One vanilla bean will give this crème brûlée a delicious, subtle flavor; however two beans will provide a decadent vanilla taste. Vanilla bean paste can be used rather than whole beans (2 tablespoons paste is about equal to 2 beans).
• 2 vanilla beans
• 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
• 1 1/2 cups whole milk
• 2 extra-large eggs
• 6 extra-large egg yolks
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 2 pinches sea salt
• Vanilla sugar
1. Place 6 ramekins or custard cups in an ovenproof pan, such as a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish, which can hold them without touching.
2. Cut vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Using the tip of the knife, scrape most of the vanilla seeds into a heavy, nonreactive pan along with the beans. If you are using vanilla paste, add it now. Add cream and milk, stir and heat on low to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover and let infuse for 1 hour.
3. Remove beans, scraping excess into the cream. Gently reheat infused cream so it’s hot but not simmering.
4. Meanwhile, beat eggs and yolks with sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add about 1/4 cup of the hot cream mixture to the eggs and beat well. Slowly add remaining cream to egg mixture, stirring with a whisk continuously.
5. Strain the mixture through a sieve and pour evenly into the prepared ramekins. Pour hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the cups. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. The custard should be set, with just barely a little shimmy in the center. Baking time will vary according to oven temperature, size of cups and other factors.
6. Carefully remove cups from the pan of hot water onto a cooling rack and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 2 to 3 hours, or overnight.
7. When ready to serve, sprinkle tops of each with about 2 teaspoons vanilla sugar and brown them under the broiler, paying close attention so they caramelize but don’t burn. They should be about 3 to 4 inches from heat for about 5 minutes. (You may also find small torches specifically made for caramelizing the sugar on crème brûlée at fine kitchen stores.) Remove from oven and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Susan Belsinger is a culinary herbalist and author of several cooking and gardening books. Her most recent contribution to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s All-Region Guide is now available in Designing an Herb Garden (Sterling Publishing, 2004).
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The Queen of Beans: Vanilla Recipes