My best recipe for Birthday Trifle, and why it requires a new name


Caught ‘cha!!

Everything about it is sweet; everything about it is creamy and delicious; everything about it is perfect, so why did they name it . . . “Trifle”?

Those Brits . . . ! (shaking my head) I won’t get into other dessert names that originated across the proverbial pond, although I will mention them. Here’s just a sampling: Banofee pie, Bedfordshire clanger, Bird’s custard, Eton mess, Flummery, Flies’ Graveyard, Spoom, Syllabub, Suet Pudding, Clootie . . . okay. Enough of that. Perhaps the Brits just have a sense of humor when it comes to naming desserts.

Check out, after all, the first definition of the word “trifle”:

  • 1. a thing of little value or importance.
    as in: “we needn’t trouble our dear mother over such trifles”
    synonyms: unimportant thing, trivial thing, triviality, thing of no importance, bagatelle, inessential, nothing, small potatoes.

The second definition gets it right, but by the time we get to that, we’re already thinking about inessentials, bagatelles, and small potatoes:

  • 2. a cold dessert of sponge cake and fruit covered with layers of custard, jelly, and cream.

In any case, I’m recommending a re-naming of this fabulous British dessert.

I’m going out on a limb here and suggesting we change the name from “Trifle” to . . .

Creamy Delight-filled Birthday Essential!

The first definition of the word Essential, Gentle Readers, to wit:

  • 1. absolutely necessary; extremely important.
    as in:”it is essential to make something toothsome for a birthday celebration”
    synonyms: crucial, necessary, key, vital, indispensable, imperative, obligatory

For years–decades, Gentle Reader!–my children have requested Birthday Trifle for their birthday cake: not every birthday (Timothy usually asks for Tres Leche cake), but it is an overwhelming favorite. I have made it dozens–scores!–of times, each time tailor-made to the birthday child’s preferences. You can vary the type of cake, the varieties of fruit, even the types of pudding and jam, so that every time you make it, it’s a new and delightful surprise.

It’s the perfect thing to serve to a special birthday person. Like this one, here. Look at that sweet smile.


Guess what. My little Mack turns 10 this Thursday. You know that God blesses me every day with joy–no matter what else is going on in my life–through this ornery kid. There are hard things that happen in my life, as I’m sure there are in yours. I don’t write about those here, but there’s always, always cause for joy. God provides balance, doesn’t he, even during tough times?

And little Mack is a constant source of joy. I know that you mamas and dads know what I’m talkin’ about.

I’m so grateful for him. When I discovered that I was expecting at the ripe old age of 40-something (okay, here’s your hint–I was closer to 50 than 40 when I gave birth to Mack) I was scared. I knew that babies were gifts from God. I personally loved babies, especially my own. I still do.

But. I was in denial for a couple of months, although all the signs (I had terrible morning/all-day sickness, with all six babies) pointed toward the fact that I was expecting. I took a pregnancy test. It was positive, but I knew that it was wrong. Those tests are only, what, 99.4% accurate? That means that somebody, someplace, gets an inaccurate result, at one time or another.

That somebody, clearly, that time, was me. I believed this (with 99.4% of my heart) to be true.

Mack took me on an evening wander a few days ago.

Mack took me on an evening wander a few days ago. He loves to get me out someplace, so we can be all alone. Then there are no distractions and I don’t miss a single word that he says. 🙂

I finally drove myself to the midwife, without saying a word to anybody about it. I was scared, scared. I knew I must have cancer, or something gravely wrong with me, that I could feel so pregnant, and actually trigger a positive result on the pregnancy test, and yet not be pregnant because–who gets pregnant at 40–nevermind? Nobody I knew of.

It just simply could not be.


The midwife didn’t even give me a pregnancy test (she trusted my $1.99 test from the drug store, go figure), but whipped open a worn book on her desk and showed me a sobering chart of the incidents of birth defects for women over 40 having babies. According the the chart, they went very sharply up after the age of 40. I burst into tears, because I realized that I really was pregnant, if she was showing me this.

And because I was more scared than ever. It’s not that I didn’t want another baby. Heck. I’d take another one today, if it was possible. I was just scared. My midwife countered her statistical slap in the face with a hug and reassurances that women who gave birth in their 40s–no matter the outcome, whether the baby was normal or not–had all kinds of physical advantages: less cancer, healthier aging, more mature mothering, etc., but I didn’t really soak all that in.

What soaked in were the two words that I saw on the page of statistics: “chromosomal abnormalities.”


I drove home, but stopped in the graveyard that is just around the corner from our house and sat there and prayed and bawled for a long time. I didn’t want the kids to see me crying. I knew it would be upsetting to them, and I knew that I had to get it all out before I went home.

Well, as you know by now–little Mack was born absolutely perfect in every way, and in fact (except for a chronically smart mouth) is as healthy and delightful as he can be. I felt better during my pregnancy, in fact, than I did during any of the others. Everything went smoother and better than I expected. And I had a newborn baby boy at 40–something--that everybody figured was my grandbaby. That hurt at the time, since I wasn’t even a grandma yet, but I was so dizzily happy that my new baby was perfect and beautiful and without any “chromosomal abnormalities” that I didn’t care that folks thought he was Bethie’s baby (she was a mature 16 at the time). Well, not too much.


But that’s another story.

In any case, little Mack is going to be ten years old this Thursday, and I can say, without exception and without any qualifiers, that he is an unmitigated blessing to his dad and me. Even with his oft-bristly, sarcastic personality, he absolutely fills my life with joy.

You know what unmitigated means, right?

  • absolute; unqualified

–as in”the child was an unmitigated blessing

synonyms: absolutely, unqualified, complete, total, utter, undiluted, perfect, pure, consummate

Mack gives me a quick science lesson, identifying the minute creatures on the bottom of our row boat.

Mack gives me a quick science lesson, identifying the minute creatures on the bottom of our row boat. I honestly don’t know where he learns all this stuff.

A word, to my younger married gentle readers: don’t miss out. Don’t let anybody talk you out of having children, if you are thinking that you might like to have a family someday. Don’t let anybody use practical or political or environmental (or financial!) arguments to talk you out of having children. Our culture is decidedly anti-child right now, especially anti-more-than-one-or-two-children. It’s sad. But take it from me, a simple word of advice from a mama of 6: you don’t want to miss out on it, if it’s possible for you to become a parent.

You won’t regret it. There’s absolutely nothing like it.

It’s an unmitigated adventure, like no other.

At dusk, Mack helps me coax the ducks up the hill to safety in the coop for the night.

At dusk, Mack helps me coax the ducks up the hill to safety in the coop for the night.

I could write much more on this matter, but this post started out about birthday trifle–er, Creamy Delight-filled Birthday Essential.

So let’s get on with it!

Creamy Delight-filled Birthday Essential is made of five simple ingredients:

  • sponge cake: you can use a cake mix, but since I’m not a fan of them (my kids call them “air cakes”), I usually make a scratch cake from the easy-peasy recipe below. (I won’t judge if you use a box cake, by the way.) (I’m that nice.)
  • jam: I use a jam that sounds good with the fruit choice. And, hopefully, that I already have. 🙂
  • fresh fruit: according to what the birthday boy/girl wants. Possible combinations: mango, kiwifruit, and banana (and coconut is a nice addition to that one!). Blueberry, peaches, and strawberries (and sometimes I throw in walnuts, pecans, or chopped almonds, but always toast them first! (Trust me.) Also pineapple, orange, and melon is very good, too!
  • pudding or custard: Okay, I have made homemade pudding, but I am happy (-ish, meh) with the boxed pudding, so I cut this corner and make the easy two-minute stuff in the box. (Please don’t judge.)
  • whipped cream: buy a quart of heavy whipping cream, whip it up vigorously with your electric mixer, tossing in (la-de-da) about 2 Tb of powdered sugar (taste it–add more if you think it needs it) and 2 tsp vanilla. Yum. Taste often, and again, and anon, and don’t you love fresh whipped cream? I could eat the entire bowlful by this point. But I don’t.

Yum, huh? Now here’s how to assemble your Essential. Are you familiar with the term mise en place? It’s a fancy-schmancy French chef’s term for getting everything together ahead of time. It’s particularly important with this recipe.


First, make your cake. The following recipe is the easiest sponge cake you can make, with only three ingredients!

I call it Spring Sponge Cake, because we always are overrun with eggs in the spring, from our chickens, and this recipe helps use them up. 🙂 And isn’t it fun to whip up a quick cake to go with the strawberries in the strawberry patch?


  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup cake flour (or all-purpose will work in a pinch)


  • Grease and flour a 9.5 x 11″ cake pan.
  • Separate eggs, putting whites in large mixer bowl and yolks in small mixer bowl.
  • Add 1/2 c sugar to whites and beat until very stiff.
  • Add remaining 1/2 c sugar to yolks and beat until very thick and light yellow in color.
  • Fold egg yolk mixture into egg whites.
  • Fold flour in, adding one-third of it each time, until well mixed. Don’t overmix!
  • Pour into prepared pan.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out dry.
  • Cool for a few minutes, then cut up into bite-sized squares for your Essential.

While your cake is baking:

  • Whip together your pudding and set aside.
  • Whip up your cream and set it aside, too.
  • Wash and prepare your fruit . . . don’t eat it all . . . and set aside.
  • Chop and toast the nuts if you’re going to add them and (as you guessed) set aside.

We’re almost there!

Once the cake is cooled, the fun begins. Into a large bowl (we usually use a fancy crystal punch bowl, as shown in the first photo) toss in a layer of cake cubes. Grab your jam jar and apply a light schmear of jam to about half of the cubes. Then, add about a fourth of the pudding, topped with about a quarter of the fruit, topped with a nice layer of whipped cream.

In a deep bowl, you should be able to repeat these layers 3 or 4 times. The top layer should be whipped cream, topped by a pretty arrangement of fruit.

We stud it with candles, when it is made for a birthday!

We stud it with candles, when it is made for a birthday celebration.

And that’s it! And that is probably what I will be making on Thursday, for little Mack’s birthday celebration.

It’s spectacular. It’s not difficult. It’s fresh and delicious.

It’s Essential.

Thanks for reading, Gentle Reader, and I do hope you have a delightful, delicious day!







12 thoughts on “My best recipe for Birthday Trifle, and why it requires a new name

  1. Patricia Imig

    The trifle looks so lovely and fruit is always welcome in any form in our house. I haven’t made one for years, but I hope to soon, as you’ve made me hungry for it!

    I was 44 when I had our last child, so I understand many of the feelings you mentioned. And I will absolutely second your opinion that you will never regret having children; I’m so glad that I didn’t miss out on having them!!

  2. Elsa

    I also had my last child at 40 and I was scared because I was warned by the doctors about the higher chances of abnormalities and downs syndrome, etc. My son was born 9 days after my 40th birthday and he is perfect, he’s now a smartmouth teenager but thats another story. Having children was the best thing I ever did, I was only able to have 2 boys but I’m so happy I did.
    The trifle looks delicious, I think I might like to try that for Father’s day dessert.

  3. Chef William Chaney

    Well, well, another way to put a little fat on this old body before the cold season starts here in chilly Mexico. Love the recipe but I do sprinkle a little rum on the sponge cake as I build this delight.
    Genesis 17:17 Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90. When blessed with a child at that age, one must pray and often for the challenge can be great.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      You make me laugh every time you leave a comment, William. Prayer is the answer, of course, to many of life’s challenges!

  4. AnneMarie

    This birthday Essential looks delicious! What a nifty idea. I think the name-change is a good idea, since “trifle” doesn’t really describe it.

    Thanks for sharing the story about Mack! What an awesome blessing!!!! You know, I think it’s interesting that there is such a knee-jerk reaction against “advanced maternal age” in our society, but really, when you start asking around, it seems that so many women give birth in their forties! I’m pretty sure my mom was around that age when she gave birth to her sixth child, and I know another woman who was in her early forties and gave birth to healthy & happy twins. Life is such a precious gift!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Anne Marie, my hubby studied statistics in grad school, and he doesn’t trust the stats on this one. I agree with you, that there seem to be a large majority of women who give birth in their forties, that I know of, that have perfectly healthy babies. You’re right that life is a precious gift! Every one!

  5. Tina

    Hmm, I do wish that Pippi, who is turning 10 on Saturday would choose this for her dessert! I don’t know where she came up with the idea, but she wants a zucchini cake! I’m sure I can find a recipe for something like that, I hope!
    Happy Birthday to Mack!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      To be honest, Tina, a zucchini cake will stir together quicker than the “Essential.” It’s only one step (well, two, including frosting) where the Essential/Trifle has several. Easy steps, but still—maybe you could request it for YOUR Birthday? 😉

  6. cookinmom

    Yes, I too was older and they even told me there was something wrong with my second child and that I needed this test and that test, blah, blah, blah, and I refused to believe them and I stood on Hebrews 11:1 instead. (God is great) I had a perfect children as well!

    Question…could I make this with a yellow cake instead? We’re not sponge cake people.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Thank you so much for your sweet encouragement. YES you certainly could use a yellow cake. We’ve used nearly everything: angel food cake, yellow cake, white cake, whatever. If it is a little more on the hefty side (nothing too light) all the better! This made me giggle, by the way: “We’re not sponge cake people.” Good for you! You don’t have to be!

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