I first discovered the recipe for this trifle months ago. But I knew that the only time I could get away with serving a dessert as decadent, as creamy, as luscious, as gooey, as spicy, as flavourful as this one was during the holiday season. And so I flagged this recipe way back then and made a note in my BlackBerry calendar that I must make this trifle for Christmas Eve this year.

No sooner had someone taken a spoonful of this trifle did I hear my name being called out, to ask about the recipe. Truth be told, my family is not really a trifle crowd. The ladies often ask for chocolate, or perhaps cheesecake, but for the most part we are nibbling on cannoli or Middle Eastern dense date-filled cookies after our holiday and birthday feasts.
So, I didn’t really know how trifle would go down. I had made trifle before – Nigella Lawson’s cherry chocolate trifle. And I remember most of the bowl sat uneaten. Not because it wasn’t delicious but because it was served at the end of gut-busting, button-popping meal. And yet, it’s one of those desserts that my taste buds can recall with great clarity.

This pumpkin gingerbread trifle is another one of those memory-searing recipes. It is creamy, and comforting, and the cake is moist but the ginger, and the cinnamon, and the cardamom keep it from being yet another bland, boozy trifle recipe. You must make this. Then you must eat this. You will have more than one serving, I promise. (You can find the recipe here, but I made several substitutions below so please be sure to keep reading).

Substitutions: Rather than use a store-bought gingerbread mix, I used the cake from Martha Stewart’s gingerbread chocolate house petits fours recipe I blogged about before. This is because I couldn’t find the mix and I was making the gingerbread chocolate cake for the petits fours anyway. To be honest, though, I think this was the optimal substitution. Because not everyone likes pumpkin, and not everybody likes gingerbread, and the chocolate helps to offset some of the zinging full flavour of the spices and ginger.

Also, in the comments posted under the Food Network recipe, some people complain about the layers of the trifle not being distinct enough, so I placed a layer of ginger snaps on top of the bottom layer of cake to keep the cake and pumpkin pudding layer separate. Other commenters complained that they used instant pudding rather than the cook-and-serve variety and that it wasn’t thick enough. To avoid that problem, I used whole milk and let the pudding sit out for longer than the instructions called for. Also, the recipe calls for either cinnamon or cardamom to be added to the pumpkin puree. I used a bit of both.

And finally, when I did a Google Image search to see how others decorate their trifle, I wasn’t satisfied with the way everyone spread a layer of whipped cream on top. It just didn’t look dressy enough, but I knew that if I piped Cool Whip on top of the trifle, it would fall flat by the time we made it to my brother-in-law’s house. So I whipped my own cream for the top, and I wish I had just made more to use that instead of the Cool Whip. I know the recipe calls for ready-made whipped topping but if you have some whipping cream lying around, and an extra 10 minutes you could just whiz it up while you’re doing something else. It makes a difference, trust me.

Would I make this again? Yes, because this flavour combination is a classic one and it beats the same-old, same-old holiday pumpkin pie. And, despite it being a multi-step recipe, it’s a relatively easy one and one that you can put in your refrigerator and forget about until the next day so that you look like a domestic diva when your guests are walking through the front door and you are ready and waiting for them, rather than covered in flour and anxiety.

Grade: Five stars out of five. Fun, festive, delish. Can’t go wrong. Thanks, Paula Deen. I heart you.

Check out other spectacular trifles made for Sugar High Fridays over at Cream Puffs in Venice.