The only thing better than a good recipe? When something's so easy to make that you don't even need one. Welcome to It's That Simple, a column where we talk you through the process of making the dishes and drinks we can make with our eyes closed.
Born to serial entertainers, I started hosting dinner parties at 18 in my tiny basement apartment. What started simple—soups, roasted vegetables, curries—ballooned into week-long projects as my cooking personality developed. Admittedly, I’m overly ambitious and my baking follows the same pattern: It’s always a challenge and it’s always something different.
In order to rein in my ambitions and whittle my dinner party prep to a half-day delight, I’ve learned to cut the elaborate pastries out of the equation and lean into the effortless trifle instead. Guests don't need a fancy dessert, but they do need a dessert. Scoopable layers of cake, cream, and fruit are the ultimate crowd-pleaser and they’re endlessly adaptable to the size of the party, current season, and what I have kicking around the pantry. I’m bringing trifle into the 2022 dessert lexicon.
A sort-of formula for a foolproof trifle
Something creamy: For example, whipped cream, whipped coconut cream, custard, instant pudding, Greek yogurt, and mascarpone all work exceptionally well.
Cookie or cake: Think shortbread, ginger snaps, chocolate chip cookies, or speculoos cookies if you’re a fan of a crispy-gone-soggy situation. Other fail-safe options include pound cake, coffee cake, banana bread, angel food cake, even supermarket cake layers. Of course, everything is better homemade. But also no one, I repeat no one, will notice if the sponge cake you used came from Entemanns.
Fruit: For a punch of acid and tartness, some kind of fruit is essential. Try macerated berries, roasted rhubarb, supremed citrus, cranberry compote, apple sauce—even just hulled and halved strawberries will do the trick.
Syrup or jam: Something sticky-sweet is what gives a trifle its cravable factor. A drizzle of maple syrup, honey, date syrup, pomegranate molasses, jam, or caramel are all great contenders.
My preferred ratio to build my trifle is 1/3 fruit, 1/3 cookie/cake, and the remaining 1/3 split between cookies and jam or syrup, but you could do more or less of any of them. I like mine more fruity and creamy, though you could omit the fruit all together. (After all, tiramisù is technically a trifle.)
How to assemble your trifle
To assemble, layer the bottom of a dish with your creamy element, follow with a layer of cookie or cake, then fruit, then syrup and repeat until the dish is full.
I prefer to end with the cream layer. That way everything hiding underneath is well sauced and also a surprise. If you’re like me and you love fanfare, top with one last wow-factor element for the best presentation such as toasted nuts, some leftover cookie crumble, or cacao nibs. To allow for the cookies/cake to become soft and flavors to meld, assemble your trifle at least 8–10 hours (and up to 24) before serving.