Okay, daredevils: This recipe's for you. It's the most challenging dessert in our quintet because you have to make caramel *and* custard *and* endure a 12-hour chilling period. And once that's all squared away, you must then invert the crèmes and cross your fingers that they slide out of the ramekins in good shape. If that doesn't make your heart rate increase, might I suggest bungee jumping?
But the results are worth it: a quivering pudding with a waterfall of caramel that sweetens every bite. To take the recipe a step further, infuse your cream—with crushed cardamom pods, orange zest, chopped coffee beans, Earl Grey tea leaves, or fresh herbs—before you begin.
Heat the oven to 325° F. Place eight 6-ounce ramekins in a large roasting dish.
Make the basic caramel. Fill a small bowl with water and keep a pastry brush nearby—this is for washing the sides of the pan to stymy crystallization. In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, stir the sugar, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup cold water. Brush down the sides of the pan with your pastry brush to wash away sugar crystals.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, occasionally brushing down the sides of the pan, until the mixture starts to color around the circumference, 5 to 8 minutes.
Gently swirl the pan once to even out the color and prevent isolated burning. Continue to cook until the sugar turns medium-dark amber, about 1 minute more. Immediately pour the hot caramel into the bottom of the ramekins, portioning equally.
Working quickly, swirl each ramekin so that the caramel is about 1/2 inch up the sides. Set the ramekins, still in the roasting dish, aside and let the caramel harden.
Fill a tea kettle or hot water heater and bring the water to a boil—you'll be using this for a bain marie. Combine the milk, cream, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from the heat.
Whisk eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla in a medium bowl and then temper the mixture by adding a couple ladles of the warm milk mixture, whisking constantly. When the egg mixture is very warm, add it back to the pot of milk and whisk constantly to combine. Pour through a fine mesh sieve into a liquid measuring cup or other spouted vessel. Then divide between the ramekins, filling each one.
Pour the hot water from the kettle into the roasting dish so that it comes 1/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekin. Bake the custards in the water bath until the edges are set but the centers jiggle slightly when shaken, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cook time. If the centers are still wavy, cook them a bit longer.
Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool completely before covering each with plastic wrap and refrigerating for at least 12 hours (and up to 3 days).
To serve, run a small table knife around the edge of each ramekin to loosen the custard. (It's easiest if you take the custards straight from the fridge but warm the edges of the ramekin with a hot dish towel. Use a warm paring knife to help release the custard.) Quickly invert each custard onto a rimmed plate, using a side-to-side shaking motion if it does not release. Eat right away.
A (former) student of English, a lover of raisins, a user of comma splices. My spirit animal is an eggplant. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream. For that, I'm sorry.