Cranberry Cognac Trifle

Cranberry Trifle

Our last Gr8 dinner of 2007 was hosted by Anna and Vince. The menu for their Old English Christmas Dinner was spectacular! Joel and I were asked to bring the dessert, a Cranberry Cognac Trifle. Trifle is an English dessert that brings together fruit, cake, custard, brandy, and whipped cream. I had a trifle dish that I enjoyed using to serve fruit salad in but had never attempted an actual trifle. I’m usually up for a challenge in the kitchen and I’m happy I decided to go for it. This trifle is a melding of so many wonderful flavors! The custard is simmered with orange zest and when you taste the final dish, the orange and cranberry flavors with a tinge of brandy makes your mouth water for more, more, more!

When you look at this recipe, it might seem overwhelming. It really isn’t!  Starting 3 to 4 days before you serve the trifle will make the task so much easier. I made the cakes on Wednesday and wrapped them in plastic and put them in the refrigerator. On Thursday I made the cranberry jam and cognac syrup (both are one pot, easy to make recipes!). On Friday I made the custard and Saturday morning I assembled the dish and put it back into the refrigerator (it should sit for at least 8 hours at this point) and then Saturday night it was the perfect English dessert to end a wonderful meal.


Cranberry Trifle

Cranberry Cognac Trifle

See recipe below or here on Epicurious.  Each part of this dessert can be made several days ahead and assembled the day before serving!

Servings 10 servings
Author Kyle


(The cakes are baked in a 15x10x1-inch baking pan. You will need 3. I only have two so when one of the cakes was baked and cooled, I used the same pan twice.)

  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 6 large egg yolks, (you will not need to use these egg whites for this recipe)
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 6 Tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

Cranberry Jam

  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
  • 1 12-ounce bag fresh or unthawed frozen cranberries, about 3 1/2 cups
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup water

Cognac Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 4"-strips orange zest, removed with a vegetable peeler
  • 2/3 cup Cognac or other brandy


  • 10 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 3 heaping Tablespoons corn starch
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 cups whole milk, divided
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Topping

  • 1 1/3 cups heavy cream, very cold
  • 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Cognac or other brandy
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


Cake Layers

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

  2. Butter baking pans.  Line the bottom of each with a piece of parchment paper.  Butter the paper and dust the pan with flour.  (I only had 2 of these pans so I waited until one was baked and cooled and used it for the third cake layer.)

  3. Using a whisk, blend together the 12 eggs yolks, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, milk, and vanilla.  Stir until combined.

  4. Add the flour and salt and whisk until combined.  

  5. In the bowl of a mixer on medium speed, whisk the 6 egg whites until you see soft peaks.  About 2 minutes.

  6. On low speed, add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar slowly.  Once all the sugar is added, turn the mixer on high and whip until you have stiff peaks.  The mixture will have a glossy look to it.

    Beaten Egg whites
  7. With a spatula, gently fold 1/3 of the egg white mixture into the batter.  Once combined, add the rest of the egg mixture to the batter and gently combine with the spatula.

  8. Divide the batter into each of the baking pans (about 2 1/4 cups each).  Using a rubber spatula spread the batter to flatten.  Tap the pans on the counter to burst any air bubbles on the surface.

  9. Bake the cake layers one pan at a time for 10-11 minutes.

  10. Cool in the pan on baking racks.

  11. Once cooled, flip the cake layer onto a piece of wax paper and remove the parchment paper.

  12. If making the cake layers ahead, after they are cooled, wrap each in plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator.

Cranberry Jam

  1. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add both the seeds and pod to a medium saucepan.  

  2. Add the remaining Cranberry Jam ingredients and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

  3. Process through a food mill using the finest sieve and discard the cranberry skins and the vanilla pods.

  4. If making your jam ahead of time, store in the refrigerator in a air tight container.  Jam can be made 4 days ahead.

Cognac Syrup

  1. Combine all the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and stir to dissolve all the sugar.  Then reduce the heat to simmer and cook for 5 minutes.

  2. Once cooled, remove the orange zest.

  3. If making ahead of time, store cooled syrup in an air tight container in the refrigerator.  Can be made up to 4 days ahead.


  1. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of sugar and set aside.

  2. In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, add 1/4 cup of sugar, cornstarch, and salt and whisk to combine.

  3. Put the saucepan over medium heat, add 1/4 cup of the milk and whisk together until combined.

  4. Turn the heat to medium-high, add the rest of the milk and the zest and while continuously whisking, bring to a boil.

  5. Once the milk comes to a boil, very gradually add the hot milk to the egg yolks while swiftly whisking together. (You want to be quick here so as not to cook the eggs.)

  6. Pour the mixture back into the pan (or a clean pan if the original one has some scorched milk on the bottom) and continue to cook on medium heat until the custard thickens a bit.  Bring to 170˚F and continue to cook for about 4 - 5 minutes.  Do not let the custard boil.

  7. Pour custard through a sieve into a metal bowl that is set into another bowl of ice water.

  8. Stir in the vanilla and let the custard cool.

  9. If making ahead of time, place a piece of wax paper right on top of the custard and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.  The custard can be made up to 3 days ahead of serving.

Assemble the Trifle

  1. Cut each cake layer horizontally in half.  Add the cranberry jam on one half of each cake and top with the other half. You now have 3 cranberry sandwiches.

  2. Cut each sandwich into 3/4" strips.  Using one of the strips to measure, place it in the trifle dish with one of the cut sides against the glass.  Cut off the extra at the top so that it is level with the top of the dish.  Use this trimming to measure the rest of the strips.

  3. Brush each strip with the syrup before placing them tightly side by side in the trifle dish. 

  4. Brush the extra trimmings with the syrup.  Place a few of them in the bottom of the dish.

  5. Add 1 cup of custard.

  6. Continue layering the trimmings and then the custard to fill ending with the custard.

  7. The trifle can be assemble (without the whipped cream) the day before serving.  Cover the trifle dish with plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator until time to serve.

  8. Before serving, beat the cream, confectioners' sugar, vanilla, and cognac until soft peaks form.  Add to the top of the trifle and Enjoy!

Recipe Notes

  • I have made this a couple of times.  Both times a big hit!  The first time my custard was more "pudding like."  The second time it was not as thick (slightly runny) but still as delicious!
  • This is a gr8 dish to feed a larger group!



Recipe adapted from Epicurious.

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