Classic French Bistro - Crème Brûlée

CREME BRULEE 2 whole vanilla beans
1 quart heavy cream
1 cup sugar
7 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using a small, sharp paring knife, split the vanilla beans lengthwise in two. Scald the cream with the split vanilla beans and 1/3 cup of the sugar. Whisk together the yolks and another 1/3 cup of the sugar. While whisking, pour the scalded cream over the yolk/sugar mixture. Keep whisking until combined. Remove the split vanilla beans. Scrape out the seeds into the custard mixture. Strain the custard through a fine sieve.

Ladle the custard into eight 4 1/2-by- 3/4-inch shallow custard cups. Place the cups in a pan of hot water that comes halfway up the sides of the cups. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until set. Cool to room temperature. When ready to serve, sprinkle the tops of the custards with a thin layer of the remaining 1/3 cup sugar.

For best results, use a salamander to caramelize. Alternatively, preheat the broiler, then place the custards in a baking pan filled with crushed ice. Caramelize under the hot broiler, watching so that the sugar bubbles and browns - but doesn't burn. Makes eight servings.