Prep 15 mins
Cook 30 mins
Real vanilla bean makes the difference. Instead of pure cream, as in most recipes, this recipe calls for a little milk, less egg and a touch of cornstarch to help stabilize the custard. Although the recipe doesn't call for it, I scrape the vanilla bean and add everything to the cream mixture and then remove the pods just before cooking. Don't let the number of steps fool you -- this is a simple recipe with a lot of explanation.
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 1⁄2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 7 egg yolks
- 1⁄4 cup sugar, for browning (turbinado if using a blowtorch, light brown sugar if using a broiler)
- In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, heat cream, milk and split vanilla bean almost to a boil, over medium-high heat. Watch the pot carefully, as the cream will scorch and bubble over if allowed to boil. As soon as it begins to simmer, remove pan from heat. Let sit at least 5 minutes to infuse cream with the vanilla.
- Meanwhile, whisk sugar, cornstarch and egg yolks together in a large bowl. Slowly pour the cream mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly. If baking custards right away, remove vanilla bean; otherwise, cover and refrigerate with bean in custard up to two days.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees with the rack in the middle position. Set 8 6-ounce ramekins in a large casserole pan (you can use smaller or larger dishes; the cooking time will vary only slightly).
- Divide the custard mixture into ramekins (about 3/4 cup in each). Fill the casserole pan with very hot tap water 1/2 of the way up the ramekins and carefully transfer to the oven. Bake just until set, about 25-30 minutes (time will vary depending on your oven), turning the pan once if the custards seem to be setting unevenly. The custards shouldn’t bubble during cooking. If they do, remove immediately.
- When done, the custards should be set on the edges and jiggle very slightly in the middle when shaken. You don’t want them to be too firm. Remove from oven and allow to cool in water 10 minutes before carefully removing from casserole dish.
- If serving right away, keep custards at room temperature. If not cooking right away, refrigerate uncovered at least 2 hours, then cover. If chilled, remove from refrigerator and allow the custards to come up to room temperature, about 45 minutes.
- Using a blowtorch: When ready to serve, sprinkle turbinado sugar, about 1-2 teaspoons each, and place dishes on a nonflammable surface. If you do not have turbinado sugar you can use granulated but just use a very thin layer or it may brown too much in some spots.
- Following manufacturer’s directions, light blowtorch and bring to medium heat. Using a circular motion and being sure to get the edges, caramelize the sugar directly and completely with flame. The crust should turn a deep golden brown color. Garnish with fresh fruit and/or cookies if desired.
- Using the broiler: Refrigerate the custards up to a day. Dry the brown sugar (you can do a large batch and save it) on a cookie sheet in a 200-degree oven for 20 or 30 minutes. Let cool and run through a sieve or sifter. It will hold indefinitely.
- Preheat boiler. Sprinkle a thin layer of brown sugar, about 2 teaspoons, on each chilled custard, using a finger to gently spread it evenly across the top. Position a rack 3 or 4 inches from broiler. Place sugared bruleés one or two at a time under heat, carefully moving dishes slightly to caramelize sugar evenly (a broiler’s heat is rarely even).
- This takes a little practice and a lot of concentration, so you might want to do one or two as an experiment before you try it with company. When evenly caramelized, set aside and continue with the rest. Garnish with fresh fruit and/or cookies if desired.