Mandarin and chocolate trifle

Trifle is a very honest dessert. There’s nothing hidden, the whole of which, is greater than the sum of its parts. Layer upon layer of unpretentious elegance, its crowning adornments rich with promise. A respectable trifle needs a couple of things to make it memorable – homemade jelly, cake, custard and cream. And of course, a booziness to warm the throat. While December would seem a more appropriate time to talk trifle, I could hardly wait until then to share this Mandarin and chocolate trifle. Mostly because mandarins are in season and, if you’re celebrating Christmas in July, this is the kind of dessert that could brighten the dullest winter day.

Mandarin and chocolate trifle

The trifle of my childhood was bright red and green, with runny yellow custard, Swiss roll and soft, tinned fruit. Often my mother would add tiny nuggets of candied ginger and a selfish handful of chopped pecans. Never did anything taste better! Since then, I’ve made countless variations. It’s the kind of dessert that doesn’t mind meddling. You can make it up on the fly, as long as jelly and the 3 C’s are present – cake, custard and cream

Mandarin and chocolate trifle

There are a couple of things to bear in mind when tackling trifle. Whether you’re using freshly squeezed juice, bubbles or a blushing rosé, making the jelly from scratch expresses a trifle’s true character. For this citrusy version, the juice needs to be sweet and tart, with a brightness that opposes the creamy custard layer. Which brings us to the custard or cremé patisserie, if you like. A slightly thicker custard knows how to behave respectably when dished, so once again, homemade is the better option here. When it comes to the cake layer, there’s ample room to dodge the effort of ‘home-baked’. A good store bought cake will do the trick. After a decent anointing with your tipple of choice, no one will be any the wiser. For this recipe I used leftovers from my Red wine and Olive oil chocolate cake. I love the cake part of trifle, a lot, so I tend to be over generous with the thickness of the cake. Just remember to soak the layers well. Because chocolate copes well with tartness, I’ve used gooseberries too. If you’re not too keen on these, use only the mandarin slices.

Showering the fruit with powdered sugar creates icy-like white clusters. It reminds me of early morning lawn frost. The only thing left to do is add scraggy chocolate scrolls and grab the bowls.

Mandarin and chocolate trifle

Mandarin and chocolate trifle


Mandarin and chocolate trifle

Serves 10-12

Mandarin jelly

  • 6 gelatine leaves
  • 750ml (3 cups) freshly squeezed mandarin juice, strained
  • 30ml (2 tablespoons) lemon juice
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) castor sugar
  • 30ml (2 tablespoons) honey whisky

For the trifle

  • 1 x quantity crème pâtissèrie (I use this recipe)
  • 100g 70% dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 x good quality store bought chocolate cake
  • 60ml marsala (fortified Italian dessert wine) or medium cream sherry
  • 1/2 cup gooseberries
  • 500ml fresh cream
  • 30ml (tablespoons) icing sugar
  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) vanilla extract
  • 4-5 mandarins, peeled
  • chocolate scrolls, to finish
  1. Start by making the jelly. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5-7 minutes to soften.
  2. Place the mandarin juice, lemon juice and castor sugar in a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring all the while until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat.
  3. Squeeze excess water from the gelatine leaves, then add to the warm juice. Stir well, making sure the gelatine is completely dissolved. Add the honey whisky, if using and stir to combine. Pour into a deep trifle dish and chill until set.
  4. For the crème pâtissèrie recipe, refer to link above. To the warm crème pâtissèrie, add 100g chopped chocolate and whisk well to incorporate. Cover and set aside to cool slightly.
  5. Arrange the cake on the jelly and drizzle with marsala or sherry.
  6. Slice two of the mandarins into 1cm thick rounds, then into quarters. Arrange the mandarin pieces and gooseberries, if using, on top of the cake, then cover with the crème pâtissèrie. Cover with cling film and chill the trifle for about 2 hours or overnight.
  7. Just before serving, whisk the cream and icing sugar until softly peaked. Add the vanilla and whisk to combine. Arrange the remaining mandarins on top – whole or halved. Dust liberally with icing sugar and decorate with chocolate scrolls.


Here’s another trifle recipe that I’m sure you’ll love. I developed this Showstopper for the BBC’s Great South African Bake Off. It’s a seasonal favourite on the blog. I’ve also included the link for the Red wine and olive oil chocolate cake and my easy sour cream chocolate cake. Either one will do nicely here.

How to make a showstopper trifle

Red wine and olive oil chocolate cake

The ultimate layered chocolate cake with glossy ganache





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