1/2 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 1/2 cups half-and-half or light cream
8 large egg yolks
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
Preheat oven to 325°. If using vanilla bean, with knife cut lengthwise in half; scrape out seeds and reserve.
In heavy 3-quart saucepan, heat cream, half-and-half and vanilla bean and seeds over medium heat until bubbles form around edge. (If using vanilla extract, stir in when noted below.) Remove from heat. With slotted spoon, remove vanilla bean.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, with wire whisk, beat egg yolks and granulated sugar until well blended. Slowly stir in hot cream mixture until well combined. (If using vanilla extract, stir in now.) Pour cream mixture into 10 (4- to 5-ounce) broiler-proof ramekins or a shallow 2 1/2-quart casserole.
Place ramekins or casserole in large roasting pan (17-by-11 1/2 inch); place pan in oven. Carefully pour enough very hot water into pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins or casserole. Bake until set, 35 to 40 minutes. Mixture will be slightly soft in center.
Transfer ramekins to wire rack to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.
Up to 2 hours before serving, preheat broiler. Place brown sugar in small sieve; with spoon, press sugar through sieve to evenly cover tops of chilled custards.
Place ramekins in jelly roll pan for easier handling. With broiler rack at closest position to heat source, broil creme brulee just until brown sugar has melted, 3 to 4 minutes.
Serve, or refrigerate up to 2 hours. The melted sugar will form a delicious brittle crust.
Makes 10 servings.