Joseph Cooper, 1654
The surfeted Groomes doe mock their charge With Snores.
I have drugg’d their Possets.
Macbeth, Act II, scene II
The broadest description of a posset that I can think of is that of a hot syllabub: a thickened drink of either milk or cream, sweetened and flavoured with any of a number of alcoholic drinks and/or fruit, served warm.
In the Middle Ages it was seen as a winter warmer and it’s ability to make one feel good meant that over the years it segued into becoming borderline medicinal. It was recommended for insomnia, indigestion, as a purgative and of benefit when fasting.
Recipes abound, and the styles are as numerous as their intended uses: custard posset, cold posset, apple posset, whipped posset, froth posset, sack posset, soap sud posset, posset without milk, posset without wine, posset without milk wine or beer.
Thus far, Joseph Cooper is the only person I have found that turns posset into a dessert. Twenty years later Hannah Woolley would include this same recipe in her own book, adding a few of her own details to the method.
Apples are the recommended fruit, but this would work well with almost any fleshy fruit pulp; apricots in summer, for example, and dark, sharp damsons in autumn.
Sweet shortcrust pastry
Eggwhite for glazing
500g fruit puree
2 large yolks
200ml double cream
50ml cream sherry
1-2tbs icing sugar
4 heaped tablespoons dried white breadcrumbs
2cm matchsticks of candied orange, lemon and citron peel
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
- Roll out the pastry and line a greased shallow tart tin. My favourite shape is long and rectangular (36 x 12 x 3cm).
- Prick the bottom with the tines of a fork to prevent blistering and line with parchment paper and baking beads.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the parchment and baking beads and bake for a further five minutes.
- Brush the insides of the tart with beaten egg white and bake for a further 3 minutes.
- Turn the oven heat to 160°C/140°C fan/gas 3.
- Mix the filling ingredients until smooth. Taste and add more sugar if liked.
- Pour into the pastry case and smooth over.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until the filling is almost set.