Yield: Yields four 5-oz. custards.
One of the greatest things about this impressive dessert is that you can make the custards—minus the burnt-sugar topping—a couple of days ahead. Of course, you can eat them on the day you make them, too; just be sure to chill the custards for at least 3 hours before topping them with sugar.
For variations, just infuse the cream with flavorings
Orange: Omit the vanilla bean and after the cream comes to a simmer, remove from the heat and immediately add 1 Tbs. Grand Marnier or Triple Sec, 2 tsp. (firmly packed) finely grated orange zest, and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
Ginger: Omit the vanilla bean (or extract), and instead add 1/2 Tbs. (firmly packed) finely grated fresh ginger to the cold cream before bringing it to a simmer.
Café au lait: Omit the vanilla bean (or extract), and right after the cream comes to a simmer, remove it from the heat and whisk in 1-1/2 tsp. Medaglia d’Oro instant espresso powder (available from GourmetSleuth.com) until dissolved. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
Earl Grey tea: Omit the vanilla bean (or extract), and after the cream comes to a simmer, remove from the heat and immediately add 5 tea bags (you may have to prod the bags with a spoon to submerge them). Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
To get great results, you need the right tool: a mini blowtorch. I’ve attempted to caramelize the sugar under the broiler, and although it can be done, I find the process annoying and the results disappointing—the custard tends to get warm, and its texture changes for the worse.
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I am a big fan of creme brulee; in fact is is my custom that I must order it for dessert if it's on the menu. As my ramekins are only 4 oz, this recipe made six (about 1/3 cup custard per ramekin). Used half a vanilla pod (my second to last one!) and half tsp of vanilla. 1-3/4 cups cream = 14.7 oz. I went out of my way to pick the white thingy off the yolks, purist that I am. Put them in a 9X13 baking pan, and put the pan in the oven before pouring the hot water in. Takes a full kettle to fill up the pan! At 30 min the custard was already above 155 but didn't look set. Left them in for 45 minutes total and then left them in the hot water bath for 10 minutes after taking them out of the oven. Put in fridge for about 2 hours. Used my special stash of vanilla sugar for the brulee. You really need a food torch for the brulee ... I tried to use a BBQ torch, but took forever. All that said, these are the most delicious creme brulee I have ever tasted, even from the fancy restaurants. I'm sorry I waited so long to try this recipe. Five stars.
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