Today: Sweet corn is begging to be put into dessert. Here's how to make that happen.
This time of year the corn is so sweet and milky, I can hardly bring myself to do anything to it, even cook it. It's delicious straight off the cob, tossed with nothing more than a little salt and pepper, but growing up, the corn around my grandmother's table was always creamed. I don't really remember it any other way, but as I began cooking for myself, I never creamed corn. I just wanted to let corn be corn. I roasted it, grilled it, and sautéed it -- I did anything but cream it. The fine application of cream to sweet corn lay dormant for years, passed over as old fashioned. My corn was too cool for cream. It hung with hot peppers and lime.
Then earlier this summer I went strawberry picking outside Nashville and the next day some friends and I made a Sunday supper with what we had picked. The dessert was a sweet corn pot de crème topped with the fresh berries. I remember kicking myself for not having thought of it first. It was that good. All at once I recalled the sweet corn muffins, caramel and kettle corn, corn pudding, and my own grandmother's creamed corn. Why had I shoved corn so thoroughly into the savory box?
From that point on, I couldn't stop dreaming up corn-flavored desserts. It's a natural conclusion, really -- they don't call it sweet corn for nothing. So I started experimenting with ice cream flavors inspired by everything from caramel corn to corn with jalapeño butter. Then it hit me. My grandmother knew something, and I knew something too. And then it happened, they combined: the creamed corn of my youth collided with the slightly caramelized and peppery corn of my adulthood. And this ice cream was born.
Sweet corn ice cream isn't anything too new, but the addition of black pepper to this creamy, custard-based ice cream makes it something special. The peppery bite makes it interesting for adventurous types such as myself, and the warm, earthy sweetness of the corn keeps it classically delicious enough for people with vanilla leanings.
Makes 3 cups
3 ears of corn
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
5 egg yolks
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon fresh grated black pepper
1. Heat oven to 450° F.
2. Cut kernels off of cob, halving and reserving the cobs, and toss it all with the olive oil, salt, and brown sugar on a sheet tray. Roast at 450° for 10-15 minutes or until corn has begun to caramelize.
3. Meanwhile, whisk the white sugar with the egg yolks until thick, pale, and creamy.
4. Once corn is done, heat milk and cream together in a large stockpot over medium until just steaming and bubbling around the edges but not boiling. Add the corn, cobs and all.
5. Bring corn and cream mixture to a simmer. Once simmering, remove from heat, cover, and let steep 15 minutes.
6. Remove cobs, strain liquid into a clean bowl, pressing on solids to get the most out of it. Clean out the pot and add the milk mixture back into it.
7. Little by little whisk some of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks to temper them. After you've added about 1 cup of hot milk and the yolks are warm, pour it slowly into the rest of the milk mixture, stirring constantly.
8. Cook this custard until it's thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain one more time into a clean bowl, cool, and refrigerate covered for at least 3 hours and up to 8 until completely chilled.
9. Churn according to manufacturer's instructions. When done, pour into a container, place plastic wrap directly on the surface, and chill in the freezer to set.
Photos by Beth Kirby