*This recipe came courtesy of Martha Stewart's cooking school.*
Yield: Serves 8
4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
7 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup sugar
Prepare oven and baking dishes: Heat oven to 300 degrees. Bring a kettle or pot of water to a boil. Place eight 5-ounce baking dishes in a large roasting pan.
Gently heat cream: In a medium saucepan, combine cream and half the sugar (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons). Scrape vanilla bean seeds into pan, then add pod. Heat over medium just until mixture starts to bubble around the edge of the pan, 7 to 8 minutes (do not let boil).
Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks: In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks with remaining sugar and the salt.
Temper eggs: Use ladle to pour a small amount of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture, then whisk to combine. (This is called tempering and prevents the eggs from curdling.) Add two more ladles of cream mixture, one at a time, whisking to combine after each addition. Gradually whisk in remaining cream mixture. Strain through a fine sieve into a large liquid measuring cup (to remove the vanilla pod and any cooked bits of egg).
Bake: Divide custard evenly among baking dishes. Place pan in oven. Add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake until custards are just set (they should tremble slightly in center when shaken), 30 to 40 minutes.
Chill: Remove pan from oven. Use tongs to carefully remove dishes from hot-water bath and place on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Then, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours (or up to 3 days) before serving. The custard will finish setting in the refrigerator. If you like, transfer the custards to the freezer 15 minutes before serving to ensure they stay cold after being bruleed (this is especially important if using the broiler).
Caramelize tops and serve: Sprinkle about 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar over each custard. Working with one at a time, pass the flame of the torch in a circular motion 1 to 2 inches above the surface of each custard until the sugar bubbles, turns amber, and forms a smooth surface. Serve immediately.