Junket is a dessert that is made with sweetened, flavored milk, mixed with rennet to coagulate it. The coagulation causes it to set into a soft pudding, which is typically served chilled, often topped with fruit or spices. Depending on how it is made, junket may have a mild or intense flavor, and it can be quite rich as well. Traditionally, it was often offered to invalids and people who were not feeling well, under the theory that a mildly flavored food would probably go down and stay down, and provide some nutrition as well.
People have been making some form of junket for centuries. It was certainly familiar to people in the Elizabethan era, when sick children were offered it as a tempting food in the hopes that it would get them to eat. Early recipes would have been made with milk, flavoring, honey, and rennet, as sugar sweeteners were not available or extremely expensive. Modern junket is usually made with sugar, although if you want a more authentic touch, you can use honey instead; honey will also develop a more rich, intense flavor.
Some popular junket flavors include orange flower, rosewater, vanilla, almond, and caramel, among many others. More mild desserts may be offered with a sprinkling of nutmeg, cinnamon, or another spice to make it more interesting, and fruit can be added as well. The texture of this milk pudding is generally thick, smooth, and creamy, and sometimes a bit gelatinous.
The name appears to come from the Middle English jonket, referring to a rush basket which was used to drain cheeses and puddings. The term was also used to refer to dinners put on to fete guests and visitors to a region, which explains the other meaning of the word “junket,” a trip undertaken to collect funds and popularity. Politicians are quite fond of making junkets, as are film stars.
To make a basic junket, heat 2 cups (473 ml) of milk on medium, stirring frequently, until the milk reaches body temperature. Add 0.5 teaspoon (3 ml) of flavoring of choice, along with 2 tablespoons (50 grams) of sugar, and stir to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, dissolve a tablet of rennet in 2 teaspoons (11.8 ml) of warm water, taking care to stir until the tablet is entirely dissolved, and then stir it into the milk mixture. Pour it into molds and allow it to stand, undisturbed, at room temperature until it firms, at which point it can be chilled for up to several days before serving.