October 4, 2012

A Simple Dessert : Lime Posset

W
hat would you do if life gave you a lot of lemons? Make some lemonade, perhaps? Or maybe lemon curd? It’s not anywhere near summer here though the days can get warm, so no lemonade for now. Lemon curd is a good thing and I could use it to make Lemon Meringue Pie, perhaps?  
Another great dessert idea, except for a couple of things - my electric hand mixer/ beaters  finally called it a day permanently after serving me well, and the replacement is still on its way. As if this wasn’t bad enough, my brand new oven also conked on me a few days back and the technician told me that it will take about 10 days to source and replace the faulty part. I seem to have been jinxed when it comes to kitchen appliances and am hoping this is a temporary thing!
Apart from all this, I wasn’t looking forward to spending half a day in the kitchen making dessert so lemon meringue pie was definitely an option.



 
I wanted to make a simple and easy dessert and found one., a very British one called a Lemon Posset. A Lemon Posset is made with cream, sugar and lemon juice. Yup, that’s it! And it takes about 15 minutes to make it though it requires a few hours of refrigeration to set so that means it’s a great make-ahead dessert too. Don’t you love the idea of a dessert that really needs 3 ingredients, takes hardly any time or involved techniques, and is popular with your family and friends? I do and I’m sure you would too, assuming you do like lemons in the first place.
You might have noticed I called mine a Lime Posset and that’s because out here in India, lemons are rather difficult to find but limes are just about everywhere and I had more than a few in my fridge. Make your Posset with limes or lemons as you please, either way it’s a great dessert. What you will have is a creamy and tangy dessert that is a cross between a Pannacotta and sweetened lemony mascarpone.



 

Interestingly, the recipe for making a Posset may be simple but it has a rather not-so-simple history. The Posset has been around for quite a while, possibly since the15th century when it was a drink made by boiling and curdling milk with alcohol (wine or a sweet ale called sack!) and spiced with ginger or candied anise. It was considered a curative for colds and fevers and was also taken before going to bed to ensure a good night’s sleep.
From some time in the 16th century, the Posset had started to become more like the version we know today. The Royalty and the very rich made their Possets with cream, sugar, eggs, spices, some form of alcohol (preferably sack which is a dry wine from the sherry family) and even perfumed them with such stuff as musk and ambergris 
The ordinary folk used bread to thicken their Possets. The Scottish use oats to thicken their Oatmeal Posset which is considered very good if you’re having a cold. The use of lime juice as a thickener seems to have happened much later.



 

Posset making was very serious business and British Royalty and the upper class used to gift each other rather elaborate Posset sets. Possets were made and served in Posset  pots which were special teapot-like cup with a spout or “pipe”. The Possets, once made, had 3 distinct layers. The 'grace' or foam on top of the posset and the middle spiced custard layer were eaten together with a spoon and referred to as “spoonmeat”. The bottom layer which was a strong spiced alcoholic liquid was sipped straight through the posset pot’s spout.
A recipe for Sack Posset, this one from Sir Kenelm Digby’s collection of recipes, (1670) is as follows:
Take a pottle of Cream, and boil in it a little whole Cinnamon, and three or four flakes of Mace.
To this proportion of Cream put in eighteen yolks of eggs, and eight of the whites; a pint of Sack; beat your eggs very well, and then mingle them with your Sack.
Put in three quarters of a pound of Sugar into the Wine and Eggs, with a Nutmeg grated, and a little beaten Cinnamon; set the Bason on the fire with the Wine and Eggs, and let it be hot.
Then put in the Cream boiling from the fire, pour it on high, but stir it not; cover it with a dish, and when it is settlede, strew on the top a little fine Sugar mingled with three grains of Ambergreece, and one grain of Musk, and serve it up.
 
The Posset has also featured in important works of fiction and these are just 2 intances. In William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, Lady Macbeth method of choice to knock out the guards who stand outside Duncan’s door, is by doctoring their Possets!
The doors are open, and the surfeited grooms Do mock their charge with snores. I have drugg'd their possets That death and nature do contend about them, Whether they live or die.
 
In John Masefield’s book, “The Box of Delights”, the character Kay Harper is advised by the local Inspector to take a Posset made of “hot milk, egg, treacle and nutmeg” to clear his head.
To my mind, the word “pot” has an entirely different connotation when regarding medieval England and Ye Olde Possets don’t sound particularly appetising from their recipes, so I’m happy to see the modern day Posset which is so uncomplicated and uses lime juice as a thickener.




 
I’m on Facebook, in case you’re not aware of it, and I also have photography page there but unlike most people there, my life doesn’t seem as interesting. So occasionally, I put out “status messages” to liven up things a bit and many of “friends “humour me and play along.

This time I mentioned a 3-ingredient dessert made from scratch in 15 minutes and even hinted at it being British in origin and no one got it right, surprisingly. I promised to “reveal all” with a post in a couple of days. So this recipe is dedicated to those friends, and also to Madhuli who sent me that gorgeous wooden cakestand which I won for her blog birthday, and Veena Aravind for the lovely gift she sent me.
A couple of things about this recipe and making Lime Posset I need to mention. Most recipes call for heavy cream (35% fat) and that is one reason this dessert sets so well. What I get here is with 25% fat and my Posset was creamy and set really well with that. So you can reduce the calories from fat a bit and still have a good Posset.
The other thing is that it is not necessary to boil the cream, as it could split. All you need to do is stir the sugar and cream together until the sugar dissolves and you’ll find the cream is just somewhere between warm and hot and that’s good enough. Add the lime (or lemon) juice only after taking the cream off the heat. It will thicken well enough. I added a pinch of salt as I feel it usually helps balance very sweet desserts. Oh, and you can use orange juice if you don’t like lime/ lemon juice and you’ll still have a Posset.
 

Lime Posset
 

Ingredients:

500ml cream (25% fat)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on sourness of limes
A pinch of salt
30ml lime juice (or more, according to taste)
Shortbread/ crisp nut cookies (biscuits to the British and former English colonies) to serve
Lemon zest/ sliced unsalted pistachios/ candied ginger/ sprigs of mint/ shaved dark chocolate for garnishing

 

Method:

Put the cream, vanilla extract and sugar in a pan and place it on medium to low heat. Keep stirring the cream till the sugar dissolves completely. Add the salt, stir and turn off the heat. The cream should be somewhere between warm and hot. The exact temperature does not matter. Do not bring the cream to boil.
Add the lime juice and keep stirring till incorporated. You’ll find the cream becoming quite thick. Keep it aside for about 5 minutes, stir once again a couple of times, till the Posset is smooth. Divide the mixture between 4 dessert bowls/ dishes or 6 shot glasses. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.
Just before serving, garnish as you please and serve with shortbread or crisp cookies. This recipe serves 4 or 6 depending on the size of your serving ware.
 
 
 

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