This Christmas Trifle Recipe Is the Ultimate Make-Ahead Holiday Dessert

Trifles might have gotten a bad rap after Rachel filled hers with beef and lady fingers in that iconic episode of Friends, but when done right, a trifle is actually the ultimate holiday dessert. Take our festive Christmas recipe for example: It layers moist gingerbread cake and sugary-sweet cranberry compote to satisfy everyone gathered around your table this holiday season — not just the Joeys. 

Steal these Test Kitchen-approved secrets (no cookbook pages stuck together here!) and get started:

  1. Save time by using a cake mix as your base. Boxed gingerbread mix is super Christmas-y and ridiculously easy to bake, which is a win-win in our book. If gingerbread isn’t your thing, though, have no fear: pre-made pound cake works, too.
  2. Use a spatula to break up the cranberries. When you’re making the cranberry compote, stir frequently with a silicone spatula, using it to smash the berries against the side of your pan. Voilà — perfect consistency achieved.
  3. Cut up cake slabs to fit every nook and cranny. If you spot an empty space in one of your trifle’s cake layers, carve off a piece from one of your other cake slabs and use it to fill in the gaps.
  4. Make sure the trifle sits for at least four hours before serving. If you can let it sit overnight, even better: A trifle needs time to rest in order for the flavors to meld and the cake to soften. (Read: This is the ultimate make-ahead dessert.)

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Yields: 16 servings

1

box gingerbread cake mix (14.5 oz.)

2

bags fresh or frozen and thawed cranberries (12 oz.)

1 3/4 c.

granulated sugar

1 c.

water

1/2 tsp.

ground cinnamon

2 c.

heavy or whipping cream

8 oz.

cream cheese, at room temperature

3/4 c.

confectioners’ sugar

1 tbsp.

vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare cake mix according to package instructions and pour into a 9-inch square baking pan. Bake according to package instructions, then let cool completely. 
  2. In a 3-quart saucepan, combine cranberries, sugar, water, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil on high, then simmer until most of the berries burst, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring often and mashing berries against side of pan to break up. Transfer to a bowl; refrigerate until cold. 
  3. In another bowl, beat cream just to soft peaks; set aside. In another bowl with the same beaters, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in the whipped cream. Transfer to the fridge until ready to assemble.
  4. Assemble the trifle: Scoop 1 cup of cream and set aside. Slice cooled cake into 1/2-inch slabs. Layer cake onto the bottom of a trifle dish to cover. Top with a layer (about 1 cup) of berry compote and a layer of whipped cream. Repeat layers of cake, compote, and cream and until dish is almost full. Top with reserved whipped cream. Let trifle sit at least 4 hours. 
  5. Garnish with sugared cranberries and serve.
Christmas trifle recipe

Kate Bennis

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