This easy Cranberry Trifle Recipe has soft cake layered with sweet-tart cranberries and a creamy homemade custard. Trifles are best made ahead of time making them the perfect desserts for potlucks or holiday meals!
Between the combination of sweet creamy custard and fresh tart cranberries, this beautiful trifle is perfect for any time of year!
What is a Trifle?
A trifle is a traditional British dessert containing layers of soft cake and custard. Trifles often contain layers of fruit and/or liquors and are topped with whipped cream.
I love serving trifles for dessert, especially when I am cooking for a crowd! They’re always gorgeous, easy to make and the best part is that you make them ahead of time!
This cranberry trifle features a homemade sweet-tart cranberry sauce and a from-scratch custard layered with your favorite cake! You can assemble this up to 2 days ahead of time but I’d recommend adding the whipped cream & decorations just prior to serving.
How to Make a Trifle
So this trifle can be prepared by making each layer from scratch or using store-bought pound cake, vanilla pudding, and cranberry sauce. To be honest, it’s best made homemade. If you are short on time, the most important part is the cranberry sauce as it’s more tart and fresh than a store-bought version.
- Prepare cake
- Prepare cranberry sauce
- Prepare custard (learn how to temper eggs here)
- Layer and refrigerate
You’ll want to allow at least 4 hours for the trifle refrigerate. This allows the cake layers to soak up the sauces a bit and all of the flavors to blend.
Toppings for Trifle
I don’t add toppings until just before serving which keeps it fresh and pretty! You can use whipped cream, whipped topping or even shaved white chocolate and fresh cranberries as a topping. I topped this recipe with Sugared Cranberries and added a little bit of orange peel to make it pretty.
Of course this trifle can be made in any bowl, pan or dish but a trifle bowl is my favorite way to layer it. Trifle bowls are inexpensive but allow you to see all of the layers which makes a beautiful presentation. We use our trifle bowl for all kinds of desserts, snacks and even for layered salads so it doesn’t just sit in the cupboard!
More Cranberry Recipes You’ll Love
- Cranberry Feta Pinwheels
- Sour Cream Cranberry Bars
- Cranberry Waldorf Salad
- Easy Cranberry Sauce
- Millionaire Cranberry Salad
- Frozen Cranberry Bars
Cranberry Trifle Recipe
- 24 ounces fresh cranberries 2 packages
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 ⅓ cups sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 4 ½ cups 2% milk
- 9 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 9x13 white cake baked, cooled and cubed
- Whipped cream for decorating
- Sugared Cranberries for decorating
- Combine all cranberry layer ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook uncovered about 10 minutes. Cool completely. Discard cinnamon stick.
- Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a large saucepan. Whisk in milk. Stir over medium-high heat until mixture reaches a boil, let boil 2 minutes while stirring.
- Whisk egg yolks in a small bowl. Slowly add 1 cup of the hot milk mixture to the eggs while whisking. Return the mixture to the sauce pan and stir over medium heat until thick and bubbly. Let boil 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla.
- Cool in the saucepan for 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally. Pour into a large bowl and place plastic wrap on the surface. Refrigerate until completely cooled.
- Place half of the cake cubes on the bottom of a trifle bowl. Top with half of the cranberry mixture and half of the custard. Repeat layers.
- Top with whipped cream and candied cranberries if desired.
Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.
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Hi there, I would love to include oranges in this recipe. Do you think adding orange zest to the cake would be the way to go? Or an orange custard layer? Or even fresh mandarin layer?
I think orange would be a delicious addition to this recipe Casey! For more orange forward flavor I would try the orange custard or fresh oranges. If you try it I would love to hear how it turns out!
Thanks for the advice on incorporating the orange. I added a layer of drained canned mandarin oranges on top of the cake layer and beneath the cranberry jelly layer. Two 15oz cans of mandarin oranges (1 can per layer) went really well with the cranberry jelly and the custard. The layers looked beautiful with a kind of ombré sunset coloring. Definitely recommend!
That sounds delicious and I bet it was beautiful! Thank you for sharing!
Absolutely beautiful and delicious! I tweaked the recipe to suit family taste and it was a winner! My two year old grandson licked his bowl and asked for more will definitely make again.
Wondering if I could use angel food cake?
Angel food cake might be too delicate to support the weight of the custard and cranberry layers.
I love this trifle! It’s so pretty and easy. It’s impressive! Thank you for sharing.
Hi! I’m planning on serving this Christmas Day. I was wondering how far in advance I could make each component? I would assemble everything Christmas morning, but I’m just trying to make life easier :)
The cake can be made months ahead and frozen. The cranberry sauce should be great for up to 4 days and the custard can be made the day before. Merry Christmas!
can I use store bought custard?
Sure you can!
This looks scrumptious! I have a question – could I use an instant pudding mix? And if so, would I need more than one package of mix?
Hi Amzie, we haven’t tried using instant pudding instead of the custard but I am sure you could! You would probably need two prepared boxes, maybe three if you want to do a thicker layer of pudding. Let us know how it turns out!
Ok, I tried it. I used a purchased pound cake, 2 packages of instant pudding(cheesecake favor) and homemade cranberry sauce. Turned out pretty good. The only cheesecake pudding mix I could find was sugar free and it kinda had that artificial aftertaste. I think next time I will use 3 packages of instant vanilla pudding and an orange pound cake. Thanks again for your help. Wishing you a very blessed New Year!
Mmmm, an orange pound cake sounds like a delicious substitution Amzie! Happy New Year to you too!
Hi. Does the 41/2 cups milk include the 1 cup of milk added to the eggs. ?
All 4 1/2 cups is added in step 1. The mixture is then heated and 1 cup of that heated mixture is slowly added to the eggs.
I made this for Thanksgiving. So delicious. The only thing I did different was I added 4oz of softened cream cheese at the end. It didnt change the custard just added a little creaminess to it. Great recipe!!
Yummy addition!! Happy Thanksgiving Patricia!
Do I need to use pound cake, or just a regular white sheet cake? Is one better than the other?
Pound cake is a bit denser and sturdier. A regular white cake would taste great, but it may be a bit softer than with pound cake. Enjoy Lara!