This is my go-to recipe from the Culinary Institute of America. It’s fool-proof as recipes go, and there is little motivation on my part to change it. Of course, there are infinite variations on this theme. Try infusing the cream with lavender or cardamom seeds, for example. Or substitute honey for sugar. Add subtle lift with orange zest or Meyer lemon. The possible flavor combinations are endless.
Even so, I find myself returning to this most classic of French desserts without altering in any way. The satisfying burnt sugar crust and rich vanilla bean custard lend themselves perfectly to sweet, opulent wines of Sauternes or Barsac. In which case, when it comes to stickies, I want their complexity to shine, and not compete with the pairing.
Recently, I paired this with a youthful 2010 Château Rieussec with pleasing results. Thankfully, I have a few more bottles stowed away because Rieussec only grows lovelier with time, the 1988 and 1986 vintages were both outstanding.
- 2 1/2 Cups heavy cream
- 3/4 Cup sugar
- 1/2 Vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
- Pinch salt
- 5 Large egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 6 Tablespoons sanding sugar or raw turbinado sugar
- Preheat the oven to 325°F and arrange the ramekins on a large rimmed baking sheet.
- In a medium saucepan over moderately high heat, combine the heavy cream, 1/2 of the sugar, the vanilla bean seeds and pod, and the salt and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- While the cream is heating, combine the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and whisk to combine. Gradually add about 1/3 of the hot cream to the yolks, whisking constantly, then add the remaining hot cream and stir to fully combine. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean container. Carefully ladle or pour the custard into the ramekins, filling them to the rim.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven and carefully pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the edges have set but the center still jiggles when the ramekin is gently shaken, 20 to 25 minutes.
- Remove the ramekins from the water bath and let cool on a rack for 30 minutes then wrap individually and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
- To serve: Sprinkle the top of each custard with a thin even layer of sanding sugar, using about 1 tablespoon per ramekin. Use a kitchen blowtorch or the broiler to evenly melt and caramelize the sugar. Serve immediately.