First, a promise: Your guests will inhale this custard. They will scrape the bottoms of their ramekins with spoons, fingers, tongues, whatever it takes. They will probably also moan and refer to deities. Just so you know.
Meanwhile, there's been a lot of talk lately about commingling the sweet and savory (you know, black pepper ice cream, bacon toffee, and so on). Well, as this luscious concoction shows, those worlds have never been completely separate. Salt, which is a crucial (but background) ingredient in virtually every savory and sweet dish, plays an important role in this one. Butterscotch, which as you might imagine is made with butter and Scotch whisky, also leans heavily on salt for its unique and unbeatable flavor. I especially love this dessert because it transports me immediately back in time to my grandfather's candy dish.
See all pecan recipes.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Put the heavy cream, lemon zest, vanilla bean and seeds, salt, and cardamom in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil, remove the pan from the heat, and set aside to steep.
In another saucepan, heat the butter and brown sugar over medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble. Stir in the Scotch, and cook until the whisky has evaporated, about 1 minute.
Put the egg yolks in a mixing bowl and add a little bit of the butter and brown sugar mixture, whisking to temper the yolks. Add more, bit by bit, and whisk until it has all been incorporated. Strain the cream mixture into the bowl and whisk to combine.
Put eight 4-ounce ramekins in a large roasting pan, leaving space between them. Fill the ramekins all the way up with the cream mixture. Pour hot tap water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the ramekins. Cover with foil and place in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil, and bake until they are just set, about 35 minutes.
While the pots de crème are in the oven, make the pecans: Put an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat and add the pecans, Scotch, butter, granulated sugar, and salt, and cook until the Scotch has evaporated. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast the pecans until deep golden, 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let cool.
Carefully remove the pots de crème from the oven (watch for sloshing, as that water is obviously very hot) and let them cool in the roasting pan for at least 40 minutes. When the pots de crème are cool, wrap each one in plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve.
To serve, place a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream on each pot, if desired, or just top each with 2 or 3 pecans.