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Christmas for Chocoholics: Triple Chocolate Holiday Trifle

Southerners know a thing or two about showy desserts—the taller and flashier the better—which explains why my mother’s signature sweet was a stunning English trifle filled with layers of sherry-soaked pound cake, creamy egg custard, raspberry preserves and vanilla bean whipped cream.

Thanks to Mom, that classic trifle has also become my favorite way to wow a crowd. I mean, what’s not to like? It looks gorgeous on a side table and keeps everyone on their toes until it’s time to serve. While I will always cherish my mom’s version, this year I decided I needed my very own pièce de résistance. And in my book, that means chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

After plenty of research, trial and error, and multiple taste tests, my Triple-Chocolate Trifle was born. This over-the-top dessert (and that’s an understatement) plays on all of my wildest culinary fantasies: moist, crumbly devil’s food cake, a cloud-like mocha mousse and the richest fudge sauce you’ve ever tasted. These powers combined bring new meaning to the phrase “death by chocolate.” And just to gild the lily, I topped it off with Kahlua-spiked whipped cream and chocolate-covered espresso beans. (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself. It was the “Southern” thing to do.)

This glorious chocolate trifle has become my new signature dessert, and it just might become yours, too. Thank goodness for my waistline that Christmas only comes once a year!

Triple Chocolate Holiday Trifle
Active time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
Total time: 4 hours and 45 minutes
Yields: 10-12 servings

devils food cake

4 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground (instant) espresso powder
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup whole buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

mocha mousse

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon ground (instant) espresso powder
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon coffee-flavored liqueur, like Kahlua
2 cups heavy whipping cream

fudge sauce

1 cup (6 ounces) good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips, divided
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

whipped cream

1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur, like Kahlua

for the devil’s food cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 metal baking dish with cooking spray (I like Baker’s Joy) and line with parchment paper.  Lightly spray the paper.

Combine the chocolate chips, cocoa, and espresso powder in a mixing bowl. Pour the boiling water over top and whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Set aside.

In another bowl, add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and whisk to combine. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the beater blade, cream together the butter and sugar on medium to medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Reduce speed to low. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/2 of the chocolate mixture until just combined. Repeat with another third of flour, the remaining chocolate, and final third of flour.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and smooth with a rubber or offset spatula. Bake for 28-32 minutes, until a toothpick pricked in center comes out clean. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a pairing knife along the edges of the cake and gently invert it onto the cooling rack. Discard the parchment paper and allow the cake to cool completely.

This cake can be made up to three days in advance; store in an airtight container at room temperature. Or to freeze, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil, for up to 1 month. Defrost at room temperature before unwrapping.

for the mocha mousse:

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low to medium-low heat. Add the chocolate chips and espresso powder, and cook until chocolate is completely melted. Pour in the condensed milk and Kahlua and whisk until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or with an electric mixer) beat the cream until stiff peaks begin to form. Gently fold cooled chocolate mixture into the whipped cream until it is completely incorporated and no streaks remain. Cover and chill for 1-2 hours.

for the fudge sauce:

Combine 1/2 cup chocolate chips, cream, corn syrup, brown sugar, cocoa, and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently, over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking at a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, for five minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips, butter, and vanilla and whisk until glossy and smooth. Set aside.

for the whipped cream:

Just before serving, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or with an electric mixer) beat the cream, confectioners’ sugar, and coffee liqueur until soft peaks just begin to form.

to assemble:
Note: This can be assembled in a large trifle dish or individual glass serving dishes.

Line up the individual dessert components. Break the devil’s food cake into small pieces (it’s okay if it crumbles; it will press into a cohesive layer in the trifle dish). Rewarm fudge sauce on low heat to thin, if necessary.

Spread a layer of chocolate mousse in the bottom of the dish. Arrange a fairly thick layer of devil’s food cake pieces over the mousse. Drizzle fudge sauce over the cake pieces. Repeat layering, ending with mousse. Refrigerate trifle for 2-3 hours to set.

This dessert is best served at room temperature, so remove from the refrigerator at least an hour or two before serving. Top with fresh whipped cream and chopped chocolate-covered espresso beans. (If making individual trifles, top each trifle with one whole chocolate-covered espresso bean.)

Nealey moved from Alabama to the West Coast to follow her dreams, only to realize once there how much she missed good ol’ country cooking.  So she took to the kitchen and began re-creating the dishes of her past, but this time without any help from a can. What started out as a hobby turned into an obsession, so she quit her day job to pursue cooking, and eating, fulltime. Dixie Caviar is where you can follow her pursuits of all things Southern.

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