Nigella Lawson Talks Trifle

Try this rich, luscious recipe for Orange and Blackberry Trifle, from the bestselling cookbook author.

Casual, indulgent, festive… All describe trifle, a gorgeous and endlessly adaptable dessert worth consideration for your holiday menu this year. In her book Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home, Nigella Lawson, the British bestselling cookbook author and Food Network star, includes a rich and luscious recipe for Orange and Blackberry Trifle.

Lawson serves this one on a platter (rather than in a standard glass trifle bowl) and it’s as attractive as it is simple and delicious. Better still, she’s sharing – both the recipe and her tips and ideas about adapting this dessert to suit your own likes and needs this time of year. Here’s what she had to say when caught up with her recently.

WW: As desserts go, trifle makes a grand impression – yet the preparation seems so easy, what’s the secret?
NL: Well, this version of trifle is very much simpler than a traditional one, so I suppose you could say that the secret lay in leaving out the egg custard layer. But I also think that this trifle looks so beautiful because I choose to display it on a cake stand instead of layering it up in a dish: this way the natural beauty of the ingredients — golden sponge, billowing cream and gleaming berries – are spectacularly evident.

What would you say are the bare essentials needed to be able to justify calling something a trifle?
Traditionally, a trifle would be expected to have a sponge layer, possibly spread with jelly or preserves and always sodden with alcohol of some sort, usually sherry, then fruit, then cooked and cooled egg custard, and then whipped cream and a scattering of nuts or candied fruits. I think it is possible to pare down: layering is still essential but three layers will do: sponge or pound cake is a must, and it needs a sprinkling of liqueur or juice; cream or custard; and fruit. This is the essence of trifle!

Besides blackberries, which other berries (or other fruits) work well? What are some of the less obvious (to Americans) flavor combinations that really sing?
Pears and chocolate work very well together as ingredients, but for me the fruit in a trifle should have an element of sharpness; raspberries or mixed summer berries (which have been frozen) with a little white chocolate or cinnamon, for example. Similarly, tropical fruits with a squeeze of lime and some coconut rum or caramel are great.

What’s your favorite flavor combination in a trifle?
Actually, the key combination is damp cake intermingled with fruit and cream. Flavor can profitably be introduced through the liqueur that is used to dampen the cake, but it doesn't need to be fancy to work. That's the beauty of it.

Being such an adaptable dessert, we wonder if, when one wants to scale back on rich ingredients, you have suggestions for a lightened-up trifle?
To be honest, to me a bowl of berries spritzed with some orange juice and a little grated zest scattered on top is the perfect light dessert, so I am not sure it makes sense to start trying to make a trifle less rich, but I guess you could use a light angel cake base and use a quarter of the cream and heap up with extra berries.

Orange and Blackberry Trifle

Serves 4-6
From Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home (Hyperion, 2010)


  • 12 oz orange pound cake
  • 1/3 cup Cointreau or other orange liqueur
  • Zest and juice 1 orange or 2 clementines (scant ½ cup)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 10 oz blackberries (about 2 cups), or blueberries if blackberries can’t be found


  • Cut the cake into slices and arrange on a plate or a wide shallow dish. Drizzle with orange liqueur.
  • Zest the orange or clementines into a bowl and leave the zest to one side. Then squeeze the juice from the oranges or clementines, pouring this over the liqueur-soaked cake.
  • Whip the cream until thick but softly so, and spoon unfancily over the top of the saturated, not to say gloriously sodden, cake.
  • Arrange the blackberries over the top of the whipped cream, then scatter with the reserved zest.
    The base can be prepared a couple of hours ahead, them finish with whipped cream, fruit, and zest as directed in recipe.

Presentation notes from Nigella Lawson

  • I love this just as it is, lying grandly on a stand or a platter, but it also would look beautiful piled in, and peeking through, glasses or goblets. The latter would give this more of a conventional trifle appearance, but ever since I made my first then-called plate trifle in my second book, I have been drawn to this casual but indulgent pile-up approach. In any event, this is a very freestyle kind of dessert: do with it what you will.

Photos by Lis Parsons from Nigella Kitchen (Hyperion, 2010) courtesy of Hyperion.
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