apart when you unmold it. Also, the lady fingers need time to soften, not just from the brushed on syrup but also from sitting beneath the whipped cream. If it were eaten right away, the lady fingers would still be mostly crisp, with just a bit of a soggy top, rather than soft and moist throughout.

How Long Will It Last? The lady fingers will continue to absorb liquid as they sit in the trifle, so they’ll get softer and more moist as the days pass. Some might say this is even better a few days after it’s been made, but it’s really a matter of preference. I like to serve it the day after making it, but continue to enjoy the leftovers for the next few days.

Variations: The possibilities are endless. My most important advice is that you make sure the ingredients are of high quality. So don’t put a bunch of bitter, out-of-season fruit into your trifle. I’ve gone as far as using defrosted, frozen fruit, but you have to be careful with that because some are really limp and shapeless, others too watery. Fruits like peaches and mango, which aren’t overly watery in the first place, work great after defrosting, though they’re not quite as pretty as fresh.

That being said, you can really use just about any fruit in a trifle, but should always keep in mind how the texture and flavor will work. For instance, raspberries have a lot of seeds, which I find a bit unappetizing. In that case, I use fewer raspberries than I do other fruit. That way, I get the flavor and beauty without the hassle of as many seeds.

To come up with a great combination for a trifle, just cut up some fruit and eat it together with whipped cream. Then think about how it tastes and feels and what you might do differently. If it’s just delicious, then go for it!


THE STORY


Happy birthday to Greg, for whom this delicious trifle was prepared! Of course, I created this post weeks and weeks ago (it got interrupted by a lot of moving work!), but here it is, finally 🙂

What’s great about trifles is that no baking or cooking is required, whatsoever. Of course, a more traditional English trifle would have custard, which does require cooking, but my version is simply lady fingers soaked in a sweet wine or liqueur, layered with freshly whipped cream and fruit. It’s as easy as that.

What’s also nice is that it’s a sweet dessert, similar to a cake, but much lighter and refreshing like a fruit shortcake. You get your cakey texture fix from the softened lady fingers while your palette is brightened by the fresh fruit…and a little kick from the liqueur never hurt anyone 🙂

After bringing this trifle into work for Greg, I was immediately commissioned to make a second, that very same week, for another coworker! It was my first commission ever and incredibly exciting. I think it looked even better the second time around and I’ve heard that my accidental addition of a bit too much Marsala wine made it an even bigger hit 😉

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