A transcendent dessert made with a few simple ingredients including luscious heavy cream, sweet simple sugar, rich egg yolks, and vanilla bean for premium flavor. It's the method that makes this impressive treat unique.The custard is baked in individual dishes in a water-bath after which it's chilled to set, and for the crowning finish it's sprinkled with plain sugar and melted with a hot flame to caramelize.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat a pot or kettle with hot water for the water bath.
Pour cream into a medium saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean and add to saucepan along with vanilla bean pod.
Heat mixture over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches a simmer. Remove from heat and let rest 10 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup granulated sugar and salt with egg yolks until mixture becomes slightly pale.
While whisking, slowly pour cream mixture into egg yolk mixture. Stir in vanilla extract and remove vanilla bean pod.
Place ramekins into baking pans. Divide cream mixture among ramekins (about 7 - (6 oz) ramekins or about 12 (4 oz) ramekins), filling each nearly full. Pour hot water into pan (being careful not to get any in ramekins) and fill water level to about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake in preheated oven 30 - 45 minutes, until set but centers still jiggle slightly (bake time will vary based on which size ramekins used, lesser for smaller, greater for larger). Cool at room temperature 30 minutes then transfer to refrigerator to chill 3 hours.
Sprinkle tops evenly with remaining sugar. Holding a hand held kitchen torch, about 4-inches from sugar, evenly brown sugar. Remove the flame just before desired shade is reached.
Serve right away or to fully chill through return to refrigerator and chill 20 - 30 minutes.
These are best served within a few hours of caramelizing the sugar. The custards can be made a day or two in advance but wait to add the sugar and caramelize until ready to serve. It softens upon sitting in the fridge.