Pot de crème, which is essentially as decadent as creme brûlée, without the crack of caramel resting on top. The texture is like silk and the taste is lightly sweet, with just a slight bitter edge from the burnt sugar in the butterscotch. Check the recipe notes for a pumpkin version!
In a medium sized heavy-bottomed sauce pot, cook the butter and brown sugar together over medium heat.
Stir with a wooden spoon or carefully whisk (be sure to use the right kind of whisk (Egg Whisk) or the sugar will get caught in the wires). The sugar and butter will separate at first, but as the sugar melts it will become easier to blend them together.
Cook and stir until the sugar melts and the butter/sugar mixture just starts to brown, it will start to smoke slightly as well.
Slowly add the cream, one cup at a time.
It will sputter and seize up as you add the cold cream. Cook the butterscotch until the seized sugar dissolves again. Add the rest of the cream, vanilla bean and salt.
In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly add some of the hot butterscotch-cream to the yolks as you whisk them. You are just adding enough of the warm cream to warm the yolks slightly.
Once the yolks are warm to the touch, pour the yolks back into the pot of hot butterscotch-cream and gently whisk. Strain the mixture.
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Divide the custard into the eight 4-ounce ramekins. Place them in a water batch and tent with foil. It is important that the water in the pan is hot and comes half way up the side of the ramekins, so that it will reach oven temperature quickly. Using cool water will prevent them from baking evenly.
Bake for 25 to 40 minutes. This will depend on the temperature of the mixture when you put it in the oven. Best to check them after 25 minutes and gauge how much longer they need. Unlike a cake, you can open the oven and check them as often as you like without hurting them. The best way to check if they are done is to gently tap the side of each ramekin. If the custard ripples like water, it needs to bake longer. If it moves like set jell-o, then it is done. Be careful not to over bake them or they will be grainy and "eggy."
Remove the pan from the oven and allow the custards to cool in the water bath. Once they have reached room temperature, you can remove them from the bath, cover them and refrigerate for at least an hour, but they can be made a few days in advance.
To serve: Spread a thin layer of unsweetened crème fraîche over the top of the custard. I like the contrast of the unsweetened crème fraîche and the sweet pudding, but you can add a touch of sugar if it is too stark for your taste. Or serve it with nothing at all.
For a pumpkin version of this just substitute one cup of the heavy cream with 1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree and add 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice. Add the pumpkin and spice after you have added all the yolks and cream to the mixture.