[From my Cooking From Scratch column.]
“Yet be cheerful, knight: thou shalt eat a posset to-night at my house; where I will desire thee to laugh at my wife . . . .” The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare
While it sounds like some sort of small, woodland creature to my modern ears, the “posset” Shakespeare’s characters were making merry over was actually a type of alcoholic drink that was popular amongst the wealthy of his era.
At that time and on into the 19th century, a posset was comprised of hot milk curdled with alcohol and flavored with spices and lemons. Properly made, it would separate into 3 layers―a foamy “grace”, a custard, and the alcohol. Served up in a “posset pot”―a special kettle that allowed the custard curds to be consumed separately from the alcohol―a posset before bed was believed to be enjoyable and even somewhat good for your health.
Think something like hot, sweet cottage cheese with a side of wine.
What, that doesn't sound good to you? Me neither.
Fortunately, the recipe has evolved quite a lot since Shakespeare’s day.
Nowadays, the word “posset” is used to describe a sweet, typically citrus-y dessert. Often made with just three ingredients―heavy cream, sugar and citrus juice―a posset is lighter than pudding or custard but no less delicious. It's delicate and polite, but it makes you want to pick up your bowl to lick clean the nooks where a spoon won't do the job.
A posset is also terrifically easy. If you're looking for a stunner for Mother's Day, this is your dessert.
While I've used lemon below, you can make a posset with any kind of citrus you happen to have on hand. Lime, grapefruit, oranges―just use whatever is banging around in your fruit bowl. Add a few drops of food coloring in a pale spring color, like yellow, pink or lavender. Then top it off with a handful of bright green, chopped pistachios and a few blooms of an unsprayed, edible flower―I've used violets below―or a handful of berries.
Poured into small dishes and chilled before serving, a posset is tangy, sweet and lovely.
Whether to include the history lesson or not is up to you!
Lemon Posset (makes 4, 4-ounce servings)
- 1 pint heavy whipping cream
- ¾ cups sugar
- 6 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 drops food coloring (optional)
- chopped nuts, mint, berries and/or unsprayed flowers for serving
Add the cream and sugar to a medium saucepan and bring the cream to a boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Boil the cream for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat and add the lemon juice and any food coloring you'd like. Stir, allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes, then stir again.
Pour the mixture into ramekins or 4-ounce glass jars and chill for at least 2 hours. Garnish with nuts, mint, berries or unsprayed flowers just before serving.