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The Trifle Tower

I won’t delay. It is unseasonably warm outside and, that being such a rarity in this parts, I really should take advantage, but not before leaving you with this month’s contribution to the five star makeover series.

This month’s theme called for a makeover of dishes where wine was a major ingredient. I chose that old-fashioned triumph of sponge, fruit, jelly, custard and cream, the sherry trifle.

Port trifle

My mini trifle tower

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Mini Port Trifles

The first thing that I did to the poor old sherry trifle was to replace the sherry with a thyme-infused port reduction. In this I was inspired by a recipe for raspberry meringue in Catherine Fulvio’s new book, Catherine’s Family Kitchen, which features raspberries soaked in red wine with honey and thyme. I also left out the jelly part of the trifle, but I did add custard, and I used yoghurt instead of cream (but that’s just my preference, go ahead and use cream if you like or, better still, some mascarpone).

I also made free-standing individual servings, using queen cakes (i.e. plain, undecorated buns or cupcakes) as the sponge base. For these, I generally use a plain madeira mixture and the formula learned from my mother: four, four, six, two, beat and beat until you’re blue (meaning 4oz sugar, 4oz butter, 6 oz self raising flour, two eggs and liberal application of a wooden spoon).

For the custard, you can use a good quality readymade custard if you like, or, even nicer, make your own crème anglaise.

You’ll need:

  • 600ml ruby port
  • 5 tblsp honey
  • 2 x 7-8cm sprigs of thyme
  • 6 plums, halved
  • 12 queen cakes
  • 125ml pouring custard
  • 4 tblsp natural yoghurt
  • 12 walnut halves, toasted and chopped (optional)
  • zest of one lemon

You’ll also need:

  • A heavy-based saucepan for making the port reduction

The Steps:

  • Place the port, honey and thyme in a heavy saucepan, and place over a medium heat. When the honey has dissolved, add the halved plums. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove the plums, then bring the port back to a boil and allow it to boil and reduce for about 20 minutes or until the liquid had reduce to about one third of it’s original amount.
  • To assemble the mini-trifles: Slice the tops off the queen cakes and set aside. Place the cake bases onto serving plates, drizzle the bases with about one third of the port reduction, top each with a plum half, then drizzle with another third of the port. Top with the custard and then the yoghurt. Scatter with the lemon zest and chopped walnuts. Top each with the reserved lids of the queen cakes and drizzle with the remaining port.

The Variations:

  • Lots of variations possible – you could, for example, replace the plums with raspberries and/or replace the yoghurt with whipped cream, say, or some mascarpone.

The Results:

  • Makes 12 mini-trifles


  1. Móna Wise

    I am scarred for life on Trifle, sorry. Too many bad bad memories of awful stuff from Grannys’ Awful sherry – still am not a fan today.
    Yours does look very spiffy there all lined up and not so stodgy at all and I love the addition of yoghurt!

  2. Daily Spud

    My sympathies Móna! I’ve had bad trifle experiences too, especially the ones that involve thick layers of cold, jellified custard, but this, thankfully, is a lighter affair and much more my style.

  3. Boulder Locavore

    This sounds great! I have not been traumatized by triffle as has your first commenter (not common on my side of the pond) so I’d try it in a second. Beautiful swap out you did too. Bravo!

  4. Lori

    I’ve got some port to use up so I’m loving this this makeover. Dessert is good all on its own, but when it is pretty, all the better!

  5. Daily Spud

    Boulder Locavore: Thanks! I guess trifle is quite an English thing in origin, so we’re pretty familiar with (and occasionally traumatised by!) trifle on this side of the pond.

    Lori: I usually have some port in the house, though I only seem to bring it out at Christmastime – this made for a nice alternative use.

  6. Jessica

    Praise the king of trifles! I can hardly peel my eyes away from it. It looks wonderful! Your thyme infused port reduction sounds so perfect for this dish. Love it!

  7. Linda

    Every Christmas, I look forward to the trifle…boozy dessert, what could be better!? I’m a massive Port fan, and love that you infused it… delicious! So happy to be a part of this great group!

  8. Faith

    This really is a lovely trifle, Aoife. The pairing of port, thyme, and plums sounds wonderful. In fact, I just bought a huge bag of plums at the market yesterday! :)

  9. Tanantha

    I like your mother secret recipe -four,four,six, two, beat until you’re blue!-hahaha. This is a lovely trifle and I like your substitutions.

    • Terry

      We used the same recipe for 12 cup cakes, it was 4, 4, 6 and 2, beat and beat until you’re blue and when we were making 24 cupcakes (which we usually did for our large family) we would recite, 8,8,12 and 4, beat and beat forever more!!! This was a time before electic kenwoods :)

      • Terry


  10. Daily Spud

    Jessica: Aw thank you, hope you’ve managed to peel your eyes away by now :D

    Linda: Nothing better I reckon :) Here’s to boozy desserts and great cooking groups :)

    Faith: thanks so much – I think the whole recipe came about because I just happened to have bought plums too :)

    Tanatha: thank you – and glad you liked my mother’s recipe too :D

  11. Priscilla - She's Cookin'

    Ohhh, I think your infused port reduction sauce sounds much better than plain ole sherry! And, I’ll have to memorize your mother’s ditty of 4,4,6,2 to achieve fluffy dessert buns! Beautiful trifle and drippy photo :)

  12. Daily Spud

    Thanks Priscilla – I think it’s better than plain ole sherry too :)

  13. deana

    When I saw trifle I swooned. How do I love thee… well you know the rest. That you deconstructed it is brilliant and love the port addition (well, I love port!). Madeira cake is not well known here and I only made my first one last year but loved it… would have loved it all the more had I had that great little rhyme in my head! Thanks for a great challenge recipe.

  14. Daily Spud

    Madeira cake is such a staple in these parts – I’ve had that little rhyme in my head for years Deana!

  15. Trix

    That thyme infused port reduction sounds like something with a lot of applications, very clever. And I love tower presentations – fun, pretty, and chic.

  16. Magic of Spice

    What a divine trifle recipe…wow! The thyme infused port alone is intoxicating. And your mothers rhyme is perfect :) Just a gorgeous treat!

  17. Shannon | JustAsDelish

    Oh my, this so sinfully delicious! love the flavours of thyme infusion!

  18. Maya

    I for one haven’t been scarred by any bad trifle experiences, in fact they’ve all been pretty marvelous! That’s why I’m here to admire your deconstructed trifle tower, using aromatic thyme-infused port, no less. I can’t get your mother’s cake formula out of my head now, must try making it one day!

  19. Daily Spud

    Trix: thanks – I reckon the port reduction could have a lot of applications too – definitely thinking about making it again around Christmas

    Magic of Spice: so sweet of you to say so :)

    Shannon: hi there – thanks for stopping by to savour!

    Maya: Thanks for your kind comments – once you’ve heard that formula, it’s pretty hard to forget :D

  20. Marisa

    Love the name! This is just layer upon layer of deliciousness! Such a great infusion of complementing flavors.

  21. Daily Spud

    Thanks Marisa, so glad you liked it!

  22. Bren @ Flanboyant Eats™

    wow. i haven’t had trife in more time than i can remember, let alone make it. I love the thyme-infused Port, one of my top 3 fave wines. Lovely presentation.

  23. Evelyne@CheapEthnicEatz

    Oh a really nice modern twist on a trifle. I did not grow up with them so no trauma. I used to do at one point a peach and mascarpone one. The thyme-infused port reduction sounds amazing.

  24. angela@spinachtiger

    So creative for this month’s challenge. I immediately thought savory. I couldn’t post last week, as my site wasn’t back up until Friday, but I’ll see you all next month.

  25. Lori Lynn

    Awesome contribution to the cooking group!
    Adore how you plated it. Just lovely.

  26. Daily Spud

    Bren: Thanks chica! I hadn’t had trifle in a long time either, so it was fun to revisit.

    Evelyne: A peach and mascarpone trifle sounds fab, must give that a whirl sometime…

    Angela: I definitely thought savoury at first for this one too, but something (and I’m not sure what) put me in mind of sherry trifle and I couldn’t let the idea go. Looking forward to having you back up and running for the next one.

    Lori: thanks so much, there were so many fabulous contributions (as always) this month – always a treat to see what everyone has come up with

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