This delicious make-ahead dessert is perfect for entertaining. I learned the recipe from my pal Sandy Gluck when I was her sous chef at the Café New Amsterdam in New York’s West Village in the early eighties. We’d met in 1977, both of us fresh out of cooking school, both of us winners of a scholarship from Les Dames D’Escoffier, a national association dedicated to the advancement of women in the field. The scholarship was supposed to send us on a gastronomic cruise to Italy. The plans changed, and we ended up on the maiden voyage of a jazz cruise to Cuba that featured much better music than food. We sailed with Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, and Earl ‘Fatha” Hines and their bands and attended a great jazz concert in Havana. Sandy and I became fast friends on board that ship. I spent the next four years working in restaurants in Boston, and when I returned to New York in 1981, jobless, Sandy took me in. The Café New Amsterdam was a small restaurant on West Fourth Street where Sandy, as chef, was making beautiful food based on fresh local ingredients. Her citrus flan was one of my favorite desserts.
Pour the milk and cream into a large saucepan. Add the ground rind and the vanilla bean. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook until bubbles form around the edge. Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make a caramel syrup by spreading 1/2 cup sugar in the bottom of a heavy skillet. Cook over medium heat until the sugar starts to melt, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir gently so that the sugar melts evenly. Cook, watching carefully to prevent burning, until the sugar turns dark, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully pour into four 1 cup custard ups or ramekins. Immediately turn to coat the base and sides evenly with the hot caramel. Set aside.
Strain the cream and milk mixture into a large bowl. Discard the rind and scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans into the strained milk and cream (Rinse and dry the scraped beans and reserve for another use).