Make caramel syrup: melt 1/4 CUP sugar in heavy skillet, stirring till rich brown.
Remove from heat.
Slowly add 1/2 CUP boiling water.
Return to heat; stir till smooth.
Combine 1/4 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in saucepan; blend in 2 cups milk.
Stir in caramel syrup.
Cook and stir over medium heat till thick.
Cook 2 minutes more.
Add 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla.
Pour into bowls.
Add Caramel Trim.
Caramel Trim: Melt 1/2 cup sugar in heavy skillet over low heat, stirring constantly.
When golden, remove from heat, immediately drizzle over puddings.
The syrup hardens to crackly "candy."