What would you do if life gave you a lot of lemons? Make some lemonade, perhaps? Or maybe some lemon curd? It’s nowhere near summer here yet so I’m not making lemonade. Lemon curd is good for Lemon Meringue Pie, but not today. A great dessert idea but my electric hand mixer/ beaters finally called it a day permanently. My brand new oven also conked on me a few days back. I’m told it will take about 10 days to source and replace the faulty part. So I made Lime Posset.
I searched out a simple and easy dessert and found a very British one called a Lemon Posset. A Lemon Posset is made with cream, sugar and lemon juice. It takes about 15 minutes to make and some refrigeration to set so it’s a great make-ahead dessert too. A 3 ingredient citrus dessert that takes very little time is a complete win in my books. We get limes more easily here in India so my dessert is a Lime Posset. 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.
The Posset may be simple but it has a rather not-so-simple history. It has been around for quite a while, possibly since the 15th century. Then it was a drink made by boiling and curdling milk with wine or sweet ale. Ginger or candied anise was also added. Posset was consumed as a curative for colds and fevers. It was also taken before going to bed to ensure a good night’s sleep. Sometime in the 16th century, the Posset became more like the version we know today. English royalty and the very rich made their Possets with cream, sugar, eggs, spices, and usually wine. They further sometimes perfumed them with such stuff as musk and ambergris! Ordinary folk used bread to thicken their Possets. The Scottish used oats to thicken their Oatmeal Posset.
Posset making was very serious business. British Royalty and the upper class used to gift each other rather elaborate Posset sets. Possets were made and served in Posset pots or special teapot-like cup with a spout or “pipe”. These Possets had 3 distinct layers. The ‘grace’ or foam on top of the Posset and the middle spiced custard layer were eaten together as “spoonmeat” with a spoon. The bottom layer which was a strong spiced alcoholic liquid was sipped straight through the Posset pot’s spout.
An old recipe for Sack Posset, from one 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 was much loved and featured in important works of fiction. In William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, Lady Macbeth’s method of choice to knock out the guards who stand outside Duncan’s door, wass by doctoring their Possets! To quote, “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.
A couple of things about this recipe and making Lime Posset. Most recipes call for heavy cream (35% fat) and that is one reason this dessert sets so well. I use 25% fat and my Posset is pretty creamy and set really well with it. So you can cut down on a bit of fat without much change in texture. or taste.
The other thing is it is important not to boil the cream as it could split. Just stir the sugar and cream together until the sugar dissolves. The cream will be somewhere between warm and hot. Add the lime (or lemon) juice only after taking the cream off the heat. It will thicken well enough without curdling. I add a pinch of salt to balance out the sweetness and this is optional. If you don’t like limes or lemons, you can make an Orange Posset with orange juice and orange zest.
- 500 ml cream (25% fat)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar depending on sourness of limes
- 1 pinch salt
- 30 ml lime juice (or more, according to taste)
- 2 tsp lime zest
- shortbread or gingernut cookies to serve
- sprigs mint for garnishing
- 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. The cream will start becoming quite thick. Also stir in the lime zest.
- 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 with mint. Serve with shortbread or crisp cookies.