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4 cups milk (do not use lowfat or nonfat)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
8 eggs, separated, room temperature

1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons water

Combine first 2 ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Scrape in
vanilla seeds; add pods. Bring to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.
Reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Whisk
yolks in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in half of milk
mixture. Return egg mixture to saucepan with milk and cook over
low heat until mixture leaves path on back of spoon when finger is
drawn across; do not boil. Strain custard through fine sieve into
bowl. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Line tray with kitchen towel. Using electric mixer, beat whites
and 1/4 cup sugar until meringue is stiff and shiny. Bring 3 to
4 inches of water to simmer in heavy deep skillet. Dip metal or
wooden spoon into meringue and lift out about 1/2 cup. Form into
rounded oval using another spoon. Using top spoon, gently scoop
meringue off bottom spoon into water. Repeat with remaining meringue
for total of 16 ovals (in batches if necessary; do not crowd).
Poach until just firm to touch, about 1 1/2 minutes per side.
Remove using slotted spoon and drain on prepared tray.

Cook remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons water in heavy small
saucepan over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Increase
heat and boil without stirring until golden brown. Using fork (or
honey spoon, if available), immediately drizzle hot caramel over
meringue in fine strings.

Divide custard among bowls. Set 2 meringues in each and serve.


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