How to make a showstopper trifle

When BBC Lifestyle asked me to contribute two recipes to coincide with the latest series of the Great South African Bake Off, I immediately said yes. Who wouldn’t? There’s nothing I love more than the magic of bowl and batter. Thinking I’d make something fantastical and impressive, I felt quite deflated when I read the brief.

How to make a showstopper trifle

‘Share with us your baking failures and tell us how you turn disaster into success.’ Not quite what I’d planned, but humble pie doesn’t taste so bad. My earliest recollection of failure was at the fearless age of five when my brother and I concocted the first of many, recipe-free cakes. As our Tsunami-proof cake stood cooling on the kitchen counter, we discussed how we’d fix the spectacularly huge dip in the middle. Stuffing it from underneath with paper until it was beautifully domed on top, we stood back to admire our creativity. A vicious pink icing veiled our trickery.

I take comfort from French sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin. Making culinary history when their botched apple tart resurfaced as the famed Tarte Tatin, I think it’s safe to say, most flops can be salvaged! Temporary defeat doesn’t equate to failure. I’d like to think of it as step towards success.

How to make a showstopper trifle

How to make a showstopper trifle

Since then I’ve notched up more than my share disasters. Often the simplest recipes can go pear-shaped. Like a classic sponge. Baked a few minutes over or under and you’ll be judged and doomed. If like me, you’re hard pressed to toss a cake, here’s my redemption remedy. Trifle. Chocolate, red velvet or a classic vanilla sponge, are all perfect candidates. For committed chocoholics, brownies make excellent trifle fillers. As we’re heading towards Christmas, I’ve stuck to a  traditional red and white. Home-made custard is always a good idea, but if you’d rather spend time sipping cocktails, store bought isn’t the worst option.

To ensure that you dodge calamity in the kitchen, below is a recipe for an easy and failsafe vanilla sponge cake. I use it for layered cakes, cupcakes and of course, trifle. If you want to make your own fruit juice jelly, you can find my recipe here. 

How to make a showstopper trifle



How to make a showstopper trifle

Serves: 12 

Vanilla sponge cake

  • 130g butter
  • 110g castor sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 175g cake flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) milk

To finish

  • 4 cups (1 l) prepared jelly
  • 2 cups mixed berries
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) sherry or port
  • 1/3 cup good quality berry preserve
  • 4 cups custard
  • 500ml (2 cups) fresh cream, whipped
  • 1 cup raspberries, to finish
  • small meringues, to decorate (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 180º C. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.
  2. Cream the butter, castor sugar and vanilla.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition.
  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  5. Add the flour and milk in stages and whisk until all the flour is incorporated.
  6. Spoon the batter into the tin and bake for 30-32 minutes.
  7. Rest in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely.
  8. To assemble, slice the cake in half horizontally and spread with berry preserve.
  9. Pour the jelly into the trifle bowl and add the mixed berries. Chill until set.
  10. Place the cake carefully on top of the jelly and drizzle with sherry.
  11. Pour the custard over, followed by the whipped cream.
  12. Decorate with raspberries and dainty meringues. Dust with icing sugar and serve.


If you’re a trifle fan, you may like to try these:

Black Forest Chocolate Mousse Trifle

Mandarin and chocolate trifle







13 Comments. Leave new

  • Thank you Di for revealing that you too have had a few disasters in the kitchen. 🙂 The preciseness of baking intimidates me, and I know that it stems from the first cake that I baked. Instead of putting in a teaspoon of baking powder, I put a tablespoon into the mixture. The cake looked very impressive in the oven but it resembled a huge sinkhole once it was removed from the oven. Alas as an 11 year old I had no idea how to fix it and therefore it landed in the bin.

  • There might be more than just a few! At least your cake had baking powder. Our first attempt was flour, milk and sugar, which explains the no-rise effect. So we learn….

  • Loved this story! In my classroom, we call the oops we salvage a ‘beautiful oops!’ 🙂 Always possible! x

  • I guess it depends how we look at things – rich in possibilities!

  • On the eve of my daughter’s first birthday, I worked until gone 11pm to make her a birthday cake – just as my mother had always made me a cake. The cake I envisaged was to be iced in white and finished with a family of pink bunnies made of icing. How hard could it be? I bought a tub of promising looking icing from the supermarket and dyed it pink with food colouring. It was a tad on the flourescent side, but hey, she was only one, and in fact, liked flourescent pink. The bunnies turned out surprisingly well and I left them grouped sweetly in the middle of the cake, and went to bed. The next morning I processed into the kitchen leading my hubby with the birthday girl in his arms to show off my masterpiece. To my absolute horror, the bunnies looked exactly as if they had spent the night in a drunken orgy. They had melted, collapsing grotesquely onto the cake and onto each other. Father and daughter gazed at the spectacle in silence as the first notes of ‘happy birthday to you…’ died on my lips. Fortunately I had smarties. I whipped the sorry scene off the cake in one quick scoop, and breakfast cosisted of coffee and a cake hand-studded with a smartie rainbow.

  • Thankfully, there’s very little in a child’s world that cannot be solved by candy-coloured chocolate buttons. Colourful distraction is always a good idea, especially if it’s edible. And let’s face it Kate, the disastrous bakes are the most memorable!

  • This would be nice translated from grams into cups or teaspoons and Celsius to Fahrenheit.

  • Hi Patricia. I’ll forward you a mail with the conversions.

  • Hello – I can’t wait to make this for Christmas, however, could you translate the recipe from grams into cups/teaspoons and celsius to fahrenheit. Thank you!!

  • Hi Michele. I’m sure it’s going to be a winner with your guests. I’ll do the conversions for you and mail it through shortly.

  • Hi Michele

    Okay, here are the conversions for you
    Butter, 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon
    4 oz castor sugar
    6 oz plain white cake flour

    Let me know if there’s anything else.

  • PLEASE give me the recipe of the custard for this trifle

  • Dianne Bibby
    26 July 2019 8:40 pm

    Hello Maxi. The recipe for the custard is on the Bibbyskitchen blog. You can find it on the Creme Patisserie summer berry tarts. Here’s the link. Then, just add the dark chocolate.
    Let me know if you come right.

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