‘Heresy!’ I hear you cry ‘I thought this man was supposed to be a cheesemonger?’. You’re right of course, and I will throw myself upon the mercy of the cheesemongers’ inquisitorial council in due course. But whilst I’m in full possession of my fingernails I should probably dash off the following. Use it wisely, for it may cost me dear.
It’s actually not a cheesecake at all but a lemon posset, set on a biscuit and butter base – something I’ve been dying to try for a while. My first attempt was a spectacular failure due to insufficient setting time – it’s a good job I was standing by the sink when I released it from the loose-bottomed tin – and our guests that night were treated instead to an emergency cheeseboard [inquisitors, please note!]. So be prepared, I would recommend that you give yourself a good twenty four hours for this, which of course means that the hard work is done in advance leaving you more time on the day for whatever else you need to do. And whilst this is not complex – there are only six ingredients – it is fiddly in parts, so do come to it in a patient frame of mind.
I ate my first lemon posset several years ago at The Glasshouse in Kew and it’s probably the closest I’ve ever come to love at first bite. The lovely people there were happy to give me the recipe not only that night but again when I rang them a couple of weeks ago having lost the notebook containing the original. It’s such a simple thing that at first I thought they must be trying to hoodwink me and had left out some magical ingredient or process, but posset really is just cream, lemon and sugar, and a little bit of alchemy.
This would feed six, but if there are just four of you divide it into eight – and watch everyone come back for seconds…
- 600ml double cream
- 2 lemons, zest and juice
- 100g caster sugar
- 200g biscuits of your choice, try half digestives and half lemon shortbread
- 90g butter, melted
- 20g dark chocolate
Whizz the biscuits to a fine crumb in a food processor and combine with melted butter. Grate in the chocolate, mix well, and press the mix evenly into the bottom of a 20cm loose bottomed cake tin. Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge to set for a good four hours – you want this to be completely chilled and set firm.
Making the posset couldn’t be easier. Pour the cream into a saucepan, add the sugar, zest, and lemon juice and bring to the boil whilst stirring gently with a balloon whisk. Simmer for two minutes and continue to stir, then pass through a fine sieve. And that’s it! You can see why I thought there must be something missing from the recipe. If serving this on its own at this stage I’d pour into individual ramekins and chill to set for at least six hours.
However, we now have a dilemma, hence the fiddly bit. You have a cold set base, and a hot posset which sets as it cools. Pour the posset straight onto the base and the butter will melt, and the base disintegrate. Leave the posset to cool on its own and it will be too set to pour by the time it’s cool enough not to melt the base. What are we to do? Well this seems to work…
Half fill the kitchen sink with cold water. When the posset has had its two minutes of simmering pass it through a sieve and into a stainless steel bowl. Sit the bowl in the cold water, and stir the posset around the bowl with a whisk, bringing in from the edges any which is starting to set. Do not stir so vigorously as to actually whisk the mixture. The stirring stops the posset from setting whilst the metal bowl rapidly conducts heat away. After a minute or two the posset should feel just comfortably warm to an inserted finger, and can now be poured onto the chilled base. Smooth any slight surface bubbles with a spatula or your finger and return the tin to the fridge without delay. Leave this to set at least overnight. When ready to serve release the bottom from the tin [standing close to the sink if you’re worried!], carefully slide a palette knife or cake slice between it and the ‘cheesecake’ base, and transfer to a plate.
I’m sure I’ll be forgiven for the absence of cheese in this ‘cheesecake’ when you taste this. Let’s just hope the inquisition agree!