1 qt. heavy cream
8 large egg yolks
1 cup (~6.5 oz.) white sugar
1 vanilla bean*
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Split and scrape vanilla bean. Place vanilla bean, vanilla bean seeds, 1/2 c. sugar, and heavy cream in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Stir to incorporate. Scald, but do not boil.
Meanwhile, whisk together remaining sugar and egg yolks. When the heavy cream mixture is almost at a boil, remove from heat and temper the yolks (add and quickly stir in a little of the hot cream at a time. Otherwise, you get scrambled eggs!) Until all your mixture is whisked together. If it won't fit into your bowl, pour tempered yolks into the pan and whisk together.
*If you do not have a vanilla bean, substitute with vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract, but add them now, after the mixture has been removed from the heat.
If you are cooking ahead, you can stop here, cool and refrigerate the mixture up to 3 days before baking.
Now, you are ready to finish your crème brûlée off in the oven. Place a tea towel on the bottom of a roasting pan or a 9x13 cake pan. Place ramekins on top of the towel. Carefully fill the ramekins with the custard mixture. Place any remaining mixture into the refrigerator. You can keep it for about 3 days.
Next, you need to fill the pan with HOT water about half way up the side of your ramekins. THIS IS IMPORTANT! DO NOT GET ANY WATER INTO YOUR RAMEKINS. If you do, your beautiful custard will NEVER SET and all your work was for naught. :(
I usually place the pan in the oven, then carefully ever so slowly add hot water to the roasting pan. Then gently slide it into the oven. The more shallow ramekins make this harder.
Bake until set, but still jiggly. This takes about 20 min, but can be more or less depending on the ramekin size.
Refrigerate a minimum of 2 hours. Nothing says nasty like a hot crème brûlée. Just before serving, dust the top with some sugar and "brûlée" with a torch. FOLLOW SAFETY PROCEDURES! If you don't know how to do this, Alton Brown has a video.