Great holiday entertaining recipes are even better if they can be made a day ahead. Midge, a Food52 community member, shared this recipe for Burnt Caramel Pudding: the complex depth of the deeply toasted, almost burnt caramel and the richness of real vanilla bean infuse a dessert that's creamy and easy to make. Add a dollop of whipped cream or sweetened mascarpone, and it's dressed up for a dinner party.
Heat oven to 300 F.Pour cream into a small saucepan. Split vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the cream; toss the scraped pod in there, too. Turn the heat to low to gently warm the cream to just below a simmer. Remove from heat and set aside.
Reserve 2 tablespoons of the sugar; pour remaining sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons water into heavy-bottomed saucepan and set over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Then crank the heat to high and let the liquid bubble away. Don't stir, just swirl the pan occasionally, until it turns dark amber. This takes about 4 minutes, but watch closely because it happens fast. Moving quickly, fish the vanilla pod out of the cream and save for another use. Slowly stir the warm cream into the caramel. Let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl, until light and lemon colored.
Whisk a little of the cream-caramel mixture into the egg yolks, to temper the yolks. Then add the yolk and cream mixture to the pot of cream and caramel. Strain the mixture into a pitcher or large measuring cup.
Pour the mixture into four ramekins. If you like your caramel a bit salty, sprinkle a few extra grains of sea salt on top of each one. Place the ramekins in a shallow pan. Place the pan in the oven, and fill the outside of the pan with cold water, to halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes, until the custard is set in the middle.
Remove the puddings from the oven, remove them from the water bath, and let cool completely. Chill for at least 6 hours, but it's best if you can chill overnight. Serve with whipped heavy cream, if you like.