Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Recipe: Chocolate Trifle

Photo of large, round trifle composed of three layers of brown cake, yellow custard, white whipped topping, and brown ganache, with toffee on top. Behind it is a two-layer cake covered in white icing and decorated with crumbled pecans.
Chocolate Trifle, with eggnog cake in the background.

It's past time I told y'all about my favourite dessert to bring to family gatherings.

Chocolate trifle is a fabulous dish for large groups because it stretches like nobody's business. I've fed 20+ people with this thing, and we're talking big eaters (albeit ones who'd just had a full supper).

It's also a great make-ahead dessert. The custard is the only thing you need to prepare within a day or two of assembly. Everything else freezes and defrosts beautifully.

The Basic Assembly

You'll need:

  • one chocolate cake with at least two layers
  • one tub of Cool Whip
  • about 1/2 cup ganache
  • 2.5 to 3 cups white chocolate custard
  • half a recipe of toffee, chopped into bits
  • one large, fancy glass bowl

Cut your cake into small chunks. (This is easiest to do when it's frozen.) Pack these small chunks into the bottom of the bowl.

If your bowl is shallow (or your cake is thick), spread half the custard on top of the cake. If your bowl is fairly deep (or your cake is thin), spread one third of the custard on top of the cake. Don't worry about coverage; you don't need to completely coat the cake, just provide a contrasting layer of flavour.

Top the custard with enough Cool Whip to provide full coverage.

Top your Cool Whip with a good, solid drizzle of ganache. If your ganache is straight out of the fridge or freezer, you'll need to pop it in the microwave for anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds to get a nice, runny consistency.

Top your ganache with a goodly quantity of toffee bits.

Repeat the layers until your trifle comes up to the lip of your bowl. Serve to your adoring dinner companions.

And if you have any bits and pieces left over, you can easily assemble mini trifles or trifle bites for your enduring amusement. Hurray!

Photo of a small chunk of chocolate cake topped with Cool Whip, drizzled with ganache, and finished off with a piece of chocolate-topped toffee stuck upright into the top.

Photo of a miniaturized version of the above trifle, served in a pale purple glass bowl with a short stem.

Recipes and Suchlike

The nice thing about trifle is, you don't have to use particular recipes for each layer. You can go with your favourite standbys, and you're welcome to substitute other things willy-nilly. Don't like toffee? Try chopped malt balls instead. Prefer prepared pudding to custard? Go with that. This whole thing is totally adaptable.

Here are my own favourites, in order of complexity:


You can make your own custard if you swing that way, but I like to use Bird's. I follow the package directions, then stir in 150g (5oz) of white chocolate as soon as I remove it from the heat. It's faster than the traditional method, and it tastes very good indeed.

I wouldn't recommend freezing the custard, but you probably want to make it the day before so it has time to cool off before you assemble the trifle. It'll keep well in the fridge.


  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup (or corn syrup)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp rum OR 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 175g (6oz) dark chocolate wafers
Pop the cream, syrup, butter, and rum (or vanilla) in a small pot over medium heat. Cook for about five minutes, until it's bubbling but hasn't quite come to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring briskly until it's fully melted.

You can keep the ganache in the fridge until the use-by date on the cream, or you can seal it up tight freeze it for a month or two. Be forewarned, frozen ganache is delicious.

Alternately, you can buy a jar of thick chocolate ice cream topping.


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 85g (3oz) chocolate wafers
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Toffee is easy if you've got a candy thermometer but a bit tricky otherwise. I strongly recommend you get one if you intend to do even a middling amount of candy-making. Mine was $6 from Superstore and I use it all the time.

If you don't want to muck around with candy thermometers, you can substitute something like Almond Rocha or your favourite crumbly, chocolate-coated candy.

Heat the sugar, butter, and water to boiling in a heavy-bottomed pot, stirring constantly. Once the mixture is bubbling away, reduce the heat to medium and continue to stir constantly until it hits 300F on a candy thermometer.

Immediately remove the toffee from the heat and pour it onto a large, lipped baking sheet, spreading slightly if necessary. Sprinkle the hot toffee with the chocolate and let it stand for a minute or two before you spread the chocolate evenly with an offset spatula.


I've made this with a variety of different cakes: Chocolate Spice, German Chocolate, and Devil's Food. While chocolate spice is my personal favourite, my family prefers the Devil's Food described below.

  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 2/3 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cups butter, softened
  • 2/3 cups unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 1/4 tsps baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs

Standard cake-making procedure here. Preheat your oven to 175C (350F). Butter and flour the bottoms of three 8-inch cake pans (or one 13x9 pan).

Pop all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat them with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and beat for another 3 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally.

Divide the batter evenly between the three pans. Bake them for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

You can freeze the cakes for a month or two, if necessary. You'll probably only need two of the layers with this recipe, but the third layer will give you some wiggle room if your bowl is deeper or the cake packs in tighter than you expect it to. If you don't use the whole third layer for the trifle, it'll taste great spread with your favourite chocolate icing and devoured at your leisure.

Photo of a trifle bowl with half the trifle scooped out.

Photo of a serving of trifle scooped out onto a small, white plate.


  1. Unfortunately I can't eat chocolate, but this does look really good.

    1. Sadness! I hope you can still eat traditional, non-chocolate trifle when it comes your way.

  2. Um, hello. I need this years and years ago. I used to be very adventurous with my baking, but lately I've fallen back on old standbys again and again. Not that chocolate chip cookies aren't great every single time, but I want to get creative again. I might have to go for this, and with CUSTARD.

    1. YAY CUSTARD! I hardly ever make it from scratch because it requires so many eggs, but it's right tasty.