For the custard: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place 4 (6-ounce) ramekins in a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking pan. Fill a tea kettle or small saucepan with a spout with water and heat.
Add the heavy cream and sugar to a medium saucepan and whisk to combine. Using a sharp paring knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean using the back of the knife to prevent the pod from breaking. Add the seeds and bean to the saucepan. (If any of the vanilla seeds get stuck to your fingers, grab some of your extra sugar and rub the sugar between your fingers over the saucepan to remove every last bit of vanilla seeds and let fall into the cream.) Whisk over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, the vanilla seeds break up and the mixture comes to a simmer. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain into a large measuring cup or bowl with a spout and either discard the vanilla bean or reserve, dry out and add to your sugar bowl!
Place a medium bowl over some wet paper towels, or form a dish towel into a circle or wreath shape and nestle the bowl in the center. This will help act as your third hand or as a base to hold the bowl in place when you start tempering in your hot liquid. Separate the eggs, add the yolks to the bowl and whisk to combine. (Reserve the egg whites for another use, or make meringues and store in an air-tight container for a sweet treat anytime!) Gradually whisk in the hot cream mixture, making sure to scrape any remaining vanilla beans into the mixture as well. Return the custard to the measuring cup. Pour the custard into the ramekins, or use either a 4 or 6-ounce ladle to help evenly distribute. Pour enough hot water from your tea kettle into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully transfer the baking dish into the oven. Alternatively, to make sure none of the water from the pan ends up in the filled ramekins, you can place the pan with the ramekins in the oven, and then add the water to come halfway up the sides.
Bake the custards until the center is set but still jiggles a bit when you gently shake the pan, 30 to 35 minutes. Carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath and set aside to cool to room temperature. Once at room temperature, place into the refrigerator to cool completely.
For the brulee: Sprinkle 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar evenly over the tops of each custard, picking up the ramekin if needed. Position the flame of a baker's torch 1 to 2 inches above the surface of the custard and move the torch around in an even circle to melt and brown the sugar, moving from ramekin to ramekin. Do not allow the sugar to burn. You can even pick up and tilt the ramekin to help even out the caramelized sugar. If you don't have a baker's torch, place all the ramekins on a baking sheet and pop under the broiler. Watch the whole time, and rotate the baking sheet as needed until the sugar melts and browns evenly.
For the berries: Combine the raspberries, sugar and lemon zest in a bowl. Let stand at room temperature at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour. When ready to serve, spoon the berry mixture atop the custards.
Cook's Note: Creme brulee is super easy and you can infuse the cream with almost any flavor. If you like coffee, add a pinch or 2 of instant coffee granules to the cream. For a lavender-scented brulee, just steep a dash of lavender in the cream, then strain as usual.
Propane gas torches are highly flammable and should be kept away from heat, open flame, and prolonged exposure to sunlight. They should only be used in well-ventilated areas. When lighting a propane gas torch, place the torch on a flat, steady surface, facing away from you. Light the match or lighter and then open the gas valve. Light the gas jet, and blow out the match. Always turn off the burner valve to "finger tight" when finished using the torch. Children should never use a propane gas torch without adult supervision.
Recipe courtesy of Anne Thornton