Vegan potluck and a killer dessert


There’s a local group for vegans and vegetarians (or anyone else who wants to hang out), and we try to get together once a month to hang out, eat and talk about food.

We used to go to restaurants, but lately we seem to have gravitated more toward potlucks recently.

One of the group leaders saw a photo of a trifle that I had made a couple years ago for a Christmas party. She asked if it was vegan, but it was not.

She said it would be nice to try a vegan version, so I thought I would challenge myself to make one.

Please note that making trifle is a very lengthy and time-consuming process, so it really is a labor of love. Also note that this recipe serves about 20-25 people.

Even though it is vegan, it is definitely not healthy. Unless you are an elf.

The next potluck wasn’t far off, so I didn’t have as much time to experiment and prepare as I would have liked, but I surfed around looking for recipes that could help me in my trifle-making quest.

I couldn’t find one that spoke to me, so I searched instead for the various components the comprise a trifle: Ladyfingers (cake), custard, fruit filling and whipped cream (this requires night-before preparation, so read the recipe at the end to know what you need to do ahead of time).

The original trifle I made also had white chocolate curls, but after a futile searching locally for cocoa butter, I had to leave that part out.

So on to the components. First the ladyfingers. Cake needs to get cooked, cooled and cut, so this is the most time-consuming part of the process. A good place to start.

I have made chocolate vegan cupcakes before, so I knew it was difficult, I just needed to find the right recipe.

I found what I was looking for on – there was a recipe for tiramisu, which also calls for ladyfingers. It seemed simple enough, and suitable for what I wanted to accomplish.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cornstarch (there are non-GMO brands available)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup canola oil 
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together dry ingredients; stir gently to combine. Add oil, vanilla and water.  Stir until most lumps are gone. Pour batter into lightly-greased 9-inch square baking dish. Bake for about 30-35 minutes. Do the toothpick test (stick a toothpick in the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done).  Let cool.

Once the cake has cooled, cut it in half, then cut each half into six even strips. Toast them in the oven for a few minutes. Let cool again.

While the cake is cooling, it is time to make the rest of the components.


I discovered a vegan custard is much thicker and lest likely to soak up the ladyfingers, so I made a simple syrup to help with making the cake moist and pudding-like. It’s easy to make, but involves a lot of sugar.

Lici’s Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary (or thyme)
1-3 teaspoons brandy (optional)

Stir together sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium. Add rosemary; let simmer about five minutes, stirring constantly until a thick syrup forms. Stir in brandy, if desired, to taste. Pour into a ceramic bowl or pitcher, using a strainer to remove the rosemary. Let cool.


I based my custard on a vanilla pudding recipe from Hell Yeah It’s Vegan, a great website for vegan recipes that I discovered recently. I substituted potato starch for the cornstarch in my version. I also omitted the vegan butter that the recipe called for (I forgot to put it in, actually), but found it wasn’t really needed.

Vanilla Custard

3-4 tablespoons potato starch
2 1/2 cubs vegan milk
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 In a small bowl, whisk together ½ cup vegan milk and potato starch. Set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk together remaining vegan milk and sugar. When mixture begins to steam, add potato starch mixture. Cook, stirring often with the whisk, until mixture begins to thicken and just reaches a boil, for about five minutes. Turn the heat very low and cook another five minutes, stirring occasionally until thick. Turn off heat and stir in vanilla extract. Set aside to cool.


The fruit filling was adapted from a recipe for cranberry-blackberry relish shared by my Google+ friend, Katherine Bond, a few years ago.

I loved it so much, I’ve made a variation of it every year ever since. I probably make it two or three times a year using different berries or sometimes adding citrusy fruits.

Raspberry Cranberry Satsuma Sauce

1 12-ounce bag cranberries, rinsed
1 large container raspberries
3-4 satsumas, peeled and chopped into bite-size pieces

1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Place cranberries in a medium saucepan and fill about 1-inch deep with water. Cook over medium-high heat until cranberries start to pop. Cook for one to two minutes, until popping slows. Add in satsumas, sugar, salt and allspice. Stir well and cook over medium heat until sauce comes just to a simmer and starts to thicken. Add raspberries and simmer a few minutes longer. Set aside to let cool.


The final component, aside from the garnish, is the whipped cream. I tried to find a recipe that didn’t include coconut cream, fearing the coconut flavor would be overbearing, but after reading through a dozen recipes, I decided coconut was the best way to go.

The recipes are all pretty much the same as making regular whipped cream, just using coconut cream instead of dairy, but for the sake of sharing a link to another plant-based blogger, Oh She Glows, here is her coconut whipped cream.

You will need some for filling and some for the top layer, so I doubled the recipe.

Coconut Whipped Cream

2 cans coconut milk (refrigerated overnight)
4-6 teaspoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Being careful not to disturb the contents, open the cans of coconut milk from bottom side and pour the liquid into a glass (suggested use is in a smoothie or other beverage like a pina colada). Scrape the coconut cream into a large mixing bowl (also chilled overnight). Use a hand mixer to whip the cream until it is light and fluffy. Mix in the sugar and vanilla toward the end.


So far, this recipe has taken me two hours to write down. It will take longer than that to make. But now that you have all the components completed, the light is at the end of the tunnel.

Let the layering begin!

You should have 12 ladyfinger slices. Place four of them in the bottom of the trifle bowl (you will want to use the trifle bowl to show off the pretty layers you worked so hard to make).

Generously drizzle the simple syrup over the cakes. Spoon about 1/3 of the custard on top of the ladyfingers. Do the same for the berry sauce. Spoon about 1/4 of the whipped cream on top of the berry sauce. Repeat process two more times, ending with the remaining 1/2 of the whipped cream.

Refrigerate for at least two to three hours before serving to let the cake get soft and the flavors blend together.

Garnish with fresh raspberries and/or satsuma slices before serving. You can also add vegan white chocolate chips or swirls if you like.



3 thoughts on “Vegan potluck and a killer dessert

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