1 vanilla bean
3 cups (750ml) thickened cream
6 egg yolks
¼ cup (55g) caster sugar
1/3 cup (55g) pure icing sugar, approximately
Note: This recipe can be prepared a day ahead; grill the tops up to one hour before serving.
Preheat the oven to moderately slow (160°C). Split vanilla bean in half lengthways then, using the end of a sharp knife, scrape the seeds from the bean; reserve the seeds. Add the bean and cream to a medium saucepan, heat until just below boiling point.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, caster sugar and vanilla seeds in a medium heatproof bowl; gradually whisk in the hot cream mixture. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water — do not have the water touching the base of the bowl. Stir over heat for about 10 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon.
Remove the bean — it can be washed, dried and kept for another use. Place six ½ cup (125ml) capacity ovenproof dishes in a baking dish, pour the cream mixture into the ovenproof dishes level with the top as they will shrink slightly. Add enough boiling water to come ¾ of the way up the side of the dishes. Bake in a moderately slow oven for about 20 minutes or until the custard is just set. Remove the dishes from the water; cool to room temperature. Cover; refrigerate several hours or overnight.
Place the dishes in a shallow baking dish filled with ice-cubes (the ice helps to keep custard firm while grilling). Sprinkle each custard evenly with about one heaped teaspoon of sifted icing sugar; wipe the edge of the dishes. Place under a hot grill until the sugar is just melted, not coloured. Sprinkle the custards again with a second layer of sifted icing sugar; place under hot grill until sugar is golden brown.