Not only do these desserts look sensational with their artful display of ingredients, but they taste terrific too! Whether you’re a parfait fan (French for “perfect” which seems appropriate, though the layered version was actually named by Americans), or more taken with the English trifle, we can assure you that a sweet base adorned with repeated layers of cream, fruit, and toppings is the ideal mix-and-match summer dessert. While we typically refer to parfait as a breakfast item, the French version is probably more suited for post-dinner. If you’re feeling extra fancy, serve your creation in a trifle bowl (it’s clear) so your guests can ogle at all the decadent layers and rave about the taste.
In a traditional trifle, the base is made of dry, sponge cookies (“biscuits” in England) known as ladyfingers (or by their original Italian moniker, savoiardi). You may have seen ladyfingers in another popular layered dessert, tiramisù. The ladyfingers are usually soaked in sherry or another sweet booze before being topped with custard and fruit. However, you can use almost any variety of cookie, such as chocolate chip, chocolate crinkle, oatmeal, spice… the options are endless. Save some cookies for crumbling up and sprinkling on top for a garnish.
Because of its soft texture and ability to soak in lots of delicious flavors, a slice of cake is also an excellent base for your trifle. To achieve a nice visual and distribution throughout, chop the cake into medium to large sized cubes. We love to use this Plated yellow cake recipe as a base, as it works really well with all sorts of toppings, but chocolate and carrot make pretty fantastic options, too.
For a really all-star layered dessert, we can never resist the addition of meringue. The fluffy, cloud-like dessert plays oh-so-well with other ingredients, which is perhaps why it’s featured in quite a few recipes. From New Zealand hails the Pavlova, a meringue-based dessert featuring layers of meringue topped with fruit and cream, and from England, there is the Eton Mess (basically a British Pavlova), which layers broken meringue, whipped cream, and strawberries. It might take a bit of extra time, but we really believe you can’t go wrong adding meringue into this mix. Here’s an easy meringue recipe that we’ve perfected.
Custard is an essential ingredient in many an English dessert and is often eaten plain or spooned over as a sauce. Made from milk or cream plus eggs, it may contain cornstarch or other thickening agents to ensure good consistency and is often flavored with vanilla. In trifles, the custard is spooned over the layers and then soaks into the base for a super moist texture.
We really love the fluffy consistency of whipped cream, and it makes for a beautiful and crowdpleasing element in any layered dessert. You can simply whip it up with a tiny bit of sugar for a classic sweetened cream, or go wild with other infused elements. Your choice!
It turns out that the French parfait is actually a creamy frozen dessert, similar to the Italian “semifreddo.” So, in fact, the French don’t consider layered desserts “parfaits” (although they are an indisputably perfect regardless). In keeping with the “parfait” idea, though, you might consider layering ice cream over your cake, but perhaps only the top, as it will melt quickly. Need some flavor prompts? We’ve got some ideas…
We most commonly see “parfaits” listed as a breakfast variety, with layers of yogurt, granola, and fresh fruit. But, you can also make this yogurt-based treat into dessert—whip it up with a little honey, fruit preserves, or even some vanilla extract, and add mix-ins like chocolate chips. No judgment if you also eat this for breakfast.
After the base and cream are layered on, it’s time to add some toppings before beginning the next layer. In layered desserts, fruit is the most typical addition to the mix, but the options are endless!
Thinly sliced strawberries not only add a sweet summer twist to the dessert, but they also look really beautiful in a clear trifle dish. But other seasonal berries like blueberries, cherries (get the pits out first), raspberries, and blackberries are also supremely tasty mix-ins for a layered dessert. If you’re feeling tropical, we love adding passion fruit for a crunch, along with chopped mango, and maybe even some dragon fruit for a visually appealing accent.
Nuts add a lovely crunch to a layered dessert, and we especially like sprinkling them over the top at the end. Make sure to chop them up fairly small, so they blend into the other ingredients with each bite.
We can never resist a little bit of chocolate in our desserts, but if you plan on including some, make sure to use the tiniest morsels you can find, or chop them up finely. Alternatively, use decorative curls of chocolate or these incredible caramel-chocolate creations on top.
Cookies aren’t just for the base—grind them up and sprinkle them over the top of your dessert for an added crunch.
Sweet + savory
If you’re feeling a little adventurous, chocolate covered potato chips and pretzels can add a salty-sweet note. Make sure to only layer them over the top, though, and preferably crushed so they don’t absorb the liquid and turn soggy!
Did you know Plated also offers dessert? Try it today!Get 25% off your first four weeks of Plated!