Clear glass bowls called trifle bowls work best for serving trifles. Trifle bowls always feature see-through glass and are usually on a pedestal. Though a trifle bowl isn't necessary, you should definitely use a glass serving bowl so your guests can see the pretty layers before you serve dessert. You can also make single-serving trifles in individual glass bowls or ice cream dishes.
Many types of spongy cakes can be used as a base for a trifle. In addition to classic sponge cake, lady fingers, angel food cake, pound cake, brownies or even macaroons work well. You just want to make sure the cake you use will soak up the flavor of the liquid ingredients. You can make your own or, if short on time, take advantage of a store-bought cake.
Traditionally, a sweet liqueur is layered in the trifle. Port or sherry are most common. But rum, brandy, amaretto, bourbon or even coffee liqueur can be used. For best results, match the liquid flavor with other ingredients. For example, oranges pair well with Grand Marnier while chocolate partners well with coffee liqueur. To make your trifle alcohol-free, simply substitute a complementary fruit juice.
Jam or jelly is another essential trifle component, with homemade jam or jelly being the best-tasting. However, store-bought is a fine — and convenient — option. As with the liquid, the jam or jelly you use for your trifle should partner well with the other flavor components. Blueberry and/or raspberry jam is ideal for a mixed berry trifle while strawberry jelly will partner well with bananas.
The most indulgent part of a trifle is typically the layers of custard and whipped cream, preferably both homemade. Pudding and custard mixes are fine substitutes for homemade custard, but keep in mind that homemade custard is well worth the effort. Homemade whipped cream isn't that difficult to make, but to save time, store-bought whipped topping is an adequate alternative.
Fresh fruit is always a good garnish, but layering it within the trifle will lend a tender, sweet texture. If you prefer, candied fruit and dried fruit will add a toothsome chew. For a nice crunch, add a layer of crumbled cookies, coarsely grated chocolate or chopped nuts. Be sure to garnish your finished trifle with the fruit, cookies, chocolate or nuts you use.
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