It seems at the moment that the weather doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going: drowsy sunny weekends have given way to dreary, dismal days, punctuated with impromptu hail storms. These are not the April showers we hope for. What to eat when the weather is so unpredictable? Sod’s law demands that if a sticky toffee pudding is made, sunshine is a cert; pavlova invokes the wrath of the gods, making rain inevitable.
For those days when we don’t know whether it will rain or shine, I prescribe lemon, unadulterated. A sweetsharp citrus pudding holds its own come what may, and a posset is perfect for that: luscious and silk smooth, lemon posset is the answer. It shouldn’t really be possible for something to be simultaneously as zingy and creamy as a lemon posset manages to be; one should surely trounce or at least dampen the other. But that’s why lemon posset is magical.
It is, I think, impossible not to like a lemon posset. At the very least, I wouldn’t wholly trust anyone who didn’t like it. We could be friends, probably, but not best friends.
It’s no wonder then that possets are one of the oldest British puddings. Originally closer to a hot drink than the lightly set cream we know today, the medieval version was still a form of curdled milk, usually employing wine or ale. It wasn’t until the 1500 that citrus was added as a curdling agent, but by then eggs and custards were being used as well. The modern posset is simpler, and this version truly is the ultimate no-fuss pudding: zest a lemon into some cream, heat the cream for five minutes, chill. That really is it, I promise. You don’t need any setting agents, because the reaction between the lemon and heated cream do the job for you.
Mostly, I like this pudding as it is in the recipe below, maybe with a little crumbly shortbread on the side: the lemon shines through making what should be a rich and creamy pudding exciting and refreshing.
But sometimes, I like to play around with it. This is wonderful with one of the lemons replaced by an orange to make a St Clements posset, or try swapping in grapefruit or blood orange, when they’re in season.
Lemon posset takes on other flavours like a dream; they lurk happily in the background, just peeking out from behind the citrus: mellow, aromatic bay, floral parma violets, or grassy green thyme steeped in the cream transform the clean lemon into something darker, more complex.. For such a strong, distinctive flavour, lemon is surprisingly and delightfully accommodating to other flavours: a little saffron steeped in the cream, turning it from a pale primrose to a deep burnished gold; a splash of gin thrown into the mixture at the last minute, or a tiny pinch of citric acid to turn it into a sherbet lemon posset. The posset-bilities are endless….
Makes: 4 puddings
Takes: 10 minutes, plus chilling
Bakes: No time at all
600ml double cream
150g caster sugar
1. Pour the cream and sugar into a medium-sized sauce pan.
2. Zest and juice all three lemons directly into the cream mixture, catching any pips.
3. Heat slowly over a medium to low heat until the mixture begins to boil. Allow it to boil gently for four minutes, and then remove from the heat. Pass through a sieve into a jug if you’d rather not have zest in your final pudding, and then divide the mixture between your serving vessels.
4. Chill for at least four hours.