2tablespoonsunsalted butter, in several pieces, (1 ounce)
unsweetened whipped cream
flaky salt, such as Maldon
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch, salt, and sugar. Add the milk, cream and vanilla bean and scrapings and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently(you will have to stop whisking to verify that it is boiling; there will be fat bubbles that pop gloopily). While you whisk, make sure to scrape the entire bottom of the pot, including the corners. When you see the gloopy bubbles, reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer and continue cooking for 1 minute. The pudding should be the texture of a loose yogurt, or warm caramel sauce. Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter.
Fish out the vanilla pod (or strain the pudding into a measuring pitcher if at all lumpy) and divide the pudding into 4 cups. (You can rinse the vanilla pod, let it dry, and stick it in a bottle of booze or a jar of sugar, if you like.)
Pudding skin is an area of some disagreement, with supporters of either side, pro-skin and anti-skin, debating their points heatedly. As for me, I just cover the cups with plastic wrap (not pressed onto the surface of the pudding) and mine haven't formed much of a skin.
Chill the puddings until cold and set, 1 1/2 hours or up to several days. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a few flecks of flaky salt.
Adapted from GourmetYou can (probably) use half and half in place of the milk and cream if you like. (Update, 1/21/12: half and half works, but has a higher fat content than the milk/cream mixture and results in a firmer, less creamy pudding. Try reducing the cornstarch to 2 tablespoons, and/or omitting the butter.) My favorite sugar for this was organic dark brown sugar; if you only have light brown sugar on hand, you can try whisking in a few drops of molasses to taste along with the butter at the end. Or try experimenting with more exotic sugars, such as panela, palm sugar, muscovado, or Alter Eco's unrefined muscobado sugar. If boozy butterscotch sounds appealing, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of whiskey or dark or gold rum after adding the butter. If you lack vanilla bean (which you can buy in bulk in the Mission, or order), stir in a teaspoon of vanilla extract after adding the butter at the end.Nutritional values are based on one of four servings.