We have the British to thank for the decadent-looking dessert called a trifle. This dish is similar to its smaller cousin, the parfait, in the sense that both use layers of fruit, cake, custard and whipped cream. A traditional English trifle, however, is meant for decoration as much as for consumption, meaning it quite often appears as a centerpiece on formal dinner tables. In fact, many of the more elaborate recipes are meant to be served in specially designed trifle bowls. These bowls are considerably oversized, resembling large brandy snifter glasses.
A traditional English trifle uses cubes of stale sponge or pound cake, which may later be soaked in alcoholic sherry or port wine. Non-alcoholic fruit juices may be used as substitutes. These cubes are layered with fruit compotes or jams in the bowl. A form of vanilla custard may also be mixed into the layers — some recipes call for very firm or solidified custard. Nuts or layers of whipped cream may be added for variety. The cook should continue to build up the trifle until the bowl has been filled completely.
Over time, numerous variations on the original trifle theme have become popular. Some recipes call for chocolate or other flavors of cake as a substitute for the stale pound or sponge cake. The flavor of the custard may also be changed to complement the flavor of the cake. It is not unusual to see mixed berries or other fresh fruits replace the jams.
A trifle may no longer be featured as a centerpiece for the dining table, but it does make an impression on the dessert table. It is usually served with the aid of a large serving spoon and individual bowls. There's usually no need to make very deep cuts into the dessert, since all of the ingredients are present throughout the dish in multiple layers.