Pastry chef Aoife Noonan knows a thing or two about creating show-stopping desserts for the big day.

"We always had a trifle at Christmas and everyone has their own version. This is a grown-up take on trifle with the addition of mulled pears – the alcohol really brings out the flavour in the fruit" - Aoife Noonan

Serves 12


For the pear jelly

  • 8 pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
  • 45g sugar
  • 90ml water
  • 1 lemon, juice only
  • 1 tablespoon Poire William Pear Liqueur
  • 4 leaves gelatine

For the mulled custard

  • 500ml milk
  • 500ml cream
  • 2 vanilla pods, seeds scraped
  • 10 cloves
  • 6 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons dried cinnamon
  • 6 strips lemon zest
  • 6 strips orange zest
  • 400g egg yolks (20 yolks)
  • 150g dark muscovado sugar

For the caramelised pears

  • 200g sugar
  • 30g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 3 pears, peeled and cut in half lengthways, core removed
  • 20ml Poire William liqueur

For the candied walnuts

  • 100g icing sugar
  • 100g walnut halves

For the cream

  • 500ml double cream
  • 30g sugar
  • 2 vanilla pods, seeds scraped

For the soaked sponge

  • 36 ladyfingers/Boudoir biscuits
  • 250ml Marsala


  1. Put the chopped pears, sugar, water, lemon juice and liqueur in a medium saucepan over a low heat.
  2. Cook the pears for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly, until soft. Put the cooked pears into a blender and blend to a smooth purée. Pour the hot purée into a jug and set aside.
  3. Put the gelatine in a bowl of cold water and leave to soak for five minutes. Once softened, squeeze out the excess water and add the gelatine to the hot purée, whisking to ensure it’s fully dissolved. Pour the pear jelly into a trifle bowl and leave to set in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight.
  4. To prepare the custard, preheat the oven to 85ºC. Bring the cream and milk to the boil with the vanilla, cloves, cinnamon sticks, dried cinnamon, lemon strips and orange strips. Leave to infuse for 30 minutes.
  5. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl. Strain the infused liquid over the egg mix, whisking to combine. Pour the mix into a deep baking dish and place in the low oven for 45 minutes. The custard should be set but with a slight wobble in the centre. Cool the custard before mixing until smooth and chilling until ready to assemble the trifle.
  6. For the caramelised pears, make a caramel by placing the sugar in a large pan on a medium heat. Shake the pan to distribute the sugar evenly and caramelise the sugar. Once the sugar is a deep golden brown, add the butter.
  7. Place the pears in the pan, cut side down, and cook gently, basting the pears with the caramel. Continue to cook the pears for five minutes, turning once or twice to cook evenly in the caramel. Add a drop of water to the pan if the caramel has reduced too much. Check the pears are cooked by inserting a knife into the pear, they should be soft but still retaining shape.
  8. Once the pears are cooked, add the liqueur. Remove the pears from the pan and place on a plate until ready to assemble the trifle. Keep any caramel or pan juices for finishing the trifle.
  9. For the walnuts, put the icing sugar in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the walnuts and toss evenly for a few minutes over the heat until all of the walnuts are coated in the icing sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the walnuts out onto a piece of parchment paper to cool. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve.
  10. For the cream, put all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and whisk until soft peaks form. Chill until ready to assemble the trifle.
  11. Lay the ladyfinger biscuits on a large baking tray or dish and pour over the Marsala. Turn the biscuits in the Marsala to ensure they are evenly coated. Leave to soak for a few minutes.
  12. To assemble, place the soaked sponge fingers on top of the pear jelly. Pour over the mulled custard and place in the fridge for one hour to set. Spoon the cream over the custard and chill the trifle until ready to serve. When ready to serve, place the caramelised pears on top of the cream, and drizzle over any reserved caramel from the pan. Finish by sprinkling over the candied walnuts.

TIP- The mulled custard allows for a richer flavour. This can be made as a festive recipe in its own right, spooned over Christmas pudding, crumble or other desserts.

Photography: Brian Clarke, assisted by Harry Weir