Nutty caramel coats delicate baked custard in this rich dessert, also referred to as "flan" in Spain. Although we specify cooking the caramel until golden, you can cook it longer for a deep amber color; the bitter notes of the darker caramel add a nice contrast to the sweet custard. The custards chill overnight, so they're a great make-ahead option for a dinner party. Baking at a low temperature means there's no need for a water bath. Since the seeds are not scraped from the vanilla bean, you can allow it to dry after steeping in the milk and reserve it for another use.
Cooking Light OCTOBER 2008
1. Preheat oven to 225°.
2. Heat milk and vanilla bean over medium-high heat in a medium, heavy saucepan to 180° or until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil); remove pan from heat. Cover and set aside.
3. Coat 10 (6-ounce) custard cups with cooking spray; arrange cups on a jelly-roll pan.
4. Combine 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small, heavy saucepan; cook over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Continue cooking 7 minutes or until golden (do not stir). Immediately pour into prepared custard cups, tipping quickly until caramelized sugar coats bottom of cups.
5. Combine remaining 2/3 cup sugar, salt, and eggs in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Remove vanilla bean from milk mixture; reserve bean for another use. Gradually pour warm milk mixture into egg mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk; stir in cream. Strain egg mixture through a sieve into a large bowl; pour about 1/2 cup egg mixture over caramelized sugar in each custard cup. Bake at 225° for 2 hours or until custards are just set. Remove from oven; cool to room temperature. Place plastic wrap on surface of custards; chill overnight.
6. Loosen edges of custards with a knife or rubber spatula. Place a dessert plate, upside down, on top of each cup; invert onto plate. Drizzle any remaining caramelized syrup over custards.
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