A trifle is more a loose set of guidelines than a set recipe; as long as you have alcohol-soaked sponge, custard, thick cream and fruit, you have a trifle. It is basically a fruity British version of tiramisu, although in most people’s minds the latter seems to have a much higher glamour rating. In Britain most people have their own family favourite formula; ours was deeply inauthentic, cribbed from a 1970s Milk Marketing Board pamphlet, and consisted of a sliced chocolate Swiss roll, doused in the juice from a tin of mandarin oranges, topped with the orange segments, Angel Delight, fresh cream and decorated with chocolate sprinkles. Naff, but there’s something special about the trifle you grew up with and I think it might still be my all-time favourite.

However, for my grown-up showstopping Indian version I decided mangoes and Old Monk were called for. Although a respectable trifle can be made with shop-bought trifle sponges and Bird’s instant custard, I thought it would be nice to make an orangey cake and fresh vanilla custard. I chose an old-fashioned English pound cake, so-called because they used to be made from a pound each of eggs, butter, sugar and flour. This involves a bit more work, but the cake and custard can both be made a day ahead and the extra effort results in layer upon layer of cakey, boozy, fruity, custardy, creamy delight. Definitely one to give tiramisu a run for its money.


For the pound cake

  • Separate three eggs and weigh them. Whatever the combined weight of yolks and whites (mine were 150 gm), use the same amount of caster sugar, unsalted butter and refined flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 3 tbsp orange juice
  • (Alternatively, use a good-quality bought Madeira cake or a pack of trifle sponges)

For the custard

  • 250 ml cream
  • 250 ml milk
  • 50 gm caster sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 vanilla pod, split in half and seeds scraped out
  • 2 tsp cornflour

For the trifle

  • 300 ml whipping cream, whisked till thick
  • 75-100 ml Old Monk rum (if you find yourself in the midst of an Old Monk crisis, try sweet dessert wine)
  • 2 mangoes, chopped
  • Seeds from half a pomegranate
  • You will need a large glass bowl in which to assemble the trifle


To make the pound cake

  1. Melt the butter and leave to cool.
  2. Preheat the oven to 160 degree Celsius.
  3. Grease a small loaf tin, approximately 9 x 21 cm.
  4. Crack open the eggs and put the yolks and whites in separate bowls.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form firm peaks.
  6. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy, then beat in the cooled butter. Fold in the flour and salt, then stir in the grated zest and juice. Very gently fold in the egg whites.
  7. Pour the cake batter into the loaf tin and bake for about 45-60 minutes, or until the cake is well risen and browned on top and a skewer comes out clean. Turn the cake out on to a rack and leave to cool.

To make the custard

  1. Heat the cream and milk in a small pan with the vanilla seeds. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour together. When the cream is hot take it off the heat and whisk it into the egg mixture.
  2. Pour the mixture back into the pan and on very low heat, cook the custard until thick. Take off the heat and leave to cool.
  3. Both the cake and custard can be made a day before you want to make your trifle.

To assemble the trifle

  1. Cut thick slices of cake to line a glass bowl (you’ll be left with a few slices – cook’s treat!), then spoon over a few tablespoons of the rum.
  2. Pile on the chopped mango, then cover with the cooled custard.
  3. Top with the whipped cream, then leave in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours. (Although it’s difficult to hold back from sneaking a spoonful ‘to see if it’s ready’.)
  4. Add the pomegranate seeds just before serving.

Note: The Old Monk really packs a punch in this recipe. If you prefer your rum hit a little more subtle, I would heat 100 ml of Old Monk and let it bubble for a minute or two. Then stir in the juice of half an orange, left after making the cake. Drizzle this mixture over the sponge before proceeding with the layers of fruit, custard, etc.

Excerpted with permission from Uparwali Chai: The Indian Art of High Tea, Pamela Timms, Penguin Random House.

Pamela Timms

Pamela Timms

Pamela Timms is a journalist from Scotland. She has written for numerous publications. She came to India to discover its wonderful and varied flavours. ‘Korma, Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi’ is a record of her experiences exploring the street food stalls of Old Delhi. She records her foodie experiences in her blog, Eat and Dust.

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