Heat the oven to 325°F. Heat the cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat until scalded (you’ll see small bubbles on the sides of the pan). Split the vanilla bean in half, if using, and scrape the seeds into the cream. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, slowly whisk the sugar into the egg yolks. Slowly whisk the hot cream/milk into the sugar/yolk mixture. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a pitcher or measuring cup. Stir in the salt and vanilla extract, if using.
Arrange eight 6-oz. ramekins in a baking dish with deep sides. Pour the custard into the ramekins, fill the baking dish with water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins and cover the dish with foil. Bake until just set, 25 to 50 minutes. Be sure to start checking early; baking time will depend on the thickness and depth of your ramekins and baking dish. Carefully remove the baking dish from the oven and let the ramekins cool in the water bath. Remove, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
Follow the instructions below for making the crackly topping.
The easiest method of caramelizing sugar on a crème brûlée is with a propane blowtorch.
Fill the spaces between the ramekins with ice and add water so that they’re surrounded by ice water. This will keep them cold and creamy while their tops are being caramelized.
Espresso Crème Brûlée: Omit the vanilla. Crush 1/2 cup espresso beans into coarse pieces, add to the cream, and heat to a simmer. Remove from the heat; infuse for 5 min. Strain and proceed.
Ginger Crème Brûlée: Omit the vanilla. Cut a 3-inch piece of fresh ginger into very thin slices, add to the cream, and heat to a simmer. Remove from the heat; infuse for 15 to 20 min. Strain, bring back to a simmer, and proceed.
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Excellent and easy recipe. I cut it in half and it was perfect. So elegant and so simple, this is guaranteed to impress! I used vanilla bean and the little black flecks looked perfect in the creamy custard.
This was simple, yet rich and delicious. Well worth the purchase of a torch. Next time I will try some maple flavouring and/or maple sugar.
I have made this recipe for years, and it is always perfect. I am always told it's better than the best restaurants & the best they've ever had! I just use my $12.00 Home Depot blowtorch to caramelize the sugar--never had the need to buy the foofy kitchen torch. You have to keep it cold until serving, or the crunchy top will soften. I garnish each one with a mint leaf or two and a couple of rasberries & blueberries.
Dessert doesn't get any better! I have made this recipe numerous times since it was first published. It never fails and it is the most luxurious texture you've ever tasted. Be sure to cover the pan with foil and do not underbake. A kitchen torch is the best way to caramelize the sugar. Try it!
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