Serves: Makes 8 servings
- 3 cups (24 ounces) heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup (3½ ounces) plus 5 tablespoons (2¼ ounces) pure cane sugar
- 1 vanilla bean
- 9 large egg yolks
Make and flavor the custard: Place the cream and ½ cup of the sugar in the medium saucepan. Use the tip of a paring knife to split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Turn the knife over and use the dull side to scrape out the seeds, and add both the seeds and the pod to the saucepan. Whisk well to break up the clumps of vanilla seeds. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring several times to dissolve the sugar, just until the mixture begins to simmer. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325°F and position an oven rack in the center.
Temper the eggs: Reheat the mixture over medium heat, uncovered, until it begins to simmer. In the medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Twist a damp kitchen towel into a rope and wrap it around the bottom of the bowl to secure it while you temper the eggs. Pour about ½cup of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly. Once blended, whisk in another ½ cup. Then slowly pour the rest of the mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly.
Strain and bake the custard: Pour the mixture through the strainer into the pitcher. Reserve the vanilla pod (rinse it under water and let it dry, then save it for use in vanilla sugar). Place the custard cups in the large roasting pan, making sure they don't touch, and divide the warm custard among them. Pull out the oven rack and place the pan on the rack. Remove one of the cups, pour enough hot tap water (not boiling) into that area to come halfway up the sides of the cups, and replace the cup. Cut a piece of foil large enough to fit just inside the edges of the roasting pan, then lay the foil across the top of the cups, making sure it doesn't touch the custard. You may need to smooth and flatten the foil on the counter if any wrinkles touch the custard. Gently push the rack back into the oven, shut the oven door, and bake the custards for 35 to 50 minutes, until edges of the custards are almost set—there should still be a small liquid area in the very center of the custard, about the size of a dime (test by gently tapping the side of the pan).
Remove the foil and then the pan from the oven, being careful not to tilt the pan and splash water on top of the custards. Set the pan on a heatproof surface. Use the tongs (or your hand protected by a kitchen towel) to immediately remove the cups from the water bath and place them on a rack to cool to room temperature, about 40 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours or overnight.
Caramelize the custards: Sprinkle the surface of each cold custard with 2 teaspoons of the remaining sugar (use a tablespoon for large, shallow crème brûlée dishes). Shake the cup gently to distribute the sugar evenly-make sure it covers the custard all the way to the edge (any exposed custard will blacken immediately under the torch's flame). Set the sugared custards on a flameproof surface, such as a metal baking sheet. Caramelize one custard at a time: Light the torch and, with the tip of the flame just touching the surface, move the flame over the sugar in a gentle circular motion until most of the sugar is melted and looks like tiny water droplets. Continue to heat, using the same circular motion, until the sugar turns a deep golden brown. The molten caramel will bubble and smoke—this is normal. Repeat until all the custards are caramelized. The molten caramel will solidify into a crisp surface as it cools. Refrigerate for 10 minutes before serving.
Serve the crème brûlée: Place each custard cup on a small dessert plate. Crème brûlée needs no adornment or accompaniment, but if you'd like to gild the lily, place a crisp cookie, such as a tuile, on the side or top with a few fresh berries.