My first attempt at infusing a custard with fresh bay leaves was a disaster. Not fully aware of their potency, I doubled the amount a wiser cook would use, resulting in a bitter, medicinal-tasting mess, promptly thrown away.
Failure is an excellent teacher.
The complexity of bay causes the uninitiated to arch an eyebrow and demand "what am I tasting?" At once warmly spicy and bright, it must be used with discretion lest its perfume become too forceful; the allure is in its suggestion, its whisper.
Because this custard's so richly flavored, it really skyrockets when paired with something sweet and tangy: candied kumquats, (blood) orange segments, chopped (roasted) pineapple, or strawberries macerated in sugar.
Bay Laurel Custard
2 c half-and-half
2 fresh bay laurel leaves, cracked to release their flavor and coarsely chopped
1/2 c sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 lg egg
3 lg yolks
1/4 tsp vanilla
In a heavy saucepan, scald half-and-half with bay and salt. Cover pot and let steep for 30 minutes. Return to a simmer.
Combine egg, yolks, and sugar and whisk for about a minute to combine. Temper in the hot half-and-half, pour through a fine-meshed strainer (discarding the bay leaves), and add vanilla.
Pour mixture into four 4-0z.ramekins (if you own a blow torch, briefly pass its flame an inch from the tops of the ramekins to shoo away any bubbles. Otherwise, use a blow-dryer set on low, or prick with a toothpick).
Place ramekins in a water bath, cover with foil pricked in a couple spots with a knife, and bake at 320 degrees for 25-40 minutes (time varies depending upon the heat of the custard starting out). After 25 minutes, carefully remove the foil (danger: steam!) and lightly tap a ramekin. When there's a dime-sized jiggle in the middle of the custard, remove from the oven, lift off the foil, remove from bath, and cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate at least two hours before serving.