Combine the first 3 ingredients 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. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into milk mixture; reserve bean for another use.
Preheat oven to 300°.
Combine 1/4 cup sugar, egg yolks, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Gradually add milk mixture to egg yolk mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Strain mixture through a sieve into a bowl; discard solids.
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; add hot water to pan to a depth of 1 inch.
Bake at 300° for 25 minutes or until center barely moves when ramekin is touched. Remove ramekins from the 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 crème brûlée 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.
To prevent skins from forming while the custards cool, gently press plastic wrap to the top of each.
This is a great recipe. I ended up doubling the cooking time but that may be a problem with my oven rather than the recipe. This is a great basic creme brûlée recipe. You could easily top the brûlées with a little fruit for a nice presentation.
I made this for our couples book club using Blue Diamond Almond/Coconut milk and powdered goats milk as one of our friends is Dairy intolerant. This recipe worked really well and so if you are needing to modify, it was a hit with everyone. I used the same quantities and times.
I was skeptical of making a lower calorie creme brulee, but this turned out amazing! I doubled the amount of sugar and added a little more vanilla bean. It came out as a sweet custard with perfect texture. It also took a little longer to cook, and I used just granulated sugar and a kitchen torch to get my hard sugar topping. Will definitely make again!!
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