The custards must be cold before caramelizing or they will melt.
Vanilla Crème Brulee’
Makes six 4-ounce ramekins
Preheat oven to 325 degrees
1. For the most intense vanilla flavor, pulverize one-half of a vanilla bean (that has been chopped into one- quarter inch pieces) with 2 tablespoons sugar to make “vanilla sugar”. (A coffee grinder works great.)
Note: May substitute vanilla bean with 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract (not imitation).
2. Warm 1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup half and half and vanilla sugar (if using) in a saucepan over medium heat just until steam rises.
3. In a mixing bowl whisk together 3 egg yolks, 1 egg, one-quarter cup sugar, pinch of salt, and adding vanilla extract at this time if not using vanilla bean.
Temper hot cream mixture into eggs, strain into a measuring cup with a pour spout, and divide among six 4-oz. ovenproof ramekins or custard cups. Arrange dishes in a baking pan, and then carefully transfer the pan to pre-heated oven. Add hot water to the pan and bake custards 35-45 minutes, or until just set; do not overcook.
Remove ramekins from the water bath, cool, then wrap loosely in plastic wrap in plastic wrap. Chill until completely cold, preferably overnight.
Crème Brulee Sugar Topping -- Makes three-quarters cup (for six 4-oz. crème brulees)
Combine one-half cup brown sugar and one-quarter cup white granulated sugar (raw sugar is good). Spread the mixture on a parchment-line baking sheet. After baking the brulees, turn off the oven and place the baking sheet in the oven for an hour to dry out the sugar. Transfer to a food processor or coffee grinder to pulverize until fine. Store in a tight container until ready to caramelize.
To caramelize top of brulee:
1. Blot custards dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of sugar mixture over each.