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Oeufs a la Neige
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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.