My lovely old Nana used to pride herself on two things – her split pea soup and her trifles! When I was about six, I told her that she was the best ‘trifler’ in the world and I’m not exaggerating when I say that from then on, she reminded me of this EVERY single time she made a trifle.
I can’t for the life of me recreate her soup but her making Nana’s traditional English trifle is a whole different ball game and I think I can say that I make a trifle *almost* as good as the ones she made over the years for us when we visited. She’ll always be the best trifler but if I can come a close second then I’m good with that.
The only difference in my trifle and hers is that she used to splash some sherry over the sponge fingers in the first layer but I leave that out because I’m not really a fan of sherry in general and I would just be buying it for the annual Christmas trifle which is a bit of a waste. Everything else is as she used to make her trifle and it really does make me think of her when I’m making it and even more so when we sit down as a family to eat it.
She always used to make hers in individual glass dishes but I’ve always made it in a big glass bowl that I have as it’s the perfect size for a trifle and it shows the layers of the trifle off really well but today I found some little glass ice cream bowls that are a bit deeper than the usual glass bowls you come across and the first thing I thought of when I saw them was how lovely they’d be for trifle.
How to make Nana’s Traditional English Trifle
- 8-10 sponge fingers
- 1 packet strawberry jelly
- 1 tin of mandarin segments
- 1 punnet strawberries
- Fresh whipping cream or Birds Dream Topping
- Sprinkles or toasted almonds for decoration
Layer 1 – Sponge fingers (You might call them Lady Fingers, which I think is funny)
Nana usually used to use sponge fingers for the first layer so that’s what I’ve always done. You can buy sponge fingers from the supermarket for less than a pound and they’re totally worth the money if you’re making a trifle as they really do make the dish. Occasionally, if she didn’t have any in then she would use a swiss roll sliced instead which is almost as good but not quite. You could also try making your own but I’ve never managed to get the texture right so these days I stick to buying them.
Layer the bottom of your dishes (or dish if you’re making one big trifle) with your sponge fingers. Today I used two in each dish and I snapped each one into quarters so I could cover the bottom of the dishes.
You could pour over some sherry at this point if you were feeling that way inclined. 😉
Layer 2 – Strawberry Jelly
This is the controversial layer – do you or don’t you add jelly to a trifle? I do because that’s the way my Nana made it but I know that not everyone agrees. To me, it’s not a traditional English trifle without the jelly so it’s inclusion is never in doubt in this house!
Make your jelly up according to the instructions on the packet and then pour just enough into each dish to cover the sponge fingers. As the fingers absorb the jelly there may be space to add some more sponge fingers to the bottom layer so if there is, just add what you can. I added another half a finger to each of my dishes as the jelly was soaking in and a quick push down with the back of a spoon will give you a smooth(ish) bottom layer.
Then pour over the rest of your jelly and pop it in the fridge to set.
Layer 3 – Fruit
Next up is your fruit layer and my Nana always used to make a budget version of this with a cheap tin of fruit cocktail or a posher version with a tin of mandarin segments and some sliced strawberries. You can choose whatever fruit you fancy but I’ve used the mandarin segments and strawberries today.
Layer 4 – Custard
After the fruit layer comes the custard layer and it’s up to you whether you use homemade, tinned or custard made from powder. Personally, I’m a fan of tinned Ambrosia custard because it tastes lovely and it’s so much easier to just open a tin and know that you can just pour it onto the trifle. Cheap is good but sometimes, I’d rather just spend the money to save time and to be safe in the knowledge that my homemade lumpy custard isn’t going to ruin something that isn’t exactly quick to make. There’s deliberately no quantity here because it’s up to you – 1 tin is enough for these four dishes in my opinion but Mr Frugal would have me use two if he got his way as the custard is his favourite part.
Layer 5 – Cream
The last layer is cream and more often than not, I know that whipped cream is used here so if that’s what you want to use then get whipping and then spoon the cream on to the top of your trifle.
I don’t use whipped cream though as my Nana used to use Birds Dream Topping which is something that brings back so many memories of visiting her. She used it on her trifles, to serve with jelly and even to just add a dollop to the plate when she made cakes so it’s something that I’ve always used too. I make up the Dream Topping and spoon it on to the top of the trifle as smoothly as I can before adding a few toasted almonds or sprinkles for decoration.
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