Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place 6 ramekins in a large baking pan, not touching.
In a heavy saucepan, mix cream, sugar, and pepper. Scrape vanilla seeds into cream mixture and drop in pods. Stirring contantly, bring mixture to a very gentle simmer. Cover and reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes. Strain into large measuring cup.
Whisk egg yolks in a medium bowl. Whisk in hot cream mixture until just blended. Pour back into measuring cup and divide evenly among ramekins.
Pour enough hot water into the baking pan to up halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake custards until almost set in the middle when gently shaken (30-35 minutes). Carefully remove ramekins from baking pan to cool surface and cool 30 minutes. Refrigerate custards 3 hours - 2 days.
Sprinkle the top of each custard with 1-2 teaspoons sugar. Hold blowtorch flame 2 inches from surface until sugar melts and browns (about 2 minutes). Refrigerate 2-4 hours, to rechill custard (do not chill more than 4 hours or sugar crust will soften). Garnish with fruit before serving if desired.
More About This Recipe
If you do not have a kitchen torch, you can brulee your custard under a broiler. Put the heat on high and use 1 teaspoon of sugar per custard. Place custards in a dry baking dish under broiler until sugar melts and brown (about 3-5 minutes). Watch carefully to prevent burning. Do not put individual ramekins under broiler (not in pan), because the last couple you take out of the broiler can burn in the time it takes to remove the first few. If garnishing with fruit, try strawberries, cherries, or thinly-sliced peaches. For a tropical custard, try adding 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh ginger to the cream mixture and topping with sliced mangoes and kiwis.
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