You’ll need six 250ml (9fl oz) ceramic ramekins and a roasting tray as deep as the ramekins and just big enough to hold them. Bring a kettle full of water to the boil and turn the oven to 170°C/340°F/Gas 3-4.
Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and put in a pot with the cream and half the sugar (the stripped pod can go in a vanilla essence bottle to spice it up). Bring the cream to the boil and keep warm. Lightly whisk the yolks and the remaining sugar for 30 seconds, then gently pour in the hot cream and mix well.
Put three pieces of date in the bottom of each ramekin, arrange the ramekins in the roasting tray and divide the mixture between them. Place in the oven and gently pour in the hot water until it comes two-thirds of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30 minutes. Test by inserting a skewer – it should come out clean; if it doesn’t, return to the oven till done. Make sure the brûlées don’t brown on the top or bubble up: if they do, turn the oven down a bit. When cooked, remove from the oven and stand for an hour before placing in the fridge for at least 6 hours to firm up.
Just before serving sprinkle 2 teaspoons of demerara sugar in a thin layer over the top of each one and place under a grill on high heat. Keep an eye on them as the sugar will turn to burnt toffee quite quickly – the aim is to give the brûlées a filmy topping of caramel. Allow to cool for a minute before serving as the toffee will burn your lips.
© 1997 Peter Gordon. All rights reserved.