Black Forest Trifle

from Baked to Order

Trifles are the superheroes of kitchen scraps, breathing new life into tired baked goods. They’re the perfect home for slightly stale cake, brownies, or cookies, which can best soak up the flavors of added syrup, fruit, and cream. Here I’ve gone with the ever-popular Black Forest combo of cherries and chocolate, but you can (and should!) think of this as a basic template for concocting your own trifle masterpieces.


Vanilla-Almond Pastry Cream:

480 g (2 cups) whole milk

100 g (½ cup) granulated sugar, divided

Pinch of kosher salt

40 g (5 tbsp) cornstarch or custard powder

4 large egg yolks

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

½ tsp pure almond extract

28 g (2 tbsp) unsalted butter, cold and cubed

Kirsch Simple Syrup:

50 g (¼ cup) granulated sugar

60 g (¼ cup) water

14 g (1 tbsp) kirsch

Whipped Cream:

360 g (1½ cups) heavy cream, cold

120 g (½ cup) full-fat Greek yogurt or sour cream, cold

Cherry Topping:

8 g (1 tbsp) cornstarch

15 g (1 tbsp) cold water

340 g (2 cups) frozen sweet cherries

50 g (¼ cup) granulated sugar

30 g (2 tbsp) lemon juice, freshly squeezed

Pinch of salt

¼ tsp pure almond extract

To Finish:

600 grams (4 cups) chocolate cake or brownies, cubed

1½ batches Cherry Topping

Chocolate shavings, for garnishing (optional)

Fresh cherries, for garnish


Make the Vanilla-Almond Pastry Cream:

In a small saucepan off the heat, whisk together the milk, all but 13 grams (1 tbsp) of the sugar, and a pinch of salt. Place a strainer over a heat-safe jug or container.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining sugar and the cornstarch. Pour in about 2 tablespoons of the milk mixture and whisk until smooth. (This helps keep the pastry cream from clumping.) Add the yolks and whisk until smooth.

Heat the milk mixture over medium heat until steaming. Remove from the heat. Pour the milk mixture in a slow, steady stream into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Scrape the custard mixture back into the saucepan and return to medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and large bubbles appear on the surface. Once the bubbles appear, turn the heat down to medium-low and continue whisking on the heat for 2 minutes.

Strain the pastry cream into the prepared jug or container. Whisk in the extracts and butter until combined. Press a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the pastry cream and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour.

Make the Kirsch Simple Syrup:

In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the kirsch. Pour into a heatproof container and cool to room temperature. Make the Whipped Cream: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream and yogurt on low to combine. Raise the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form.

Make the Cherry Topping:

In a small bowl, mix together the cornstarch and water. Set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the cherries, sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a simmer. Once the mixture reaches a simmer, add the cornstarch slurry. Continue cooking until the juices thicken and turn translucent, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof container and stir in the almond extract. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to use.

Assemble the Trifle:

Layer about one-third of the cake pieces in the bottom of a 2-quart (2-L) trifle dish (or similar sized serving dish, preferably clear). Brush the cake generously with the simple syrup. Spoon or pipe one-third of the pastry cream on top and smooth into an even layer. Top with one-third of the Cherry Topping, placing the cherries against the side of the bowl for the prettiest presentation. Top with one-third of the whipped cream. Repeat the layering two more times to fill the container. After the final layer of whipped cream, garnish with the chocolate shavings, if using, fresh cherries, and any stray cake crumbs. Refrigerate for about 1 hour before serving. The trifle is best served the day it’s assembled.


Eton Mess:

Replace the chocolate cake with sponge or chiffon cake and the Cherry Topping with about 680 grams (1½ lbs) of fresh strawberries, sliced and mixed with a couple large spoonfuls of sugar or strawberry jam. Add a layer of crushed meringues on top of each layer of whipped cream. Garnish with fresh strawberries. Serve right after assembling before the meringues soften.


Replace the chocolate cake with Almond-Buttermilk Layer Cake or chiffon cake and the Cherry Topping with about 680 grams (1½ lbs) of fresh raspberries, sliced and mixed with a couple large spoonfuls of sugar or raspberry jam. Add the zest of 1 lemon to the milk when making the pastry cream and whisk in 45 grams (3 tbsp) of lemon juice with the extracts and butter. Fold 125 grams (½ cup) of Meyer Lemon Curd into the whipped cream (add more to taste). Garnish with fresh raspberries.


Omit the cherry layer. Omit the kirsch from the simple syrup. Omit the butter and almond extract from the pastry cream and whisk in 125 grams (½ block) of softened cream cheese into the pastry cream with the vanilla. Crush one package of OREO® cookies (about 30 cookies) or similar chocolate sandwich cookies into pieces of varying sizes. Right before assembling, fold in a handful of crushed cookies into the pastry cream. When assembling, layer the crushed cookies in place of the cherry layer, between the pastry cream and whipped cream. Garnish with any stray cake and cookie crumbs and serve with a drizzle of hot fudge sauce.

Baker’s Notes: Adding Greek yogurt or sour cream to the whipped cream adds stability and tames the sweetness of the trifle. You can substitute plain or stabilized whipped cream if you prefer. (I recommend stabilized if you plan on assembling the trifle more than 2 hours before serving.)

Makes 10-12 servings

Nada’s Tips & Tricks: I love black forest anything and this recipe is a delight. I made mine in individual parfait dishes and the presentation was delectable!

Reprinted with permission from Baked to Order by Ruth Mar Tam. Page Street Publishing Co. 2020. Photo credit: Diana Muresan.