- 2 1/2 cups half and half
- 1 vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 eggs
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 pint sliced strawberries or raspberries
- 1 teaspoon powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 F. For custard, if using vanilla bean: Slice the bean in half, and scrape out the seeds with the tip of the paring knife. Add the vanilla bean and seeds to the half and half in a small saucepan. NOTE: If using vanilla extract instead of the bean, DO NOT add it to the half and half. See Step 4 below. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover, and let vanilla infuse in half and half for 30 minutes. Remove vanilla bean, if using.
- For caramel: Combine sugar and water in small heavy saucepan. Do not use a dark-colored pan, as you will not be able to see the color of the caramel on the bottom of the pan. Dissolve sugar in water over low heat. Turn up heat and continually swirl the pan over the flame. Mixture will be bubbly. If sugar crystals form on sides of pan, cover for 1 minute and this will dissolve them. Boil until mixture reaches a dark-golden brown color. Watch carefully, as caramel can burn easily.
When mixture turns golden brown, remove from heat and pour about 1 tablespoon of caramel into the hot half and half (see Step 1 above). Pour remaining caramel into a 1 1/2-quart porcelain baking dish. Rotate dish rapidly to spread caramel evenly on bottom of dish. (Don’t worry if it is not even; it will distribute itself during the baking process.)
In a 3-quart mixer bowl, beat eggs and egg yolks until frothy. Slowly add sugar and beat until light, thick and lemon colored. Continue beating while pouring in half and half in a thin stream. Stir in vanilla extract if vanilla bean was not used. With a fine-mesh strainer, strain mixture into caramel-lined mold.
Lay a dishtowel on the bottom of a roasting pan, place the dish on top of the towel, and then fill the pan with boiling water about halfway up the sides of the custard dish. Reduce oven temperature to 325 F and put mold in bottom third of oven. Be sure to regulate the oven so water in pan never comes above a simmer. If custard boils, it will not be smooth. Bake for 40 minutes or until a tester inserted 1 inch from outside edge of custard comes out clean.
Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
To unmold, run a knife between custard and edge of mold. Place a serving dish with a lip to catch the sauce upside down over mold, quickly invert and remove mold from custard.
For topping: In medium bowl combine berries and powdered sugar and mix well. After custard has been refrigerated and unmolded, spoon sliced strawberries over top and around sides. Slice and serve in bowls or dishes.
May be prepared up to 1 day in advance through Step 6 and kept in refrigerator.
If you can find fresh vanilla beans, I urge you to try them in this dessert. Splitting the bean and scraping out the vanilla paste into the half and half makes a remarkable difference in the final result. If not, spring for a good quality vanilla extract.
Swirl the sugar syrup in a light-bottomed pan as it darkens. This will make it easy to see the color change and avoid burning the caramel.
Baking the custard in a water bath is important because the water insulates the custard and keeps it from cooking too fast. Allowing the bath to over boil can cause cracks to develop in the finished custard and create an unpleasant rubbery texture. Lining the roasting pan with a dishtowel will keep the crème caramel from slipping as it bakes.
Be creative with the topping. Use sliced strawberries or do a mixture of mixed raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, if you desire. A topping of colorful berries adds a lovely springtime touch. Use a pie slicer or sharp knife to cut into slices for serving. Place each slice on a dessert plate and spoon over some caramel sauce and berries.
Serves 4 to 6 people.