The ultimate party pudding, perfect for large gatherings and celebrations. It’s got fruit, it’s got booze, it’s got custard, it’s got soft sponge, and deliciously light whipped cream, and it caters to vegans and the gluten averse while pleasing everyone.
Trifle is one of the most wonderfully retro desserts. A staple in the 70s and still fairly commonplace in my 90s youth, this is probably the first one I have eaten in about a decade, and believe me, it was an excellent way to end the drought.
Trifle has quite a poor reputation among many. Certainly 70s versions with bland jelly, anemic custard, squirty cream, and excessive amounts of sherry to make up for the lack of flavour elsewhere stick in the memory of children in subsequent decades for all of the wrong reasons. But for a dessert where the constituent parts can be so good, there is always room for rehabilitation.
This particular version was created as a result of a rhubarb glut, and I am honestly surprised that it’s not a more usual trifle ingredient. The sharpness cuts through the delicate, sweet sponge and creamy custard, and holds up exceedingly well against a little booze. I’ve used Cointreau, a sweet orange liqueur, which pairs wonderfully with rhubarb, but there are options for a less alcoholic, or non-alcoholic version.
How to make rhubarb and custard trifle
There are various shortcuts you can use with this recipe, but making each of the components from scratch really doesn’t require that much more effort. If you prefer you can use ready-made vegan custard, such as alpro or oatly, or use custard powder such as Bird’s. If you can find a ready-made vegan vanilla sponge then you can also use that instead of the cake recipe below. My version is gluten-free but I provide instructions in case it’s easier for you to use wheat flour.
The cake is a good place to start. Pre-heat your oven and grease two cake tins and line their bottoms with baking paper. Whether gluten-free or otherwise, measure out the non-dairy milk, pour in the vinegar, and set aside to curdle. Weigh out the flour, ground almonds (if using), raising agents, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Then add the oil ( a light oil such as vegetable, sunflower, canola or light olive is best), and vanilla to the milk mixture. Working quickly, pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture, and whisk vigorously until smooth. Pour roughly half of the mixture into each cake tin, and bake for 30–35 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.
Once the cakes are in the oven, start on the custard. In a saucepan, add the sugar, non-dairy milk, lemon peel, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla essence. Place on a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until steaming hot, but not quite boiling. Then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for at least 10 minutes.
While the custard is infusing, prepare the rhubarb. Wash and chop into large pieces on the diagonal, about 4–5 cm long. In a large mixing bowl, add the cornflour, Cointreau (or orange juice), and orange zest, whisk until smooth, then stir in the sugar. Add the rhubarb, and mix until it’s completely coated in the sugary paste (I found it easier to use my hands rather than a spoon). You want to roast these in a single layer so you may need two baking trays or oven dishes. Once the sponges are done, turn the oven up a little and roast the rhubarb for 20 minutes.
The cakes will need to cool for 10 minutes in their tins before being transferred to a wire rack to cool completely, which gives you just enough time to complete the custard. In a large measuring jug, mix the cornflour and additional non-dairy milk. Pour the infused milk over the top, catching the cinnamon sticks and lemon peel in a sieve, then pour the milk and cornflour mixture back into the saucepan, along with a pinch of turmeric for colour. Place over a medium-high heat, whisking continuously, until the custard has thickened and just started to boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in a can of coconut milk.
Once you’ve turned the cakes out and the rhubarb is out of the oven, everything needs to be left to cool. The sponge can be left at room temperature, and you can always make it a few days in advance and keep it in an airtight container. If it’s a little stale, all the better to soak up the rhubarb juice. Taste the rhubarb and add a little more Cointreau if you like, then place in the fridge along with the custard. If you can fit a massive trifle bowl in your fridge then you can start building the trifle and let each layer cool until you add the next, but if you’re catering for a trifle-load of people then the chances are that fridge-space is going to be limited.
Once everything, bar the sponge, is fridge cold, you can start assembly. I split each sponge cake in half, then cut each half into strips. The best size and shape for your sponge pieces will depend on the size and shape of the dish you are using. You may have to butcher a few pieces, but you want to end up with a roughly even layer of sponge, filling the bottom sixth of your dish. Spoon half of the rhubarb, along with half of its juice, over the sponge, again in as even as layer as possible. Then cover the rhubarb with half of the custard, and spread evenly. Repeat, adding a further layer of sponge, rhubarb and custard.
For the finishing touches, heat a small frying pan over a medium heat and add the flaked almonds and toast until golden brown (watch them as they’ll burn very quickly). If using a vegan whipping cream, pour this into a mixing bowl and whisk until you have stiff peaks. If you’re using coconut cream, then take your cans from the fridge and scoop out the cream from the top, trying to avoid any liquid, and whip until light and fluffy. Spoon the cream over the last layer of custard, then scatter over the cooled toasted almonds.
Try to keep the trifle as cool as you can before serving to prevent the cream from melting, and it’s best eaten on the day of assembly. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, and you can always make half-quantities for a more reasonable family-sized pud.
Please let me know if you give this a try! I’m always very excited to hear when anyone has made one of my recipes. You can comment below, use the star rating at the top of this post, or find me on Instagram or Twitter @greedybearbakes.
Vegan Rhubarb And Custard Trifle
Layers of soft sponge, creamy custard and deliciously tart rhubarb, topped with vegan whipped cream for the ultimate party pudding.
For the sponge:
- 300ml (1¼ cup) non-dairy milk
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 180g (1¼ cup) gluten-free flour
- 180g (1¼ cup) ground almonds*
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- ¾ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp xantham gum (optional)
- 200g (1 cup) caster sugar
- 100ml (½ cup) light oil
- 2 tsp vanilla essence
For the rhubarb:
- 1.25kg (3lb) rhubarb
- 3 tbsp cornflour
- 3–6 tbsp Cointreau (or orange juice for alcohol-free)
- 1 orange, zested
- 200g (1 cup) caster sugar
For the custard:
- 600ml (2½ cups) + 125ml (½ cup) non-dairy milk
- 240g (1¼ cup) sugar
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1 unwaxed lemon, peel only
- 2½ tbsp vanilla essence
- 80g ( ⅔rds cup) cornflour (aka corn starch)
- pinch of turmeric
- 400ml tin (15 oz) coconut milk
For the topping:
- 280ml (1¼ cup) vegan whipping cream (I used Elmlea Plant Double) or cream from 2 x 400ml tins of coconut milk**
- 35g (⅓ cup) flaked almonds (optional)
- Pre-heat the oven to 170C fan and grease two 20cm cake tins, lining the bottoms with baking paper.
- Measure 300ml non-dairy milk into a measuring jug and add 2 tbsp cider vinegar. Mix and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, add 180g gluten-free flour, 180g ground almonds, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, ¾ tsp salt, ¼ tsp xantham gum and 200g caster sugar. Whisk to combine.
- To the milk mixture, add 100ml light oil and 2 tsp vanilla essence. Whisk thoroughly and then, working quickly, pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and whisk vigorously until you have a reasonably smooth batter. Scrape roughly half of the mixture into each cake tin and bake for 30–35 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.
- While the cakes are baking, make a start on the custard. Measure 600ml non-dairy milk into a saucepan, along with 240g caster sugar, 3 cinnamon sticks and the peel of 1 unwaxed lemon (I just use a vegetable peeler to remove the peel in large strips). Place over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is steaming hot but not quite boiling. Then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for at least 10 minutes.
- To prepare the rhubarb, wash the stalks and cut on the diagonal into 4–5cm long pieces. In a large mixing bowl, add 3 tbsp cornflour and 3 tbsp Cointreau and whisk to a smooth paste. Add the zest of 1 orange and 200g sugar and mix, then add the rhubarb and stir until the rhubarb is thoroughly coated in the sugar paste (you can use a spoon but I found it easier to use my hands). Spread the rhubarb in a single layer in a couple of oven-proof dishes.
- Once the cakes are cooked, remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Turn the oven up to 190C fan and once at temperature, roast the rhubarb for 20 minutes until soft but still holding its shape, then remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- While the rhubarb is roasting, finish the custard. In a mixing bowl or jug, whisk 80g cornflour with 125ml non-dairy milk until smooth. Then pour over the infused milk mixture, using a sieve to catch the cinnamon sticks and lemon peel. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, along with a pinch of turmeric for colour. Place over a medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until thick and just starting to bubble. Remove from the heat and whisk in the tin of coconut milk, then set aside to cool. At this stage you can put your feet up while the sponge cakes, the roasted rhubarb, and the thickened custard all cool to room temperature.
- Once at room temperature, taste the rhubarb and a little more Cointreau if you like – the alcohol will have cooked out while roasting so you may like to add some more at this stage for a boozy kick. Place the rhubarb and custard in the fridge to chill. You can store the sponge in an airtight container (you can make the sponge a couple of days in advance if you prefer).
- After a couple of hours (or the next day) you can start assembly. You’ll need a dish with a capacity of around 3 litres. Split the sponge cakes in half and chop each into rectangles. Arrange roughly half of the sponge in the base of your dish, ensuring there aren’t any gaps, then spoon over half of the rhubarb and its syrup, and spread in a roughly even layer. Spoon half of the custard over the top and level out, then repeat with the remaining sponge, rhubarb and custard.
- Heat a small frying pan over a medium heat and add the flaked almonds. Toast, tossing regularly, until golden brown. In a large mixing bowl, whip the cream with an electric hand whisk until you have firm peaks, then spoon over the final custard layer of the trifle. Scatter the flaked almonds over the top once they have cooled.
- Try to keep the trifle cool to avoid the cream melting, and eat on the day of assembly. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
*Ground almonds really improve the texture of gluten-free cake, but you can replace these with more gluten-free flour for a nut-free option. You can also replace both the gluten-free flour and ground almonds with wheat flour, in which case you can omit the xantham gum.
**If using coconut milk, chill the cans in the fridge for at least an hour before using, as this will help the cream solidify at the top of the can. Scoop this out, avoiding any liquid, and whip until light and fluffy. Try to find a coconut milk with a high fat content than doesn’t contain guar gum, as this can cause the coconut cream to split. I like Sainsbury’s own brand coconut milk.