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In the Kitchen With: Elaine McCardel’s Sicilian Trifle

by Kristina Gill


The trifle is a traditional English layered dessert generally made of alcohol soaked sponge cake, layered with custard, gelatin, whipped cream and fruit (not necessarily in that order), and served in a glass dish.   As a child, I remember being fascinated by desserts layered in glasses such as trifles, sundaes and what we refer to as parfaits in the US.  I even like to think of tiramisù as a trifle, even though I am sure very many people would disagree! This week Elaine McCardel, author of the food blog The Italian Dish, shares her version of a trifle inspired by her Sicilian heritage. Her lemon cake and pistachio creme trifle uses a pistachio studded mascarpone in place of custard for a lighter texture, and a hint of limoncello to brush the layers. It is beautiful to see! If you don’t have a trifle dish, you can use a cookie cutter to make smaller rounds of cake to layer in individual glasses or bowls. –Kristina

About Elaine: Elaine McCardel is the author of The Italian Dish food blog, where she encourages people to cook from scratch. With an emphasis on her food photography, she guides you through recipes and shows you how easy cooking can be. She holds sold-out cooking classes in her home where people learn to make fresh pasta and homemade pizzas. Her mother was from Italy and she definitely has that Italian gene – the love of feeding people!

See Elaine’s trifle after the jump!


Lemon Cake and Pistachio Creme Trifle
-serves a crowd
-you will need two 9-inch cake pans and one 8- or 9-inch glass trifle bowl

For the lemon cakes:

  • two tablespoons of butter, melted, and a tablespoon of flour for dusting the cake pans
  • half cup almond flour
  • 2.5 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, room temperature
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 lemons, zested and juiced
  • half cup whole milk
  • ⅛ cup limoncello (to brush the cakes with once they’ve cooled)


For the Pistachio Creme:

  • 1 cup raw unsalted pistachios
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 cup mascarpone

For the Whipped Cream layer:

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar


  • ⅛ cup raw unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Butter, line with parchment paper, and flour your cake pans, being sure to tap out all excess flour.

Mix the flours and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside. Cream butter and sugar together with a mixer until very white and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla, lemon zest and juice, and milk and blend. Add the flour mixture and beat until smooth. Pour into prepared pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the middle is set and the top is slightly golden. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes in their pans. Invert the cakes onto a wire rack and let cool completely before composing your trifle.

Make the Pistachio Creme:

Grind the nuts and sugar in a food processor until fine. Add the lemon zest and pulse. Add the lemon juice and pulse. Add the mascarpone and pulse until smooth. The pistachio creme should be at room temperature when assembling the trifle so that it is spreadable.

Make the Whipped Cream:

Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue whipping until stiff. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Assemble the trifle:

Trim one cake to fit the bottom of the trifle bowl. Reserve the cake trimmings for the topping. Brush the cake with half of the limoncello. Spoon half of the pistachio creme on top of the cake, using the back of the spoon to spread it into an even layer. Spoon half of the whipped cream on top of the pistachio creme layer. Trim your remaining cake layer as necessary, and brush with limoncello, then repeat the layering of the cake, pistachio creme and whipped cream. Crumble some of the reserved cake trimmings and chopped pistachios on top of the final whipped cream layer. Refrigerate until ready to serve – hopefully, with little shots of limoncello!

spreading pistachio creme

trifle overhead shot

Why Elaine loves this recipe: My mom was from Sicily and I wanted to make a dessert that used two of the best ingredients from that island – pistachios and lemons. I love these two flavors together and the dessert, made up of layers of lemon cake, pistachio creme and whipped cream, is luscious and light. I developed the recipe for the pistachio creme because I wanted something that would be spreadable on top of the cake but I didn’t want a custard consistency. It’s so delicious you could eat it with a spoon. I brushed the lemon cake layers with our homemade limoncello, so this dessert just asks to be served with little shots of limoncello on the side!


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