For best results you really have to make these well ahead, ideally the day before, or in the morning if you are planning to serve them in the evening. If you don’t have a cooks blowtorch, you can caramelize the toppings under a very well-preheated, very hot grill.
Preheat the oven to 110°C/gas ¼.
In a saucepan, heat the cream and milk together to 70°C (touch a little of the mixture to your top lip: if it feels hot but comfortably so, then it’s fine). Add the vanilla and its seeds to infuse, then leave to cool. This should be just enough heat to flavour the liquid.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together, pour on the cream mixture and strain through a fine sieve. Pour into 4–6 large ramekins.
Cook in a covered bain-marie or deep roasting tin half filled with hot water covered with foil in the preheated oven until just about set (it should still quiver like a jelly), about 50–60 minutes. Let cool, then chill until quite set, about 6 hours.
To make the brûlée topping, finely grind the demerara sugar using a pestle and mortar until almost a powder. Dredge this over the top of the custards using a tea strainer, making sure it is evenly distributed. Leave to cool slightly, then repeat for another layer. Use a blowtorch to caramelize the sugar nicely and leave to cool so the topping hardens. Then chill again for at least 10 minutes before serving.
© 2008 Anthony Demetre. All rights reserved.