Cranberry Trifle Recipe

Layers of fluffy, amaro-soaked cake, tart cranberry jam, and whipped mascarpone.

A cranberry trifle assembled in a large glass trifle dish, set on a table.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik; video: Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Cranberry juice intensifies the flavor and color of the jam.
  • Elderflower liqueur softens the jam's acidity with a sweet floral note.
  • A pinch of cinnamon and clove add a subtle holiday flair to the mascarpone.
  • Bittersweet Cardamaro tames the sweetness of angel food cake.

I didn't grow up with trifle per se, but down South we love a good tipsy pudding, which is similar in all the important ways: a combination of cake, booze, fruit, and cream or custard (or both). And while purists may insist on drowning the whole thing in an eggy pudding and sherry, I'm a little more flexible when it comes to assembly. In fact, so far as I'm concerned, most every element is up for grabs.

A Flexible Recipe

In this seasonal variation, I combine fluffy angel food cake, bittersweet amaro, homemade cranberry jam, and whipped mascarpone sweetened with maple syrup. The elements work to both complement and contrast each other as one harmonious composition. There's a lot of wiggle room when it comes to assembly, so long as substitutions are able to play a similar role in terms of structure and flavor.

For example, a tart orange marmalade might stand in nicely for the cranberry jam, but sweet blueberry preserves would turn the trifle into a sugar bomb. Meanwhile, ladyfingers (whether store-bought or homemade) are light enough to replace angel food cake, but a pound cake would be too dense and rich.

By that same token, don't feel like this trifle demands you run out and buy a bottle of Cardamaro—the Italian amaro you may recall as the secret weapon in my tiramisu. It has a natural affinity for mascarpone, and plenty of aromatic oopmh, but the same could be said of more traditional options, like sherry or rum. The point is to make use of what you've got while staying within the basic framework of the dessert.

Overhead shot of a cranberry trifle, topped with dollops of whipped mascarpone.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

But enough about hypotheticals, let's get down to the specifics of this recipe, starting with the jam.

Making the Cranberry Jam

Fresh cranberries are available for such a limited time, I can't help but avail myself of them when I can—plus, their bright pop of color and acidity is the perfect contrast to angel food cake. They also bring a festive dose of holiday cheer.

Close-up of a bowl of fresh cranberries.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

For a quick jam, I combine the whole fruit with cranberry juice, elderflower liqueur, and lightly toasted sugar, plus whatever aromatics I have on hand—in this case orange peel and a cinnamon stick.

Again, if you don't have a bottle of St. Germain kickin' around your liquor cabinet, anything sweet and floral will do: think crème de violette and chrysanthemum honey liquor, or even apple juice doctored with a spoonful of rosewater. The point is to leverage the power of aromatics to open up the cranberry's profile.

Collage of cranberries simmering, breaking down, getting jammy.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently, if not constantly, and continue cooking until most of the cranberries have popped and the mixture is jammy but not too thick (it will thicken significantly as it cools). Cover and set aside until needed, up to several hours at room temperature.

Prepping the Angel Food Cake

Meanwhile, use a bread knife to slice an angel food cake into 1-inch slabs for cubing. No judgement here if you want to rock and roll with a store-bought cake, but my method for homemade angel food cake couldn't be easier. In a trifle, it's okay if the cake is a little stale, so it can be baked off up to a week in advance to streamline the process.

Angel food cake being cut into cubes.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

I'm lucky enough to have my grandmother's trifle dish, but any large bowl will do, or you can assemble mini-trifles in parfait dishes instead. However you go about it, the order of assembly is cake, booze, jam, cream, and so on until the dish is full.

A layer of angel food cake cubes covers the bottom of the trifle dish.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

After covering the bottom of the dish with chunks of cake, sprinkle generously with booze, but stop shy of soaking the cake so it still has enough structure to hold up against the moisture of the jam.

A layer of whipped mascarpone is spread over the jam layer with a spatula.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Adding the Cream Layer

For the cream layer, I used my recipe for Greek yogurt whipped with golden syrup and cream as a template, but with mascarpone and maple syrup instead. It only takes a few moments to prepare, so it can be brought together at the last minute, but it also holds up quite well in the fridge, if you'd find it helpful to whip it up a day or two in advance.

Once you've spread the mascarpone into an even layer, the process begins again with another round of cake. The specific dimensions of a given trifle dish will determine how many layers it will accommodate, so in the end you may have a bit of one component to spare. In my case, I used a piping bag fitted with a plain tip to turn a bit of leftover mascarpone into a few decorative swirls, but leftovers can otherwise be treated as a stealth snack.

Close-up of the assembled cranberry trifle.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Whether you follow my recipe verbatim, or use it as a springboard for your own flavor pairings, a seasonal trifle is an ideal dessert for your holiday menu, offering up a few perfectly balanced bites to conclude a festive meal.

December 2017

Recipe Facts



Active: 45 mins
Total: 45 mins
Serves: 20 servings

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For the Cranberry Jam:

  • 24 ounces fresh cranberries, washed (about 6 cups; 680g)

  • 24 ounces pure, unsweetened cranberry juice (about 3 cups; 680g)

  • 4 ounces elderflower liqueur, such as St. Germain (about 1/2 cup; 115g), or a complementary alternative

  • 16 ounces plain or lightly toasted sugar

  • 1 (3-inch) strip of orange peel, optional

  • 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick, optional

For the Whipped Mascarpone:

  • 24 ounces mascarpone (three 8-ounce containers; 680g), straight from the fridge

  • 14 ounces heavy cream (about 1 3/4 cups; 395g)

  • 5 ounces dark maple syrup (about 1/2 cup; 140g)

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon (1g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

To Assemble:

  • 1 (10-inch) angel food cake, store bought or homemade, cut into 1-inch cubes

  • Cardamaro, or other spirit, to taste


  1. For the Cranberry Jam: Combine fresh cranberries, cranberry juice, liqueur, sugar, orange peel, and cinnamon (if using) in a 5-quart stainless steel or enameled Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Continue cooking until most of the cranberries have popped and the mixture looks rather jammy, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, set aside until needed, up to 3 hours at room temperature. Remove orange peel and cinnamon stick before using.

    Collage of jam ingredients being added to a Dutch oven full of cranberries.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  2. For the Whipped Mascarpone: Combine mascarpone, cream, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and cloves in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Mix at low speed to start, then increase to high and whip until the mixture is thick and stiff, about 5 minutes. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate up to 2 days; if needed, briefly rewhip before use to restore its consistency.

  3. To Assemble: Scatter a layer of cubed angel food cake along the bottom of a trifle dish or large bowl, then sprinkle generously with Cardamaro (or an alternative of your choosing). Cover with a thin layer of cranberry jam, followed by a thick layer of whipped mascarpone. Repeat until the dish is full. Bring to the table immediately, or cover and refrigerate up to 6 hours before serving.

    Cardamaro is sprinkled on one of the upper angel food cake layers.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Special Equipment

Enameled Dutch oven, heat-resistant spatula, trifle dish


In place of an elderflower liquor like St. Germain, try an equal amount of crème de violette, chrysanthemum honey liquor, or even apple juice doctored with a 1/2 teaspoon of rosewater.

In place of Cardamaro, try using another bittersweet amaro, or else more traditional options like brandy and rum. For a non-alcoholic version, try using a scented tea like Earl Grey or else an herbal tisane such as chamomile.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
427 Calories
23g Fat
51g Carbs
4g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 20
Amount per serving
Calories 427
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 23g 30%
Saturated Fat 14g 69%
Cholesterol 69mg 23%
Sodium 308mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 51g 19%
Dietary Fiber 2g 6%
Total Sugars 37g
Protein 4g
Vitamin C 8mg 42%
Calcium 78mg 6%
Iron 0mg 2%
Potassium 147mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)