How to Make Posset, the Egg-Free, Gelatin-Free, Starch-Free Pudding

Thickened with lime juice, this sweet cream pudding contains no gelatin, starch, or egg. . Daniel Gritzer

I've written here once before about my love of creamy things, which completely eclipses my desire for sweet things. Unsweetened whipped cream? Give it to me! Candy? Nah... Sweetened whipped cream? I'll take it (as long as the cream is there). I don't care what it is—crème anglaise, panna cotta, fools—if cream is involved, I'm all in.

If you're at all like me, then you should consider adding possets* to your creamy dessert repertoire. Incredibly easy to make, the only thing you need for posset is the time to allow it to thicken and set; at least several hours and preferably overnight. The best part is actually threefold: they don't use eggs like custards do (and therefore don't come with the risk of accidentally scrambling the egg by overcooking it), they don't require gelatin as, say, panna cotta does, and they don't call for a single type of starch to act as a thickener. The magic ingredient? Citrus juice.

*A note on terminology: posset, once upon a time, was a warm, thick, creamy beverage made with wine or ale, and served not just as a treat but as a remedy for poor health. Today, posset usually refers to the citrus-juice thickened pudding I'm writing about here, though some would argue that this is technically a variant of a syllabub, which is yet another variety of dairy thickened with an acidic fluid like wine or cider. Oh what fun British desserts are!

Citrus, cream, and sugar are the basic ingredients in a posset.

The mechanics behind a posset are very simple: simmer cream with sugar until the sugar is dissolved, then add citrus juice, which thickens the cream into a pudding-like texture as it chills. The flavor is sweet-tart, kind of like a Creamsicle. Lemon and lime are the most common types of citrus used in possets, since they're on the higher end of the acidic spectrum* (or, if you're looking at it from the pH-scale POV where smaller numbers indicate more acidity, it'd technically be the lower end). Orange alone might not be acidic enough on its own, but you could do a combo of orange and lemon or lime to get the acidity high enough to coagulate the cream.

*If you're curious about why citrus juice works to thicken the cream, it's the same principle as yogurt, crème fraîche, and acid-coagulated cheeses like Indian paneer. Specifically, the acid causes tight little clusters of the milk protein called casein, which normally avoid each other, to break apart and then re-bond into a web-like structure that solidifies the dairy. In the case of yogurt and crème fraîche, it's lactic acid produced by bacteria that causes the thickening, but with posset it's just the simple addition of citrus juice.

Beyond that, the flavoring is entirely up to you. You can add grated citrus zest, as I did in the recipe here, or infuse the cream with other aromatics, like lemongrass, kaffir/makrut lime leaves, or spices. A tiny splash of an aromatic water like orange flower water or rose water would be good too, assuming you like floral flavors.

Here, I served it with a very simple mango and mint fruit salad and a dollop of whipped cream. That's right: In my book, a dessert made almost entirely of cream can indeed be improved with yet more cream on top.