Holly Clegg’s Strawberry Custard Brûlée and a Blackberry Variation

This blog post is a tribute to cookbook author, Holly Berkowitz Clegg, who passed away last week. Holly raised her family in Baton Rouge and lived here for many years. Her message began as a healthy approach to southern cooking with easy meals in a series of “Trim & Terrific” cookbooks. Over the years her accomplishments include authoring 17 cookbooks selling over 1.5 million copies, appearing in national media and writing a bi-weekly food column for our local newspaper, the Advocate. I am making a blackberry variation of a recipe from one of her cookbooks, “Strawberry Custard Brûlée.” It is light and tasty. It exemplifies her goal to make things low-fat and easy. I like it — you will too.

A tribute to Holly Berkowitz Clegg — Baton Rouge cookbook author 

Holly is my contemporary, and although I didn’t know her personally, I’ve followed her career through the press as we both lived in Baton Rouge. It is rewarding to see a local person obtain national stature. From accounts, her friendly smile, positive attitude and vivacious personality were all credits to her success.

Holly gave a speech at one of our monthly dietetic meetings in the 1990’s early in her career after publishing her second cookbook. Oh, I thought, “just another cookbook author.” She recounted that her car and home were full of her cookbooks. But as Holly spoke about the determination and commitment she was making to her projects, you could get a sense that this person would be successful.

Holly is best known for her series of “Trim & Terrific Cookbooks” which focused on healthy low-fat recipes. In addition, as a mother on-the-go with young children, she liked to include easy-to-prepare recipes and often used convenience foods such as cake mixes. So, the recipes were very manageable for a family. Over her 25-year career, Holly expanded her cookbooks to include special interest topics which dealt with health conditions such as diabetes and arthritis. She co-authored a cookbook with a Baton Rouge oncologist titled, “Eating Well Through Cancer,” and one with a local internist for men’s nutrition and health, “Guy’s Guide to Eating Well.”

In addition to cookbooks, Holly wrote columns for national magazines such as Cooking Light Magazine and appeared on national media including NBC’s “Today” show, “Fox & Friends,” “The 700 Club” and “Harry.” More recently she was featured on Web MD and the Huffington Post. As a blogger, she has thousands of fans following her blog at  TheHealthyCookingBlog.com

Thorough Nutritional Analysis

The nutritional analysis of Holly’s recipes is one of her cookbooks’ strong points. Holly was a pioneer in healthy, low-fat cooking in the early 1990’s long before it was popular. Although she was trained in classical European cuisine in London and Paris with it’s high calorie sauces and techniques, at some point Holly became interested in adapting our local southern cuisine to make it more healthy.

She partnered with a local dietitian who managed a sophisticated nutritional analysis program at Baton Rouge’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center to analyze her recipes. I am familiar with this dietitian and know that the recipes were analyzed thoroughly and correctly. Through their efforts, all the recipes were tested and analyzed, and many included adaptations to reduce the fat content. Recipes with less than 60 mg of cholesterol per serving and less than 30% fat calories are indicated in the cookbooks.

Holly’s Goal

Holly has made an important contribution to our well-being by adapting southern and Louisiana cuisine to make it much more healthy. In her own words, “you don’t have to sacrifice good taste or use food substitutes to prepare healthier meals. Moderation is the key! In my book you will find delicious, everyday recipes that are easy to prepare and sure to please your family and friends.”  from “A Trim & Terrific Louisiana Kitchen” by Holly Berkowitz Clegg.

Crème Brûlée

Crème Brûlée is a rich custard with caramelized or burnt sugar on top. The origins of this dessert are rather vague but custards were popular in the Middle Ages in France, Spain and England. According to Wikipedia:

The first printed recipe for a dessert called crème brûlée is from the 1691 edition of the French cookbook Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois by Francois Massialot, a cook at the Palace of Versailles. That version was a sweet custard of egg yolks and milk with a burnt sugar crust. It is similar to the modern versions. In the second edition of the book, the dessert is called crème anglaise.

This dessert is often found on the menus of restaurants in New Orleans. I’m guessing that traditional French cooking had it’s influence on this city’s cuisine. The custard is made with many eggs and heavy cream and is very high in fat and cholesterol content.

Strawberry Custard Brûlée Recipe and a Blackberry Variation

The changes which Holly made in this recipe results in a low-fat custard which still retains the taste of Crème Brûlée and epitomizes what she was trying to accomplish. I’ve been searching for such a low-fat version for a long time and was pleased when I turned the page of one of her cookbooks to this recipe. Holly’s recipe uses strawberries but she remarks that other fruit can be used. I found some nice juicy blackberries in the store and substituted these in my variation.

The secret ingredients in this recipe are non-fat plain yogurt and the fruit. The yogurt is folded into the custard and gives a creamy and smooth texture to the custard. The fruit is placed in the ramekin cup first and and the custard is poured on top. It makes a refreshing addition to the dessert — the dessert is really fruit with custard.

The recipe uses skim milk, only one egg and cornstarch as a thickener. Sugar, vanilla extract and plain yogurt are included in the recipe. After the custard is poured into ramekins, brown sugar is sprinkled on top and the custard is broiled to melt the sugar.

This is a cooked custard. Cook over low heat or using a double broiler until thickened. You have to stir constantly and watch the pot to avoid lumps. I like to use a flat wooden spoon to stir the pot.

The addition of fruit to the dessert really makes it special. Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries all work well. I used 4-oz ramekins for my recipe variation. Add the fruit to the bottom of the ramekins, then top with the cooked custard. This recipe does not need to be baked further in the oven as with some custard and Crème Brûlée recipes.

Sprinkle on brown sugar and broil. That’s the recipe! A very easy fruit and custard dessert. Enjoy!

I was sad when I learned of Holly’s diagnosis of cancer and then of her decision to enter hospice. She’s a very strong person! It seems like just yesterday when she spoke to our dietitian’s group. Holly reached and exceeded her goal to create healthy recipes for the public. Bravo!

Here’s her recipe as published in “Fit & Trim A Louisiana Kitchen” and my variation using blackberries.

Holly Clegg's Strawberry Custard Brûlée

  • Servings: 5
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients:

    • 1-1/2 cups fresh strawberries
    • 2 Tbsp sugar
    • 1-1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten
    • 1 cup skim milk
    • 2 Tbsp non-fat plain yogurt
    • 1/2 tsp vanilla
    • 1 Tbsp light brown sugar

Method and Steps:

  1. Gently rinse and drain strawberries. Divide among five 4 to 6-oz ramekins or custard cups; set aside.
  2. In saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch; stir well.
  3. Add eggs, mix.
  4. Gradually stir in milk. Cook over low heat until thickened, stirring constandly.
  5. Remove from heat; cool 5 minutes.
  6. Add yogurt and vanilla, mixing well.
  7. Spoon custard mixture evenly over strawberries.
  8. Place ramekins on a baking sheet. Sprinkle top with brown sugar.
  9. Broil 4 inches from heat about 2 minutes or until sugar melts.
  10. Serve immediately.

Raspberries or any fruit can be substituted.

Nutritional Analysis: Calories: 84, Cholesterol: 43 mg, Fat 1.3 mgrams, % calories from fat, 13.5%

Source: Holly Berkowitz Clegg, “”A Trim & Terrific Louisiana Kitchen” p. 223.
Copyright © 1993 by Holly Clegg.

Blackberry Custard Brûlée Variation

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh blackberries
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 2 Tbsp non-fat plain yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp light brown sugar

Method and Steps:

  1. Gently rinse and drain blackberries. Divide among six 4-oz ramekins. Set aside.
  2. In saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch; stir well.
  3. Add eggs, mix.
  4. Gradually stir in milk. Cook over low heat until thickened, stirring constantly.
  5. Remove from heat; cool 5 minutes.
  6. Add yogurt and vanilla, mixing well.
  7. Spoon custard mixture evenly over blackberries.
  8. Place ramekins on a baking sheet. Sprinkle top with brown sugar.
  9. Broil 4 inches from heat about 2 minutes or until sugar melts.
  10. Serve immediately.

Adapted From: Holly Berkowitz Clegg, “”A Trim & Terrific Louisiana Kitchen”
p. 223. Copyright © 1993 by Holly Clegg.

References: 

Holly’s cookbooks are available for sale on Amazon and also at her WEB site:

https://shop.hollyclegg.com/

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