Sour Cherry–Cheesecake Trifle with Black Pepper and Saba


At Brothers and Sisters in Washington, D.C., pastry director Pichet Ong’s riff on a proper British trifle retains the classic form while reinventing the components. Cheesecake stands in for egg custard; pound cake replaces ladyfingers. Rather than sherry, Ong’s trifle uses saba, a syrup made from cooking down grape must, which has a flavor similar to balsamic vinegar. Look for it from San Giacomo on, or substitute pomegranate molasses. For a summer update on this trifle, swap strawberries for sour cherries; use grapes in the fall.

Sour Cherry-Cheesecake Trifle with Black Pepper and Saba
Photo: Christopher Testani
Active Time:
1 hr 30 mins
Total Time:
5 hrs 30 mins



  • 1 1/2 pound frozen pitted sour cherries

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/4 cup saba

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)

  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt


  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (12 ounces), softened, plus more for greasing

  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (about 12 3/4 ounces), plus more for pan

  • 1/2 cup whole milk

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 3 cups heavy cream

  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar (about 3 ounces), divided 

  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened

  • 1 tablespoon honey

  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 4 ounces goat cheese, softened

  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for garnish

  • Edible flowers and fresh fruit, for garnish (optional)


Make the sour cherries in saba

  1. Stir together cherries, sugar, saba, vanilla, lemon zest and juice, and salt in a large saucepan. Cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until warmed through, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and cool completely, about 1 hour.

Make the pound cake

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Grease and flour a 13- x 9-inch baking pan. Beat butter in bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer on medium speed until light and creamy, about 5 minutes. Gradually add sugar and salt, beating on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined after each addition. Add flour in 3 additions alternately with milk, beating on low speed until combined after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Pour batter into prepared pan, and smooth top with an offset spatula. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan on a wire rack 20 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack, and cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut cake into 1-inch pieces.

Make the cheesecake filling

  1. Beat heavy cream with a handheld mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed, gradually beating in 1/2 cup powdered sugar until soft peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes. Cover and chill. Combine cream cheese, honey, lemon zest, salt, and remaining 1/4 cup powdered sugar in bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until light and smooth, about 6 minutes, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Add goat cheese, and beat on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add crème fraîche, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Fold 2 cups whipped cream into cream cheese mixture just until incorporated. Fold in another 2 cups whipped cream just until incorporated. Chill and reserve remaining 2 cups whipped cream.

Assemble the trifle

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Crumble 2 cups cake pieces over a rimmed baking sheet. Add melted butter and black pepper; toss to coat. Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and dry, 25 to 30 minutes.

  2. Drain cherries in saba, reserving juice. Reserve 1/4 cup drained cherries and 1 tablespoon juice for garnish. Layer one-third of untoasted cake pieces (about 4 cups) in a 4-quart trifle dish. Top with one-third of drained cherries (about 1 cup), and drizzle with one-third of juice (about 1/2 cup). Spread half of cheesecake filling (about 2 1/2 cups) over top. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup toasted cake crumbs. Layer with half of remaining untoasted cake pieces and half of remaining drained cherries; drizzle with half of remaining juice (about 1/2 cup). Spread remaining half of cheesecake filling over top. Top with remaining untoasted cake pieces and remaining drained cherries, and drizzle with remaining 1/2 cup juice. Spread reserved 2 cups whipped cream over top. Chill, uncovered, until cake has softened, about 2 hours. Garnish with reserved 1/4 cup drained cherries, black pepper, and, if desired, edible flowers and fresh fruit. Garnish with a sprinkle of the toasted cake crumbs, reserving remaining crumbs to garnish individual servings.

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