2 cups heavy or light cream, or half-and-half
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar, more for topping
Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a saucepan, combine cream and vanilla bean and cook over low heat just until hot. Let sit for a few minutes, then discard vanilla bean. (If using vanilla extract, add it now.)
In a bowl, beat yolks and sugar together until light. Stir about a quarter of the cream into this mixture, then pour sugar-egg mixture into cream and stir. Pour into four 6-ounce ramekins and place ramekins in a baking dish; fill dish with boiling water halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until centers are barely set. Cool. Ramekins can be wrapped tightly and refrigerated for a couple of days.
When ready to serve, top each custard with about a teaspoon of sugar in a thin layer. Place ramekins in a broiler 2 to 3 inches from heat source. Turn on broiler. Cook until sugar melts and browns or even blackens a bit, about 5 minutes. Serve within two hours.
From Bitten: When baking the custard, a water bath is worthwhile. It makes the cooking more gentle and even. And, though it is hard to convince a novice cook of this, the custards are done in the oven when still quite jiggly in the center. Once you move the custard to the broiler, keep the door ajar so the compartment stays relatively cool, and keep a close watch.