Strawberry Custard Cups

To paraphrase one of my childhood heroes, “I pity the fool who’s never tasted a real strawberry.”

OK, I doubt Mr. T ever said exactly that. But one has to wonder why anyone would eat strawberries that look like this:

When one could eat strawberries that look like this:

Pity, indeed. It seems that while big growers have bred strawberries to be bigger and sturdier and available almost any time of year, hardiness has come at the expense of the most important factor: taste.

I picked these beauties up last weekend at Tendercrop Farm in Newbury. The original plan entailed me going to pick them myself, but it was so hot, and the water at Plum Island was so nice that I forgot all about playing farmer for the day and got my tan on instead. Still, I made it a point to swing by on my way home and pick up a few quarts.

I was so glad I did. Strawberry season is fleeting here- a few weeks at most- and I’d forgotten how superior those berries taste to mass-produced ones I usually get. They were softer and smaller than the usual berries, but also juicier and exponentially sweeter. I ate them prolifically last week, managing to finish almost three quarts by myself (one sandwich-sized ziplock made it to the freezer). Most of them were eaten as-is, or accompanied watermelon chunks in a simple, but delicious, fruit salad of sorts. But when I saw this recipe for raspberry custard cups, I knew I had to adapt it for my strawberries.

The custard is simple to make, a cross between an eggy creme brulee and a cheesecake. Topped with berries and set under the broiler, it was the quintessential summer dessert- cool, creamy, warm, and sweet all at once. It seems that this recipe would adapt well to any summer fruit, making it something one could keep cooking as blueberry and peach seasons arrive. This recipe will serve six, though if you have custard-lovers in your party, four can easily polish off a batch.

The major change I made to this recipe was swapping strawberries for the raspberries. I also lightened it a bit, using Neufchatel cheese, and low-fat milk. It is beach season, after all.

Strawberry Custard Cups
(Adapted from Food52)

1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 TB flour
1 TB cornstarch
1 cup low fat milk
1 tsp vanilla
4 ounces reduced fat cream cheese (or Neufchatel cheese)
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
6 teaspoons brown sugar

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar, egg, flour and cornstarch. Mix well until completely combined and then add milk. Combine well with a whisk, and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, five to seven minutes, or until mixture thickens. Add cream cheese in small pieces and stir until the cheese is incorporated into the custard. remove from heat and divide the mixture between six ramekins.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes (or overnight, if need be). Just before serving, turn on your oven’s broiler and divide the berries between the ramekins. Set under the broiler for two minutes, then top with brown sugar and broil two to three minutes more, until sugar is bubbling (be careful not to burn). Serve immediately.