For as classic as this French dessert is thought to be, I don't think I can recall ever seeing it on a menu in any restaurant in Paris during my five years living there. On the other hand, you couldn't throw a stone in Paris without hitting a restaurant serving a crème brûlée. The two desserts are virtually the same, but the execution is slightly different. The former is cooked on a bed of caramel and turned upside down for plating, yielding a caramel sauce - the latter, the custard is cooked and then topped with sugar, which is then caramelized. Both are great, but maybe it's time to give crème caramel a moment in the spotlight.
Place four ramekins into a high-sided baking dish. Set aside
Place the water and sugar into a small pot. Heat on medium heat until the sugar cooks to a light caramel. Do not stir it.
Once a light caramel is reached, remove the pot from the stove and pour the caramel evenly into the four ramekins. Set aside.
1 Vanilla bean
80g Sugar, divided
2 Pinches of salt
Preheat the oven to 325F, or about 160C, and also heat plenty of water in a kettle to a boil. Set aside.
Pour the milk into a medium sized pot. On a cutting board, cut the vanilla bean in half and scraped out the insides. Add this, along with the pod to the pot with the milk. Add half of the sugar and the salt to the milk as well, and cook on medium heat until the milk mixture is scalded.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, place the eggs and the remaining sugar. Whisk vigorously.
Pour some of the scalded milk through a sieve onto the eggs while continuously whisking. Add more milk until it is all incorporated. (The vanilla bean can be discarded, or cleaned and baked to use for decoration.)
Pour the custard into the four ramekins to the very top, and carefully pour the boiled water into the baking dish half the height up the side of the ramekins to create a hot water bath. Very carefully place the dish with the ramekins into the oven. Cook roughly 35-45 minutes, or until the custard is just set. Remove the baking dish from the oven and take the ramekins from the hot water bath. Allow them to cool before placing them into the fridge. Once fully chilled, slide a knife around the sides of the custard to release it from the ramekin. Place a plate or bowl on top of the ramekin and quickly invert them. Remove the ramekin to leave the crème caramel on the plate with the caramel sauce. It may take a little tap to get it to release. Add fruit to garnish and serve. This dessert is great with coffee, too!