Vanilla beans are often use in custard recipes because it is easy to infuse them into hot milk and cream. But you don’t need a vanilla bean to make a great vanilla custard – you just need good quality vanilla extract. High quality extract is always made with high quality vanilla beans, and that will translate to a strong vanilla flavor in your dessert. These Vanilla Pots de Creme are flavored with vanilla extract, rather than with whole vanilla beans. This makes these lovely custards a bit more accessible, as vanilla beans are relatively expensive and you might not always have them on hand. While I used Rodelle’s new Reserve French Oak Aged Vanilla Extract, you can use whatever your preferred vanilla is (as long as it’s not imitation vanilla!).
The pots de creme are creamy and smooth as silk. This custard is much more delicate than some other types of custard because it contains no additional thickeners and no whole eggs. The yolks thicken the custard just enough to hold it together. Traditional pot de creme cups often include a lid, which is kept on top of the ramekin during baking and ensures that the top of the custard does not form a skin (or only forms a minimal one). This is very similar to the way that plastic wrap is pressed on top of pudding to prevent a skin from forming. If you are using ramekins, like I did, you might find that the top of the custard is slightly thicker than the rest after baking. This is completely normal if it happens, and won’t take away the enjoyment of eating the custard.
I used half and half in my recipe, but you can also use equal parts heavy cream and milk. These are best enjoyed within a day or two of making them and they should be stored in the refrigerator.
Vanilla Pots de Creme
2 cups half and half
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
4 large egg yolks
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325F.
In a small saucepan, bring half and half to a simmer.
In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, salt and egg yolks until well-combined. When cream reaches a simmer, remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Slowly stream the hot cream into the egg mixture while whisking constantly.
When all the cream has been added to the eggs, pour the mixture through a strainer into a bowl or measuring cup with a pour spout.
Divide into six 6-oz ramekins or eight 4-oz ramekins (smaller ramekins will need a slightly reduced baking time) and place ramekins in a rimmed baking dish. Pour warm water into the baking dish until it comes 2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake the custards for 40-50 minutes, until they are just set and jiggle only slightly when the ramekins are lightly tapped.
Allow custards to cool in the pan, then transfer them to the refrigerator to set further before serving.
Note: The custard can also be baked in four 8-oz ramekins, but the baking time will need to be extended to 45-55 minutes.