Making trifle

In the last few days before the UK went into lockdown, and the supermarket shelves emptied of toilet paper and dried pasta, incredulous reports circulated that packets of lasagne remained un-panic-bought. “Mate”, as one memetic commentary put it, “If we’re going to be stuck at home for the next few weeks, you’re going to have time to make a lasagne!”

When Shirley Conran decried that life was too short to stuff a mushroom I venture she wasn’t faced with the prospect of spending weeks, possibly months, unable to leave the house. The current predicament in which we find ourselves has changed my relationship with time, and consequently, with food. Even as someone who enjoys cooking as a leisure activity there have always been certain foodstuffs I enjoy eating, but can rarely be bothered to make. There was a prohibitively unfavourable ratio of time and effort invested to the pleasure of consumption gained. But now, when time is no longer a limiting factor, and any diversion is a sought after commodity, I found myself turning my hand to dishes I would normally only ever order in a restaurant.

Switching metaphors, I also relished the idea of completing tasks on Hard Mode. Which right now consists of two main limitations: dietary requirements and the availability of ingredients Terry has been vegetarian for as long as I have known him, but has recently developed an intolerance to lactose.

So, put all these factors together, and what do you get? Liz’s dairy free, vegetarian, lockdown trifle.

The sponge

I’m not much of baker, but I do occasionally indulge in making the odd cake. I figured a dairy free sponge should be pretty simple. Flora provide this straightforward recipe on their website. The only thing missing is self-raising flour, and that’s an easy one to fix as I have regular plain flour and baking powder in my cupboard. In fact since becoming au fait with Nigella’s tried and tested ratio I never bother buying self-raising anymore anyway.

I actually prefer sponges made with margarine rather than butter. I think it’s because I keep my butter in the fridge, never have the patience to let it get to room temperature, but invariably overshoot when I try to soften in a microwave. Whereas I can incorporate sugar into spreadable fat much more easily.

In short order we’ve made a pleasingly pale, silky looking batter. We halved the amounts which means there’s not enough to to go in one of my springform tins. So we use a solid Victoria Sandwich tin instead. Regrettably we don’t have anything to line the tin. I remember a technique from cooking show ones whereby cakes will happily pop out of tins if greased and lightly dusted with flour or cocoa powder. Unfortunately this doesn’t quite work. I don’t know if it’s because I used more of the margarine rather than butter. Is there a dairy free version of this technique available? So half our glorious sponge clings obstinately to the bottom and needs scraping off with a spoon. However since we’ll be crumbling the sponge up anyway, it doesn’t matter.

A slightly broken up sponge cake

The jelly

I converted to agar agar a while ago, and still have a pack in my cupboard which survived the recent house move. Unfortunately my very little precision scales I use for very small quantities didn’t make it (or did I give them away to someone?) So I eyeball what I reckon is about the 2.7 grams needed to go in with 300 mls of apple juice, some defrosted and squished up blackberries and a couple of spoons of sugar. Agar agar is one of those substances where the chemistry actually matters, so I really hope I have this right. We get it up to boiling point, let it cook for a few minutes, and then tip the contents of our pan into a flat pyrex dish. After 20 mins I’m satisfied it’s solidifying enough as it cools, and sure enough it’s reached the desired wobbly brick texture after 45 mins or so.

A block of red jelly

The custard

Custard is another thing I can rarely be bothered to do from scratch. The bought stuff is cheap and tastes (imho) as good as home-made, and it’s alarmingly easy to get it wrong. Since Terry cut out lactose we tried the Alpro soya custard, and can happily report it as a perfectly fine substitution. But, disaster, we used the last of it the other week. So, time to face my fears. The Dairy Alliance have this recipe, which was easy to follow, and worked a treat with the soya milk we have in the fridge. I understand from The Internet there are people who get extremely exercised about the inclusion of cornflour in custards and indeed in anything else. I have taken the decision to ignore them. My custard sits downstairs, creamy, uncurdled, and ready to assemble.

The banana

I sliced a banana up. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

The squirty cream

Terry has been on the prowl for good dairy free alternatives to stuff for a while now, and we are grateful for the continued service of the fine folks at We splurged on a big ol’ box of treats a couple of weeks back, getting in veggie hot dogs, lactose free cheese & onion crisps, gummy bears and a can of shaving cream style coconut based froth. Just the ticket here.

The construction

To construct, or deconstruct, that is the question. I don’t own a trifle dish and can’t imagine doing this frequently enough to merit purchasing one. While I have faith in the structural integrity of the components, there’s not much of some of them, and I think unless you’re doing a massive party trifle with each layer in volume, the layering effect gets lost. So decontructed it is. Spoonfuls of sponge go into our sundae glasses first, with a sprinkling of sherry to moisten. Then the jelly, smashed into irregular chunks. Then banana, custard & cream haphazedly tumbled on top. For the finishing touch, I have half a pack of flaked almonds and considered giving them a light toast. But on further consideration of the lurid colours of my confection I decided instead to use the teeth destroying silver balls and fully embrace the 80’s vibe.

Glass bowl of trifle
The finished product!