makes four servings
(Note: Seek out good quality, soft black licorice. Trader Joe’s carries several varieties. Twizzlers brand relies heavily on corn syrup and artificial flavoring; save those for movie-going.)
For the Custard-
1½ cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
4.5 oz. soft black licorice, cut into small pieces
½ vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped using tip of a small paring knife
5 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
optional: 1 teaspoon of licorice flavored liqueur (Pernod, Jagermeister, Meesterbitter, or Anisette) or if you are lucky enough to own a black tin of Mill & Mortar Lakrids-Pulver, ⅛ teaspoon of licorice powder.
For the Brulée Topping-
In a small bowl, stir together until combined:
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
To prepare the custard, place the cream, milk, vanilla bean, (and its seeds) and the licorice pieces in a small saucepan. Heat gently until the cream and milk just comes to a boil, stirring occasionally with a rubber scraper. Remove from the heat and let the mixture sit for one hour to infuse.
Line a large baking pan with a cotton dishtowel. Place four ramekins, each measuring 4½” across x 1” deep, on top of the towel, inside the baking pan. (If you don’t have ramekins that size, you can use 7 or 8 oz. ovenproof dishes. The baking time may vary a little.)
When the licorice cream has steeped for one hour, pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Whisk the salt and sugar into the egg yolks. Return the licorice cream mixture to the stovetop and reheat briefly over medium heat just to warm it, DO NOT LET IT COME TO A BOIL. Place a fine mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl and strain the licorice cream, pressing on the solids. Temper the egg mixture with the cream by gradually adding the strained licorice cream to the egg yolks, whisking the mixture without letting it get frothy. If you wish to add liqueur to the custard, (or licorice powder) do so now. It’s a good idea to strain the mixture once more through a fine mesh strainer into a container with a spout, (such as a Pyrex measuring cup) before dividing it between your oven-proof dishes.
Carefully set the baking dish with the custards on the middle rack of the oven. Pour hot water carefully into the pan, being careful not to splash any water into the ramekins. The water should come up a little more than halfway up the side of the ramekins. This will serve as the water bath for the custards.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the custards are just set, but still have a slight jiggle in the middle. Remove the baking dish with the custards from the oven, then carefully remove the custards from the water bath (a wide spatula works well) and set them on a rack to cool completely.
Cover each custard with plastic wrap and chill completely in the refrigerator until serving.
To brulée the custards, remove the plastic wrap, dab the surface of the custards with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture, then sprinkle each custard with 1 tablespoon of the sugar mix. Using a small kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar until it melts and turns deeply golden. (To be honest, I have always had access to a kitchen torch. If you don’t have one, you can turn your oven to “broil” and caramelize the sugar by placing the cooled custards on a baking sheet and placing them on the top shelf of the oven, close to the heat source. This will only take a few minutes, depending on the oven, so stay close.) Remove from the oven and let the caramel set for a few minutes before serving. (Don’t forget to turn off your oven.)