When you crown the custards with their burnt-sugar shells, we recommend using a small kitchen torch. It's easy to use, and the torch procedure doesn't take as long as the stovetop method (although we give you instructions for that, too). Cold custards stand up well to the heat of the torch, so it's best to make them 1 to 2 days ahead. Although any kind of coffee beans work,the darker the bean the more intense the flavor.
2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
1 cup whole espresso coffee beans
3/4 cup nonfat dry milk
3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar, divided
How to Make It
Combine 2% milk, espresso beans, dry milk, and 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat mixture over medium heat to 180° or until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil), stirring occasionally. Remove milk mixture from heat. Cover and steep 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 300°.
Strain mixture through a sieve into a bowl; discard solids. Stir in vanilla.
Combine 1 tablespoon sugar, salt, and egg yolks in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk.
Gradually add milk mixture to egg mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Divide the mixture evenly among 4 (4-ounce) ramekins, custard cups, or shallow baking dishes. Place ramekins in a 13 x 9-inch baking pan, and add hot water to pan to a depth of 1/2 inch.
Bake at 300° for 25 minutes or until center barely moves when ramekin is touched. Remove ramekins from pan; cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.
Sift 1 tablespoon sugar evenly over each custard. Holding a kitchen blow torch about 2 inches from the top of each custard, heat the sugar, moving the torch back and forth, until sugar is completely melted and caramelized (about 1 minute). Serve immediately or within 1 hour.
Note: If you don't have a kitchen blow torch, you can make the sugar topping on the stovetop. Place 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a small, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat 5 to 8 minutes or until golden. (Resist the urge to stir, since doing so may cause the sugar to crystallize.) Immediately pour the sugar mixture evenly over cold custards, spreading to form a thin layer.