The first time I made creme brulee, I was 17 and totally ill-equipped. I didn't have any ramekins so I used small pyrex bowls and small disposable foil tins, you know the kind from frozen pot pies, yes it was sooo very ghetto. Instead of a vanilla bean I used imitation vanilla extract *shudders* and in lieu of a torch, I used the broiler - luckily the pyrex didn't explode, whew! Even without the proper equipment, the creme brulees turned out pretty decent. That's the beauty of creme brulee, it looks very impressive and seems like it would be complicated to make but it's pretty simple to do. Creme brulee is one of the best desserts to showcase the beauty of a vanilla bean but you can play around with many different flavors like Earl Grey or lavender honey.
from Cook's Illustrated
4 ramekins or 6 shallow ramekins
2 C heavy cream
6 egg yolks
1/3 C sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 tsp of vanilla extract but skip the steeping of the cream
4 - 6 tsp of turbinado sugar or Demerara sugar
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Combine 1 cup of the cream, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds with a paring knife and add to the cream. You can either submerge the pod in the cream as well or leave it out and save it for making extract. Bring the cream mixture to a gentle boil over medium heat, remove the pan from heat, and let steep for 15 minutes.
Place a kitchen towel or silicone baking mat in the bottom of a large roasting pan and place the ramekins in the pan. Bring a kettle of water to a boil.
After the cream has steeped and cooled, stir in the remaining cup of cream. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk in the cream mixture. Strain into a 2 cup measuring cup.
Pull out the oven rack and place the roasting pan on the rack. You can either pour the custard mixture into the ramekins first then pour the boiling water in the roasting pan, or pour the boiling water first, then the custard. I like pouring the boiling water first into the pan followed by the custard into the ramekins to minimize splashing water into the custard. Pour the water until it reaches 2/3 up the side of the ramekins. Carefully slide the rack back into the oven.
Bake until the center of the custards are barely sit, not sloshy but a little jiggly. The center should read about 170 - 175 deg F, 30 - 35 minutes (25 - 30 minutes for shallow fluted dishes). Begin checking the temperature 5 minutes ahead of time.
Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack to cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Then transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold at least 4 hours or up to 4 days.
Before bruleeing, place a paper towel on the surface on the custards to soak up any moisture. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of turbinado sugar on the surface (may need to use more for shallow dishes), tilt and shake the ramekin so the sugar covers the surface completely, and brulee until the sugar forms a caramel colored crust.
Optional: refrigerate uncovered for 30 - 45 minutes to re-chill.