Mulled wine trifle

by Ed Smith

A combination of festive treats from Ed Smith

Love mulled wine? Love trifle? Why not mix those two vices this Advent and make a mulled wine trifle?

As it happens, this links nicely with the first two posts of the Spice series, on cinnamon and cloves, and nutmeg, mace and allspice. Mulled wine, of course, uses many of those spices to the full, and across Britain and western Europe, our memory recall of their aroma and flavour are intrinsically linked to Christmas and warm, spiced red wine.

In a trifle, though? Does that work?

I think so. There’s always a debate as to whether a trifle should include jelly. I think, as a general rule, it should (but doesn’t have to). And in this instance, it’s much better that the mulled wine element—which is part diluted with fresh orange juice—holds firm as a jelly, rather than swishing around the bowl as if you’d accidentally dropped a glass of wine in the custard.

What else is to note? This is packed full of fresh orange, as I think it helps provide sharpness, freshness and texture. Also, I first made this with a shop-bought fresh custard, and you can do too to save time. However, I found the result is rather sweet, so if you can stomach it, it’s worth making your own cinnamon-spiced version.

Finally, my pet hate in a trifle is over-whipped, fridge-set cream. For the lightest, most luxurious results, whip double cream only just to the point that it starts to stiffen and hold (so just past the ribbon stage). It’s best, I think, to do this right at the point that you’re serving, though I know that’s not always practical. If you’re leaving it in the fridge for an hour or more, that cream will set-up a little more—which is fine, but another reason not to whip it too much to begin with.

The second time I made this, I dotted extra chunks of orange on top. I think they really added a lovely cooling zip, and made me pretend I wasn’t just eating litres of custard and cream. The recipe reflects this action, even if the photo doesn’t.


7 medium-size oranges
350ml red wine (something fruity and medium bodied)
2 tbsp runny honey
10 cloves
1 cinnamon stick (ideally the Sri Lankan variety from Spice Mountain)
1/6 nutmeg, freshly grated
200g madeira cake (a few days old is preferable)
6 sheets fine gelatin (10g)
500ml custard (either shop bought, or using the ingredients and method below)
1 tsp cinnamon
600ml double cream

To make the custard:
250g full fat milk
250g double cream
1 tsp ground cinnamon
5 egg yolks
40g golden caster sugar 


Take a couple of strips of peel off an orange using a vegetable peeler, then squeeze the two oranges so that you have 200ml of juice. Add this and the peel to a saucepan with the wine, honey, cloves, cinnamon stick and freshly grated nutmeg. Bring to gentle simmer and heat for 15 mins, before turning the heat off and allowing the spices to infuse for at least 30 mins.

Cut the madeira cake into cubes. Use a knife to remove the peel from 3 of the remaining oranges, then cut their flesh into 2-3cm chunks. Fill the bottom of a 2-litre bowl with the cake cubes and orange chunks, alternating the ingredients so they’re evenly distributed.

Strain the mulled wine through a sieve, then return it to the saucepan and place on a low heat. Put the gelatin in a bowl and cover with cold water to ‘bloom’. Soak for 3 mins, then remove from the water and squeeze any excess liquid from each leaf. Put the gelatin into the warm wine. Remove from the heat and stir until dissolved. Leave to cool to room temperature, before pouring over the cake and orange and chill in the fridge for about 2 hours.

In the meantime, make the custard (if you are doing this yourself). Combine the milk and cream in a thick-bottomed milk pan. Add the cinnamon. Warm on the hob so it just starts to simmer. Take off the heat and let it sit for 5 mins.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until the mix is light and thick (basically, whisk hard for 1-2 mins until you get ribbons when you lift the whisk away from the mix. Then whisk hard for 1 more min, because you’re probably not there yet).

Add a small amount of the warm milk into the egg mix, stir it in. Repeat, gradually adding more liquid each time until everything is combined. Wash the saucepan. Pour the egg/milk mix back into it and place on a very low heat. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the custard gives a lush and lasting coat to the back of the spoon. Pass the custard through a sieve. Leave to cool (press clingfilm directly to the surface to stop a skin forming).

If you are not making your own custard, add 1 tsp cinnamon to the shop-bought stuff, decant into a saucepan, stir well and gently heat for 10 mins. Leave to cool.

Back to the trifle. Pour the now chilled, cinnamon-infused custard over the mulled wine jelly, orange and cake base and return to the fridge for at least 2 more hours—overnight or for the course of a morning is fine.

To finish the trifle, use a knife to remove the peel from the remaining 2 oranges and cut the flesh into 3cm chunks. Whisk and whip 600ml of double cream just beyond ribbon stage—just to the point that it starts to stiffen and hold its shape, but so that it’s luxurious and silky, rather than stiff. Dollop over the custard, gently forming waves and peaks with a palette knife or similar. Refrigerate if you need to, or serve immediately, dotting the remaining chunks of orange on top.

Recipe and image: Ed Smith