San Francisco–based chocolatier Michael Recchiuti’s recipe for this caramel custard is superrich and flavored with a hint of milk chocolate. To make it, caramelize sugar, then whisk that together with hot milk and cream. Temper egg yolks to add to the mixture, whisk in a hint of milk chocolate to complement the caramel flavor, and then bake the custards in a water bath. While Michael recommends baking these in glass tea candle holders or espresso cups for an elegant presentation, we baked them in standard ramekins with excellent results.
Special equipment: You’ll need a pastry brush for this recipe.
Heat the oven to 300°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Bring 8 cups of the water to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat; keep the water at a simmer. Arrange 6 (6-ounce) ramekins 1/2 inch apart in a large roasting pan (alternatively, use 12 [3-ounce] espresso cups or glass candle holders); set aside. Fill a small bowl with water and have a pastry brush ready.
Combine the cream and milk in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat; remove from the heat and keep warm.
Combine the sugar and remaining 2 tablespoons of measured water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan (make sure to use a saucepan between 2 1/2 and 3 quarts in size) and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved. Continue to cook without stirring, using a pastry brush dipped in water to brush away any sugar crystals clinging to the sides of the pan, until the mixture turns a dark amber color, about 5 to 6 minutes. Immediately remove from the heat.
While whisking gently, very carefully add about 1/2 cup of the warm cream mixture to the caramel (it will bubble up and sputter so be sure to only add a small amount at a time), making sure to whisk the bottom of the pan, until the bubbles subside. Continue to slowly add the cream mixture 1/2 cup at a time while slowly whisking to incorporate it, until all of the mixture has been added; set aside.
Whisk the yolks in a small heatproof bowl until blended. While whisking constantly but not too vigorously, slowly pour about 1 cup of the cream mixture into the yolks until combined. Pour the cream-egg mixture back into the saucepan and whisk to combine. Add the chocolate and gently whisk until it’s melted and evenly combined.
Place a fine-mesh strainer over a large measuring cup or a bowl with a spout and pour in the custard. Remove the strainer and evenly divide the strained custard among the ramekins or espresso cups, filling them three-quarters full.
Being careful not to get any water inside the ramekins, add enough of the simmering water to the roasting pan so that it reaches 1 inch up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Carefully transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the tops of the custards are darkened in color and almost set, about 1 hour. (The entire custard will still jiggle, but it will set as it cools. If you’re using espresso cups, check them after 45 minutes, and check glass candle holders after 25 minutes.)
Using tongs and being careful not to get any water inside the ramekins, carefully transfer each custard to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Serve or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. If refrigerated, let the custards sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.