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Put the sugar in a small frying pan, preferably non-stick, and add the water. Heat slowly, stirring gently with a metal tablespoon until the sugar has dissolved. The base of the pan will no longer feel gritty when you run the spoon over it. (Step 1)
Increase the heat under the pan and allow the syrup to bubble. As the water is driven off, the syrup will become thicker and the bubbles on the surface will get bigger. Do not stir the syrup during this time. (Step 2)
Watch the syrup carefully and when it starts to turn golden at the edges, swirl the pan to ensure even colouring. Do not stir it. When the syrup has turned a rich golden caramel colour, remove from heat. (Step 3)
Heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Pour the caramel into ramekins. Bring the milk to simmering point.
Put the eggs and yolks in a bowl with the sugar and whisk lightly together.
Gradually whisk in the hot milk. Strain into a clean jug and add the vanilla, and liqueur, if using. Pour carefully into the prepared ramekins.
Pour boiling water from the kettle into a roasting tin to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 15-20 mins until the custards are just set. Leave to cool, then chill for at least 4 hrs, or even overnight. The caramels can be made up to 3 days in advance.
To turn out each caramel, run the point of a sharp knife around the top edge of each ramekin, place a dessert plate on top and invert. Give the ramekin and plate a sharp shake and carefully remove the ramekin.