Maybe it’s time to bring back posset.
Possets were all the rage in the Middle Ages. Not that there was all that much competition in the way of desserts to choose from. They’ve fallen so much from favor since then, perhaps a definition is in order.
A posset is “a cold dessert made from thickened cream, typically flavored with lemon,” according to Google’s built-in dictionary.
Although, as you will soon find, pretty much any citrus is on the table for consideration these days in the building of a posset.
A posset can also be a “a drink made of hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or other alcoholic liquor and typically flavored with spices, drunk as a delicacy or as a remedy for colds,” but perhaps that variation is best left in the Dark Ages where it rightfully belongs.
And the third definition — possibly referring to the tendency of citrus to curdle milk — is a verb, “(of a baby) regurgitate curdled milk,” as in, “Bless it’s little heart, it’s posseting again.”
This last definition should be of no concern, as possets are delicious and put you at no risk of posseting, and is only mentioned to point out that Google and its in-house dictionary, the Oxford Pocket English Dictionary, are actively blessing hearts.
But the primary reason possets are due for a revival is the simplicity of their construction. Requiring as few as three ingredients, cream, sugar and lemons, they are simplicity itself. It stands to reason that if possets posed no difficulties to people who actively believed there were dragons and leprechauns lurking in the woods outside their cottages, they can’t be that difficult.
If you up the ante to five ingredients, you can make a lime version that is reminiscent of Key lime pie. Throw in a few more ingredients and you can serve it with a Graham cracker streusel that will put you even more in mind of a Key lime pie, and with less work.
It is customary to accompany a smooth, creamy posset with something to add a little crunch. Though Graham crackers are perfect for simulating a Key lime pie experience, shortbread biscuits are the more usual choice in the UK, which is, after all, the birthplace of posset, and a place where they take their puddings seriously. A recipe follows for a classic shortbread cookie, as they’re called on this side of the pond, but baking cookies in the heat of the summer defeats the whole purpose of a simple minimal-ingredient dessert, so feel free to just buy a box.
The simplest, and most classic, way to garnish a posset is to just pour a little more cream over the top before serving, but if whipped cream is more to your modern tastes, go for it. And there’s not a reason in the world you can’t gussy up your posset with whatever fresh fruit you can scavenge. Strawberries, kiwi, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, mint leaves, they all look and taste good. Especially with lemon, which blends nicely with most anything. And now, your super-easy dessert is fancy enough for company.
3 cups heavy cream
1 -1/4 cups white sugar
3 lemons, juiced
3 tbsp. additional heavy cream for topping
In a saucepan, stir together 3 cups of cream and sugar. Bring to a boil, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice. Pour into serving glasses, and refrigerate until set, about 5 hours. Pour a little more cream over the tops just before serving.
St. Clements Posset
“Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s,” begins the 15th century English nursery rhyme, and thereby giving a name to the delicious citrus mixture of oranges and lemons in this posset. It also includes a down and dirty way to candy citrus peels for use as a garnish. This dessert will definitely end better for you than the nursery rhyme for which it is named, which ends in blood and mayhem, as nursery rhymes are wont to do.
2 cups double cream
1/4 pound caster sugar
Plus, for the candied peel:
1 cup sugar (plus a pinch of caster sugar for sprinkling)
½ cup water
For the candied peel:
Remove half the skin of both the orange and the lemon in wide strips and carefully remove the pith. Slice the peel strips lengthways into 2mm matchsticks. In a small saucepan, heat the cup of sugar with the water to make stock syrup, simmering until clear. To this, add the orange/lemon matchsticks and simmer gently for 5 mins. Meanwhile, line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and pre-heat the oven to 150C. Remove the orange/lemon from the stock syrup and spread out on the baking tray. Put into the oven, and bake for roughly half an hour. Remove the tray from the oven, and immediately scrape the peel from the greaseproof paper into a bowl. If it’s allowed to dry, it’ll stick fast. Sprinkle some caster sugar over the peel.
For the posset:
Place the double cream and the sugar into a saucepan and stir to combine. Heat gently at first, then raise the temperature and bring to the boil, stirring regularly. Remove from the heat and add both the orange and the lemon juices. Pour into heatproof glasses/espresso cups and leave to set in the fridge for at least 3 hours. Decorate with a heap of the quick candied peel and serve with a shortbread biscuit on the side.
Classic Shortbread Cookies
Yields about 4 dozen 1-1/2 x 2-inch bars.
8 oz. (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. table salt
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Line two baking sheets with parchment. Combine the butter, sugar, and salt in a stand mixer bowl (use the paddle attachment) or a large mixing bowl. Mix on low speed until the butter combines with the sugar but isn’t perfectly smooth, 1 to 2 min. Add the flour and mix on low speed, scraping the bowl frequently, until the dough has just about pulled together, about 3 minutes; don’t overmix.
Roll: On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Aim for a uniform thickness to ensure even baking.
Cut: Cut the dough into bars or squares with a sharp knife or, using cookie cutters, cut out shapes as close to one another as possible. Press the scraps together, roll them out, and cut out more cookies. If the dough becomes sticky, refrigerate it briefly. Arrange the cookies on two parchment-lined baking sheets and refrigerate until chilled, at least 20 min.
Bake: Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 300°F. Bake the cookies until golden on the bottom and edges and pale to golden on top, 30 minutes to 1 hour. (After 15 min., swap the position of the baking sheets and rotate them 180 degrees for even baking.) If the cookies are done before 30 min., reduce the oven temperature to 275°F for the remaining batches; if they take longer than 1 hour, increase the temperature to 325°F.
Lime Posset With Graham Cracker Streusel
Graham cracker streusel:
7 graham crackers
3 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
5 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed, cold
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. finely grated lime zest, plus more for garnish
5 tbsp. just-squeezed lime juice
1 pinch kosher salt
Make the streusel. Break up the graham crackers with your hands and add to a food processor. Pulse until flour-like. Add the sugar and salt and pulse to combine. Evenly distribute the butter on top. Pulse until a cookie-like dough forms. Dump onto a plate and use your fingers to create lots of clumps. Freeze until completely firm. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a rimmed sheet pan with a silicone mat or parchment. When the streusel is mostly frozen, add it to the prepared sheet pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until firm, rotating halfway through. Cool completely before making the posset. Make the posset. Combine the heavy cream, sugar, and lime zest in a large pot. Like, much larger than you think you need—the cream loves to boil over. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to keep boiling for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the lime juice and salt. Let cool for about 15 or so minutes. Add a layer of graham cracker streusel to the bottom of 4 ramekins or glasses or other single-serving dishes. Slowly pour the posset on top, evenly dividing between the dishes. Chill until cold and set. Garnish with lime zest and serve with the rest of the streusel to sprinkle on top.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.