Christmas Trifle Tree: A table spread with joy

I love Christmas.

Between shops being covered in tinsel from August onwards, awful cover versions of a handful of Christmas carols, and the absurd number of times Love Actually is shown on television, there is something about Christmas that makes people feel good, regardless of tackiness and commercialism.

But for me, what Christmas is really about is spending time with the people who matter to you. That, and eating a big lunch.

Yes, it is those dual joys of family and great food that really make the season bright, the two constants that have been there through every Yuletide (and most of the rest of the year). Christmas isn’t Christmas without my family and a fantastic spread. And as I read through the entries in this month’s Sweet Adventure’s Blog Hop on Festive Favourite desserts, I see that this is not a unique feeling. 

Every year, in the week before I head back to Melbourne to spend time with my wonderful family, I like to celebrate with the people that have been close to me throughout my year in the capital. Because, as they say, friends are just like a family you choose yourself. And my vast and varied Canberra family has been good to me this year.

I opened up my apartment to these friends for one rare occasion, cooking up a storm. With a broad selection of tacos to fill everyone up (the 12 hour roasted pulled pork was a particular hit), and a large bowl of watermelon margarita punch to turn it into a party, I made sure everyone had a good time.

But I wanted to do something special for dessert. Something that would get everyone talking and bring some of the fun that Christmas should be, but still have a touch of tradition about it. (Having something a little different to put on this blog hop was a bit of a consideration, too.)

The Christmas trifle is a classic crowd pleaser, bringing in cherries and berries to make it a bit more appropriate to summer. Sponge, fruit, custard, booze and really whatever else you want to include make for a dish that everyone wants to dig in to. But how to make it a little more exciting?

I don’t know about you, but I love the show Great British Menu. This year’s season, taped off Foxtel by my parents and mailed to me (didn’t I say my family were wonderful?), was about creating interactive, sharing food for a huge street party. My inspiration came from this, from chef Stephanie Moon’s creation of a Yorkshire Mess, served straight on the table.

I’d seen this before in a dessert from Alinea’s Grant Achatz, and both times I was blown away. What an idea! Why have individual dish for everyone when you can just give everyone a spoon and have them scrape the food off the tablecloth? This was a fun way to eat.

So, to a rarity for this blog: a recipe. Complete with something unique for Capital Gourmand – for the first time, my blog will have some photos! (Taken very kindly by my intrigued friends on their smart phones as they watched me plate up. I’ve borrowed these photos from my friend @Lyons_Ben – Thank man!)

Please note, my measurements aren’t perfect. For one, I ended up with way too much of everything, and secondly, my scales decided to run out of battery, which made judging amounts difficult. Also, some of my recipes have been borrowed from elsewhere. Where this is the case, I will acknowledge them.


Anyway, here it is:


Christmas Trifle Tree


First, work on the individual elements:

1.   Raspberry syrup

2 cups frozen raspberries

1 ½ cups sugar, plus a little extra

splash of white vinegar


Combine the raspberries with two spoonfuls of sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the raspberries begin to break down. Once they do, add another 1 ½ cups of water and the vinegar. Bring to boil, then let simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Strain the mixture, returning the juices to the pan with the 1 ½ cups of sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil for a few minutes and let cool. Once cooled, put in a squeeze bottle to make serving easier.


2. Crema pasticceria (taken from Robert Marchetti’s Zuppa Inglese from Guiseppi, Arnaldo and Sons)

375 ml

(1½ cups) milk


vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped


egg yolks

90 gm

caster sugar

35 gm

plain flour

250 gm



Combine milk and vanilla bean in a saucepan and bring just to the simmer (do not boil). In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar and flour until thick and pale. Pour over half the milk, whisking continuously, then add this mixture back to milk on the stove. Whisk over low heat until thickened (3-4 minutes). Cool completely then whisk in mascarpone until smooth.


3. Sponge (adapted from the Basic Sponge Cake recipe in Gourmet Traveller)

80 gm

butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for brushing

240 gm

plain flour, plus extra for dusting


eggs, at room temperature

220 gm

(1 cup) caster sugar


vanilla bean, scraped seeds only


Preheat oven to 180C. Brush a 20cm by 30cm cake tin with melted butter, line base with baking paper, dust sides with flour.

Triple-sift flour and set aside.

Whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla seeds in an electric mixer until thick, pale and tripled in volume (7-8 minutes). Transfer to a mixing bowl.

Sift over flour in three batches, folding each batch in with a large metal spoon.

Fold in melted butter.

Pour into cake tin, bake until light golden and centre springs back when pressed lightly with your fingertip (20-25 minutes). Pull cake gently away from sides of tin with your fingers or carefully loosen with a knife. Turn onto a wire rack, remove baking paper, turn back over, then cool completely.


4. Cherry Sabayon

5 egg yolks

7 tablespoons of sugar

1 ½ cups (roughly) of Heering

2 cups cream


Beat the egg yolks in a large steel bowl.

Add the sugar and Heering. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens, then remove from the heat and continue whisking until cooled to room temperature.

Whip the cream to stiff peaks. Fold through the yolk mixture.


5. Cream

2 cups cream

½ cup caster sugar

Dash rosewater


Whip cream with the sugar to stiff peaks. Mix in rosewater.


6. Raspberry Jelly (adapted from Robert Marchetti’s Zuppa Inglese from Guiseppi, Arnaldo and Sons)

400 gm

frozen raspberries

110 gm

(½ cup) caster sugar
Enough gelatin to set 1.2litres of liquid

600 ml



Combine raspberries, sugar and 2 cups of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then strain through a fine sieve. Add gelatin to raspberry mix, stirring to dissolve. Cool completely, then add moscato. Pour into 20 60ml muffin molds and refrigerate until firm (1-2 hours).


7. Meringues

6 egg whites

330g caster sugar

1 vanilla pod


Preheat oven to 90C.

Beat egg whites with one tablespoon of sugar until the mixture has soft peaks.

Add the remaining sugar in stages. Beat at a high speed until glossy and hold firm peaks.

Pipe into rough 3 cm rounds on baking paper lined trays. Bake for 1 hour 45 minutes, then turn the oven off and leave slightly ajar until oven cools.


8. Boozy cherrys

300g pitted cherries

1 cup Heering


Soak cherries in Heering for at least 2 hours.


9. Shortbread (Taken from Baking for Britain)

110g slightly salted butter (or unsalted butter with a pinch a salt) – use direct from fridge

50g caster sugar

150g plain flour

50g rice flour/ground rice


Sift the flour into a bowl (along with the salt if you are using unsalted butter), and stir in the ground rice and sugar.

Put the bowl of dry ingredients on the scales and return the dial/reading to zero and (here is the clever bit) grate in 110g butter from a chilled block .

Work the grated butter quickly into the flour by rubbing first with the fingertips, and then between the palms of the hands. Once the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, stop.

Press the mix into a 20cm by 20cm square baking tin and level the surface. Chill in the fridge for about an hour.

Heat oven to 160C/320F/Gas 3, and then bake shortbread until light golden (about 40 minutes, but keep an eye on it).

Remove from oven and prick all over with a fork, then mark out into pieces (squares or fingers) cutting through to the bottom of the tin. Dust liberally with caster sugar, and then leave to cool in tin.


And now the fun part.



Additional ingredients: Fresh raspberries, fresh pitted cherries


Before you begin:

–       cut sponge into 12 long triangles

–       remove jellies from molds and place on a tray

–       crumble up shortbread

Lay a large, very clean white tablecloth over the table.

Take the raspberry syrup and draw a large triangle on the tablecloth. Squiggle more syrup inside this triangle, like a rudimentary Christmas tree drawing.

Put streaks of crema pasticceria diagonally inside the ‘tree’. Also create a star at the top with the crema.

The beginning


Place the sponge triangles in a pattern down the ‘tree’, almost like branches.

Put a spoonful of the cherry sabayon on the centre of each of the sponge triangles.

Stage 2

Put a dollop of cream at the bottom of each of the sponge triangles.

Down the sides of the ‘tree’, alternate jellies and meringues.

Around the ‘tree’, place boozy cherries with streaks of the Heering. Also place a few boozy cherries on the corners of the crema star.

Over the top of the main part of the ‘tree’, scatter fresh raspberries, cherries, and crumbled shortbread.

The final product

Then, dump a handful of spoons on the table, stand back for a round of applause, then tell everyone to dig in.

All of my Canberra family had a great time eating this, and I strongly suggest you try table service with whatever dessert you can think of. It just adds an extra layer of fun to eating.

Once everyone has had their fill, it may leave a mess spread across the table, but it’s a joyful mess. And sometimes, a joyful mess is just what you need at Christmas.

Now, go look around the rest of the Blog Hop (thanks to @84thand3rd), and see what everyone else is eating for Christmas.


About freehugstommy

Food, films and politics are my triumvirate of passions.
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15 Responses to Christmas Trifle Tree: A table spread with joy

  1. Nic says:

    Wow! You definitely ticked the “something different” box! I love great British menu, but must have missed this episode. Not sure how I feel about eating off the table cloth (probably because it usually falls to me to do the laundry) but I reckon I might give this one a go 🙂

  2. Insanity! I love it!! So impressed that we inspired not only recipes but photos – yeah, totally claiming SABH responsibility 😉 Thanks for joining the hop this month and Happy Holidays!

  3. Jennifer Wickes says:

    Wow! This sounds AMAZING!!!!!

  4. Michelle says:

    What fun! Have a fun Christmas – I love it too, and I just might put on Love Actually tonight to get even more into the spirit!

  5. Wow!!!!! What a great idea. And what a lovely way to make it and then eat the dessert together like that.

    I might have to do this for Christmas Day lunch – all the little kids (and adults) would think it was just the funnest dessert ever.

    I’m so impressed. And I’m so chuffed that you chose this post for your first photos ever on Capital Gourmand.

    So very glad you joined the blog hop!

  6. Oh my god you took photos! Or someone did. By far the most creative entry I’ve seen.

  7. This has been my favourite SABH post to read. Good work on making a mess! Does it matter how it’s plated? So much is put into aesthetics sometimes to perfect plating that the joy of eating is lost. This is a new style of deconstructed dessert and I saw it here first 🙂


  8. Wow, what an amazingly fun and interactive dessert!!! It looks like so much fun. Thank you for sharing.

    Happy holidays.

  9. How delicious, my fellow Canberra food enthusiast! Glad I found you.

  10. I’m glad everyone has enjoyed reading this! And, yes, there are photos. It’s going to remain a rare event, but this post wouldn’t have made a lot of sense without them.
    And I hope people do try out this way of serving (by which i mean off the table. The dish you serve or how it looks can vary). It is a lot of fun, and the shock on everyone’s face when you start throwing things on to a tablecloth is incredibly amusing. If you do give it a go, please tell me how it goes down 😀

  11. I love it! I always really enjoy the way you write. What a fantastic entry! So glad you joined us!

  12. Haha awesome!! Saw that ep of GBM – loooove that show!! Thanks so much for joining the hop!

  13. Thomas says:

    Awesome!! What a great idea..looks like fab fun making this

  14. Really pleased that this Blog entry has gone down well for you FreehugsTommy. It was a great to see it being used as a Christmas dish and really inventive – well done you.
    It is Rhubarb season over here in Blightly (Great Brittan) and we are very proud of our Rhubarb in the Yorkshire rhubarb triangle. If any one fancys a look at a rhubarb version of the Yorkshire Mess please check out our blog.
    Steph x

  15. Pingback: Alinea: Spoilers | capitalgourmand

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