Gingerbread-Brandy Trifle

When setting out to pull together my Christmas menu I started thinking about dessert and when thinking of classic victorian Christmas meals the only dessert that seems fitting is trifle! First confession. I have never made one before. First realization: Now that I have this is how all cake should be made! Forget the meticulous icing and elaborate decorations. Instead why don’t we do this for all cakes? alternating layers in a big bowl! Love it! 

For any of you who were fans of the TV show Friends, you can’t help but giggle thinking about a holiday trifle. In season 6 episode 9 Rachel has a go at making dessert. The comedic problem? Two recipes got stuck together so she made a trifle with lady fingers, custard, jam, oh yeah and beef, peas, onions… and then more custard, bananas, and whipped cream. Thankfully that sort of thing only happens in sitcoms.

When looking for a holiday trifle recipe I came across one in an old Fine Cooking magazine. It was the DEC/JAN 2012 issue. It was a recipe for Gingerbread-Brandy Trifle. This caught my attention and got filed away for future use so when I came across it in my planning it seemed perfect. Best part is trifles are best made days in advance as you both want it to fully chill and the flavors to really soak into each other.

I will admit this is an ambitious recipe so it’s best if you take it one step at a time. I would say bake the cake and the syrup one day. Then make the custard filling the next day and assemble.



  • 6 ¾ ounces All-purpose Flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Ground Ginger
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • ½ teaspoon Salt
  • ¼ teaspoon Ground Allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • Pinch finely ground White Pepper


  • 4 ounces Whole Milk


  • 3 ounces Unsalted Butter, softened
  • 150 grams Granulated Sugar
  • Lemon Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated (I prefer to do this on a microplaner)
  • 2 large Eggs, at room temperature
  • 160 grams Unsulfered Molasses

Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Grease 2 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottom with parchment or wax paper. ( You can really use any size pan you want but you may need to adjust the cooking time if the cake is thinner or thicker than what I did. In the end it all gets cut up into 1 inch cubes.)

This is a cake where you will make a creamed butter mixture and alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients. Start with getting your dry ingredients, that would be the flour, ginger, baking soda, salt, allspice, Cinnamon and pepper, measured out into a bowl that will be easy to pour or scoop from.

Next measure the milk in to a pourable measuring cup.

Now, in the bowl of a stand mixer ass the butter, sugar, lemon zest, eggs, and molasses. Beat with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Next add half the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated, then add half the milk and mix just until incorporated, stop the mixer, scrape the bowl down, and repeat adding the dry and then finishing with the milk. Split the batter between the prepared pans.

Bake the cakes for about 25 minutes or until the tester comes out clean. Cool completely, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a wire rack. If you are making this cake in advance once the cake is fully cooled wrap in plastic and store at room temperature. (Just a side note this cake is VERY moist.)


  • 200 grams Granulated Sugar
  • 4-inch piece of Ginger, peeled and rough chopped
  • 1 bag Strong Black Tea
  • 2 tablespoons Brandy

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and ginger with ½ cup water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain out the ginger by pouring the hot syrup through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl, add the tea bag to the hot syrup, and cool completely.

Once the syrup is cooled remove the tea bag and add the brandy. At this point you can cover it and set it aside until you’re ready to use it.


  • 6 fl ounces Sparkling Wine, such as Asti Spumante
  • 8 large Egg Yolks
  • 6 tablespoons Granulated Sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of the Ginger Tea Syrup
  • 8 ounces Mascarpone, at room temperature
  • 12 fl ounces Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Set your cheese out to allow it to start warming up.

Then start with adding about an inch of water to a pot that you can set a bowl over to act as a double boiler. Bring the water to a boil.

Meanwhile add the wine, yolks, sugar, and syrup to your bowl and whisk together to combine. Place the bowl over the pot of water and whisk constantly until it is thick and you see tracks from the whisk. (About 8 minutes.) Remove the bowl form the heat and start adding in the cheese little amounts at a time. Mix each addition in until smooth with a rubber spatula. If the cheese is too cold and stays lumpy you can put this whole mixture into your stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until all the lumps have been removed.

One the custard base is cool whip the heavy cream and vanilla together until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the custard in 2-3 additions, being sure not to over mix it. Set it aside until you are ready to assemble you trifle.


  • 6 tablespoons Candied Ginger, finely chopped

Unwrap your cake and cut into 1-inch cubes. Scoop ¼ of your custard into the bottom of a trifle dish. Then layer in ⅓ of your cake pieces, drizzle 2 fl ounces of the syrup over the cake, sprinkle with ¼ of the ginger. Repeat with custard, cake, syrup, ginger for the next two layers and finish with custard, ginger. I also scraped up all my cake crumbs and sprinkled them with the ginger for the final decoration.

All in all you should end up with 4 layers of custard, 3 layers of cake, 3 layers of syrup, and 4 layers of candied ginger. However, a dish like this you can do whatever you want. It’s just all about layering. Have fun with it!

To serve this I found minute trifle dishes at IKEA. Then just stopped out the servings into the smaller glassed and serve with a long handles spoon. This way every one felt like they got their own trifles rather than just a heap of messy cake on a plate.

Having decorated a lot of cakes over the years I found this technique much more enjoyable, easy to cover when putting in the fridge, easy to serve, and everyone can see all the layers! I am thinking this could be done with any cake iced with whipped cream or other light fluffy icings. Can’t wait to try it on a nonconventional recipe!


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