Sam has, for as long as I can remember, claimed lemon posset as his favourite pudding. Whenever I asked him what he wanted after supper or Sunday lunch, that would be his answer. I, on the other hand, could never be pinned down to one: the thought of having to choose between sticky toffee pudding and trifle, creme brûlée or tiramisu is horrifying. Even asking me to choose a winner between lemon sponge and ginger sponge is asking too much. I’m a flighty pudding eater, and I refuse to rank them. But Sam remained steadfast and certain: lemon posset.
So imagine my surprise when it turned out not only had he never had one, he didn’t actually know what it is. Yes, reader, I’m dating an idiot. An idiot who ‘thought it sounded nice’. Anyway, a few weeks ago, he ate his first lemon posset, and basically hasn’t shut up about it since.
Normally I ignore his pudding-based crusades (although his lardy cake phase was grim), but with the gloomiest of weather, and the longest of the days, not for the first time, I found myself turning to lemons for sunshine when it was lacking elsewhere.
And let me tell you this: lemon posset is a damn near perfect pudding. It is, I think, impossible not to like 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.
I know I say this a lot, but this pudding truly is the ultimate simple 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. Sam peered over my shoulder anxiously during one of my posset adventures, and said with not a little scepticism ‘isn’t the lemon going to curdle the milk?’. Well, yes, that’s sort of the point, but then all of a sudden, it smooths from a slightly curdled mess into a pan of silken lemon joy.
And it works so well. Lemon posset itself is a delightful pudding: zesty and creamy all at once; the tartness tempered by the other ingredients, so it never falls into bitter territory. 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.
Once I started making possets I couldn’t really stop, and the recipes below are the product of that. Lemon posset takes on other flavours like a dream; they lurk happily in the background, just peeking out from behind the citrus: the mellow, aromatic bay, the floral parma violets, or the grassy green thyme.
I change my mind on which is my favourite variation every time I eat one. You see? Even within a single pudding genre, I’m hopelessly capricious.
The recipe below is, really, just a bundle of suggestions. The first three additional flavours I wanted to try and happened to have the ingredients to hand; but once you’ve got the initial ratio, go wild. It goes without saying I hope, that the point of this little pudding is that you can really do what you want with it. Think of it as another instalment in my accidental choose-your-own-adventure recipe series. For such a strong, distinctive flavour, lemon is surprisingly and delightfully accommodating to other flavours: these would be great with 2 or 3 drops of bergamot oil if you fancied an earl grey posset (really great, highly recommended; you can also achieve this by steeping an earl grey teabag in heated cream), or possibly a splash of gin or, by adding a tiny pinch of citric acid, you could make sherbet lemon posset. I want to try it with the smallest amount of saffron, the pale primrose of the posset turning, I imagine, a deep burnished gold. Glorious.
If you want a stronger flavour, before you add the lemon and zest, put the flavourings in the cream, bring up to a simmer, and just as bubbles start to reach the surface, remove from the heat, and leave for 30 minutes, covered with a clean tea towel. Then begin the method as set out below.
It goes like this:
Violet lemon posset, Bay lemon posset and Thyme lemon posset
Makes: 4 puddings
Takes: 2 minutes
Bakes: 5 minutes
600ml double cream
150g caster sugar (if you’re making the violet posset, decrease to 70g)
Small bunch of thyme or 3 bay leaves or 80g parma violets
- Pour the cream into a medium-sized sauce pan.
- Zest and juice all three lemons directly into the cream mixture, catching any pips. Add the sugar and your flavouring of choice to the lemon cream mixture (if you’re using parma violets, chop them as small as you can).
- 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, and then divide the mixture between your serving vessels.
- Chill for at least four hours.
- Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
This is best eaten with a tiny teaspoon, alongside buttery crumbly shortbread, and, if Sam has his way, at least seven times a week.