South African Trifle recipe (cheats trifle)

South African Trifle recipe (cheats trifle)

This South African Trifle recipe with berries is a cheat’s trifle with delicious sponge cake soaked in jelly, egg-free custard, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries layered with fresh whipped cream.

One thing that seems to be synonymous with trifle eating is that by the time the second or third serving has been dished from the bowl, the berry trifle looks someone threw up. If that image makes your stomach queasy, then the Cape Malay trifle mashups that I have seen over the years would boggle the mind.

The layered Cape Malay trifle without set jelly was a specialty of my Mama and her sisters and the way Tietie makes it. It very seldom ends up looking a great mess, and is delicious for days afterward if there was any left. The trick is to ensure that once you sink the dishing spoon into the trifle bowl, one serving gets a bit of everything (cake, custard, cream, fruit) without having to dig around like you’re searching for buried treasure.

South African Trifle recipe (cheats trifle)

What can go wrong when making the South African trifle recipe

It can be quite challenging to prepare a trifle during the summer. I had quite a hard time making trifle back in the summer heat that wouldn’t allow my fresh cream to set properly.

I had everything prepared and the trifle was almost done. All I had to do was add some more fruit decorations and beat my fresh cream. I was beating my fresh cream for about 2mins when I noticed that the cream was not thickening. I beat it for an additional 2 minutes and the cream started thickening but it had an odd texture. The cream wasn’t smooth and it had a clumpy texture as if the cream went sour but only it didn’t. I checked the expiry date, tasted the cream and nothing was wrong and only then, it clicked that it was probably the heat.

I waited until it was a bit cooler during the day and beat up some more cream. The result was better but still not how it should be. I decided to add the fresh cream anyway, along with some more nuts and berries, and left it in the fridge overnight to set.

The next day I noticed that the cream started leaking onto the layer of custard due to the texture of it but obviously there was nothing I could do so I simply left it as is. It wasn’t a big deal but it bothered me the entire time. Since the South African trifle still looked beautiful I just tried to forget about it and didn’t do anything to spoil it even further.

Regardless of all the drama with the fresh cream, everyone still seemed to enjoy the South African trifle so I was relieved and happy. So, just a heads up to be careful with cream and any dairy products during the summer because the heat can have a terrible effect. Since this South African trifle is as easy going dessert you can change anything up to fit your taste or occasion.

How to make the South African Trifle recipe

  • Use sponge cake, madeira cake or pound cake for the cake layers. The cake itself is tasty and can soak up the jelly without becoming mushy. I make the sponge cake from the Dreamy Moist Strawberry Vanilla Cake recipe for my trifle.
  • Use strawberry, raspberry or greengage jelly but only add the hot water indicated in the recipe (usually 1.25 cups per packet of jelly). Do not allow the jelly to set before using.
  • Spread a thin layer of jam over the cake layers before pouring over the hot liquid jelly.
  • Leave the cake and jelly layer to cool for 10 minutes before pouring over the medium thick custard. For a lush South African trifle don’t be stingy with the custard.
  • For deeper bowls make two or more layers and use greengage jelly alternating with the pink jelly.
  • Keep the fresh cream, the bowl and whisk attachments very cold to ensure that the fat in the cream can emulsify and hold the air so that it can whip to fluffy peaks.
  • If using home made custard, allow the trifle to cool completely before spooning or piping on the whipped cream.
  • Decorate with berries or sliced canned peaches and apricots and flaked almonds or sliced roasted cashew nuts (Aunty Josie’s favorite).

How to make a Cheats trifle

  • Use good quality store bought madeira cake or pound cake for the cake layers. For individual cheats trifles I found that small vanilla cupcakes cakes or madeleine sponge cakes work well.
  • Use custard powder to make home made custard (according to package instructions for medium thick) or buy ready made custard. Boxed custard may have a thinner consistency than custard made from scratch, but is good in a pinch. I like the fresh vanilla custard that they sometimes have in the dairy fridges at the supermarket but it is much looser in consistency and makes it more difficult to top the trifle with whipped cream.
  • Don’t set the jelly before assembling the trifle layers, and use it to moisten and let it set in the cake layers while it cools. This cuts down on the waiting time.
  • Buy a small punnet of mixed berries for the top of the trifle.
  • It may seem a shortcut but don’t buy the whipping cream spray in the cans. This is the only thing I would recommend whipping yourself because the canned stuff collapses onto itself within minutes and makes all your hard work in vain.

South African Trifle recipe (cheats trifle)

Other dessert recipes to try

Cheat's trifle
South African Trifle recipe (cheats trifle)

South African Trifle recipe (cheats trifle)

Simone Claudia Fortuin
This South African Trifle recipe with berries is a cheat's trifle with delicious sponge cake soaked in jelly, egg-free custard, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries layered with fresh whipped cream.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Cooling time 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine Cape Malay
Servings 10
Calories 334 kcal


South African trifle ingredients

  • 350 grams pound cake or sponge cake one whole cake
  • 60 ml apricot jam approximately 1/4 cup
  • 80 grams strawberry jelly crystals approximately 1packet
  • 310 ml boiling water approximately 1 1/4 cup
  • 500 ml fresh custard approximately 2 cups
  • 250 ml whipping cream approximately 1 cup
  • 300 grams mixed berries one punnet
  • 25 grams flaked almonds or chopped cashews approximately 1/4 cup


How to make South African trifle

  • Cut the sponge cake into squares if using a loaf or cut a round cake into two halves at least 2.5cm-3cm thick.
  • Coat the cake cubes or rounds with the jam then place into the bottom of the trifle bowl.
  • Add the boiled water to a heatproof jug and add the jelly crystals. Mix thoroughly until all the crystals are dissolved.
  • Pour the hot jelly over the cake layer.
  • Pour the custard over the cake layer and allow to cool completely.
  • Whip the cream and pile onto the cooled trifle then top with mixed berries and nuts.


  • If using a wider and deeper bowl make two layers and use double the cake, jelly and custard than specified in the recipe.  
  • Store bought pound cake loaves typically weigh 300 grams. Round cakes weigh between 350-400 grams.
  • I make an egg free fresh custard using custard powder, milk and sugar made to the manufacturers instructions for medium thick custard. 
  • Longlife custard in a box is too runny for this trifle and wobbles all over the place.
  • If berries are out of season top the trifle with canned peach slices. 


Calories: 334kcalCarbohydrates: 48gProtein: 6gFat: 14gSaturated Fat: 7gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 95mgSodium: 316mgPotassium: 222mgFiber: 1gSugar: 29gVitamin A: 558IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 135mgIron: 1mg

Disclaimer: Nutritional information for the recipe is an approximation and varies according to the ingredients and products used.

Keyword easy dessert, no bake desserts, summer recipe
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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Supraja Lakshmi N
    August 30, 2023 at 2:38 pm

    I’m drooling over this trifle! It looks so creamy and fruity. I love how you layered the cake, custard, cream and berries in a glass bowl. It makes the trifle look so elegant and festive. I’m going to make this trifle for my next special occasion. Thanks for this awesome recipe!

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