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Heat oven to 300°; rack in lower middle position. Combine 1 cup cream, sugar and salt in medium saucepan; scrape seeds from vanilla bean into pan, add pod* (if using extract, add to yolks in step 4), and bring to boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that sugar dissolves. Take pan off heat and let steep 15 minutes to infuse flavors.
Meanwhile, place kitchen towel in bottom of roasting pan and arrange four ramekins on towel. After cream has steeped, stir in remaining cream to cool down mixture. Whisk yolks in large bowl till combined, add vanilla extract if using*. Whisk 1 cup cream mixture into yolks till combined; repeat with another 1 cup cream. Add remaining cream and whisk till combined. Put through fine-mesh strainer into 2-qt. measure cup; discard solids. Ladle into ramekins.
Carefully place pan with ramekins on oven rack; pour hot water into pan till water reaches halfway up ramekins. Bake until centers of custards are barely set and temperature probe reads 170°-175° degrees, about 30-35 minutes. Begin checking temperature 5 minutes before recommended time.
Transfer ramekins to wire rack; cool for about 2 hours. Set ramekins on rimmed baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate till cold, at least 4 hours or up to 4 days.
Uncover ramekins; sprinkle each with 1 t. turbinado sugar (1 1/2 t. for shallow fluted dishes or scant 1 t. if regular granulated sugar); tilt and tap ramekins for even coverage. Ignite torch and caramelize sugar. Refrigerate ramekins, uncovered, to re-chill, 30-45 minutes. (but no longer); serve.
Separate the eggs and whisk the yolks after the cream has finished steeping; if left to sit, the surface of the yolks will dry & form a film. The best way to judge doneness is with a digital instant-read thermometer.
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