Cooking Classic Creme Caramel

Classic Creme Caramel
Though you can make one large crème caramel, we find that custards baked in individual ramekins cook faster, are more evenly textured, and unmold more easily. You can vary the amount of sugar in the custard to suit your taste. Most tasters preferred the full 2/3 cup, but you can reduce that amount to as little as 1/2 cup to create a greater contrast between the custard and the caramel. Cook the caramel in a pan with a light-colored interior, since a dark surface makes it difficult to judge the color of the syrup. Caramel can leave a real mess in a pan, but it is easy to clean. Simply boil lots of water in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes to loosen the hardened caramel.

Caramel

1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon juice from 1 lemon
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar

Custard

11/2 cups whole milk
11/2 cups light cream
3 large whole eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup (42/3 ounces) sugar (see note)
11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch salt

1. For the caramel: Combine the water, corn syrup, and lemon juice in a heavy-bottomed 2- to 3-quart saucepan. Pour the sugar into the center of the saucepan, taking care not to let the sugar granules touch the sides of the pan. Gently stir with a clean spatula to moisten the sugar thoroughly. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the liquid is clear, 6 to 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook (swirling occasionally) until the caramel turns a honey-caramel in color, 4 to 5 minutes longer. Remove the pan immediately from the heat and, working quickly but carefully (the caramel is above 300 degrees and will burn if it touches your skin), pour a portion of the caramel into each of 8 ungreased 6-ounce ovenproof ramekins. Allow the caramel to cool and harden, about 15 minutes. (The caramel-coated ramekins can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days; return to room temperature before adding the custard.)
2. For the custard: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until steam appears and/or an instant-read thermometer held in the liquid registers 160 degrees, 6 to 8 minutes; remove from the heat. Meanwhile, gently whisk the eggs, yolks, and sugar in a large bowl until just combined. Off the heat, gently whisk the warm milk mixture, vanilla, and salt into the eggs until just combined but not at all foamy. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large measuring cup or container with a pouring spout; set aside.
3. Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a kettle. Meanwhile, fold a dish towel to fit the bottom of a large baking dish or roasting pan and position it in the pan. Divide the reserved custard mixture among the ramekins; place the filled ramekins on the towel in the pan (making sure they do not touch) and set the pan on the oven rack. Fill the pan with boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins; cover the entire pan loosely with aluminum foil so steam can escape. Bake until a paring knife inserted halfway between the center and the edge of the custards comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer the custards to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. (The custards can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
4. To unmold, slide a paring knife around the perimeter of each ramekin, pressing the knife against the side of the dish. Hold a serving plate over the top of the ramekin and invert; set the plate on the work surface and shake the ramekin gently to release the custard. Serve immediately.

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