My friend Mardi and I often have a Friday brunch date at Cafe Cluny in the West Village. Their food is outstanding, and they’re always more than happy to accomodate us vegetarians. But what really makes it the place that we always return to, is their caramelized banana trifle. If you’re in New York, you should drop whatever you’re doing right now and run over there and get some!! If you’re not, put it on your bucket list!

Or you could get inspired and make trifle at home (it will not taste like Cluny’s but it will make you feel accomplished, and it might be just as good… its own way). I put mine in individual ramekins, but you could just as well put it in a large bowl for people to serve themselves.

This is very much a special occasion dessert because it’s very involved. It also works better for a larger party (rather than a romantic dinner for two), because you have to bake the cake and make pastry cream, and you’ll have lots of both.

The recipe is my variation of one I found on

The cake, syrup, pastry cream and caramel sauce can be made a day ahead.

The caramel decoration is soooooo easy and it makes it look so fancy!

Autumn Trifle : A Recipe in 7 Parts

Spice Cake

1 cup very strong brewed chai
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. orange extract
3/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 tblsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice
3 cups all-purpose flour

Line a half baking sheet with parchment.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the flour with the spices and the baking soda.
Cream the butter with both sugars. Add eggs, vanilla and orange extract. In 3 additions, alternately mix in the dry ingredients and the tea, until just combined.
Bake for approx. 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Set aside and let cool.

Simple Syrup

1 cup water
2 cups sugar
A splash of liquor of your choice, optional

Cook water and sugar together until all the sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool. Add the liquor.

Cinnamon Pastry Cream

6 egg yolks
2 cups milk (whole or soy)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cake flour
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tblsp. butter

Whisk together the yolks and 1/2 cup of milk. Whisk in the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and flour.
Bring the remaining milk to a boil. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture. Return everything to the same saucepan. Whisk constantly, while cooking on medium heat. The custard will thicken (this may take a few minutes so be patient and keep whisking). Transfer to a bowl and stir in the butter until it melts. Lay plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and refrigerate until cold (at least 2 hours).

Pumpkin Caramel Sauce

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup canned pumpkin

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and cook, stirring constantly) until it has a very dark amber color (you don’t want to burn it, but you also don’t want to take it off the heat too soon, because it won’t have enough flavor). Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cream. It will bubble fiercely. Keep stirring until all caramel bits dissolve. Stir in the pumpkin. Cool or refrigerate until ready to use.

Sauteed Apples and Pears

3 large apples, peeled and chopped small
3 large pears, peeled and chopped small
2 tblsp. butter
2 tbslp. lemon juice

Toss the apples and pears with the lemon. Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the fruit and cook until it softens and starts to caramelize. Set aside.

2 Cups Heavy cream, whipped and chilled

Caramel Decorations

4 oz. water
8 oz. sugar
pinch of salt

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silpat.
In the smallest saucepan you have, cook the 3 ingredients until dark brown. Do not walk away while you do this, because once it starts to brown it will darken quickly. Also remember that your caramel will keep cooking after you take it off the heat, so remove it when it’s still a little lighter than you want it. 
Dip a teaspoon into the caramel and make little circular decorations on your parchment. They will set almost immediately. Store them in a dry place or use immediately.
Please be careful! Caramel is so hot, and can cause burns you will never forget!!

To Assemble:

Spread a layer of pastry cream in the bottom of your ramekins or glasses, or whatever you are using to hold your trifle.
Using a cookie cutter that is slightly smaller than the ramekin, cut out rounds of spice cake. Brush with the simple syrup.
Add another layer of pastry cream.
Then a layer of apples, generously drizzled with pumpkin caramel sauce.
Another layer of pastry cream.
Fit a large piping bag with a star tip. Fill with whipped cream and pipe a rosette onto each trifle. Refrigerate if not serving right away. Just before serving, add your caramel decoration.