For many years, my mom’s parents grew sweet corn in their garden. They cooked it down and froze it, and no matter the time of year, my grandma always managed to find “the last carton” for me when I visited. As one of many grandkids, corn became my special food. (For other grandkids, the “special food” was applesauce or alphabet pasta or ice cream or frozen peaches.) What can I say? Like a good Midwestern gal, I love corn.
I love corn on the cob, off the cob, in salad with black beans and tomatoes, in cornbread and corn pudding, sprinkled with lime juice and chili powder, doused in butter, in chowder, salted, unsalted or fresh from the farmers market. Last summer I went to a Sweet Corn Festival and ate four ears of corn in one sitting. You see what I mean about loving corn? But I’d never had it in dessert form. So when I kept hearing about sweet corn ice cream — online, from my brother or at fancy restaurants — I decided to take matters into my own hands.
I used a recipe from a cookbook I have, The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern. I made a few tweaks to the recipe because
- 1) I was short on heavy cream (I substituted some half-and-half) and
- 2) some of the recipes I saw online called for cinnamon and vanilla, which helped it taste more like dessert and less like frozen corn chowder to me.
Sweet Corn Ice Cream, a la Gramercy Tavern
- 4 ears fresh corn, shucked
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups heavy cream (I used 1 cup cream and 1 cup half-and-half)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 9 large egg yolks
- Splash of vanilla and sprinkle of cinnamon (optional; added right at the end of the custard-cooking)
- Slice off the kernels and place in a large saucepan. Break the cobs up and throw those in too, with the milk, cream and 1/2 cup of sugar. Bring all to a boil (and stir it some), then turn off the heat.
- Let cool slightly. Remove the cobs.
- Puree the corn mixture with an immersion mixer or blender, then let sit for 1 hour.
- Bring mixture back to simmer (in your saucepan), then turn off heat. In a separate bowl, whisk your egg yolks and the remaining sugar. Add a cup of the hot corn mixture, whisking constantly so you don’t cook/curdle your eggs. Add the yolk mixture to the saucepan, whisking, and cook over medium-low heat until the custard thickens (about 7 minutes).
- Pass through a sieve, pressing down on the mush to get all the delicious corn milk out.
- Cool, cover and chill in the fridge for 4 hours.
- Freeze in an ice cream maker. If you don’t have one, you could use this method to make ice cream in your freezer. If your ice cream decides that 80 degrees is too warm to work right, you may also need the above method.
Lessons and notes: Don’t you think this would be good with a little cayenne pepper added, for some subtle heat? Or maybe with caramel sauce? (It’d be caramel corn ice cream!) Or maybe with a lime syrup drizzled on top? The cookbook also suggested some really fancy “composed desserts” with cornmeal crepes, orange-butter sauce, orange-cornmeal shortbread or cornmeal-nut biscotti — but seriously? I just made corn ice cream. I’m not making twelve other things to go on top of it.
But how does it taste? Sweet corn ice cream tastes like a custardy, corny ice cream. You definitely taste the corn, but it’s mild and sweet. The nine egg yolks with the cream and milk lead to a smooth flavor and texture. If I were going to serve this to people, I’d probably tell them to try it first, THEN reveal what it was. They’d be pretty confused because of the lovely yellow color, the rich custard flavor and the hint of a mystery ingredient. Then they’d be all, “WHAAA?! CORN? ICE CREAM?! YOU CRAZY!”
BONUS: I reserved about a cup of the corn mush (which was left in the strainer), and I think I might use it to make these sweet corn pancakes from Smitten Kitchen.
ALSO: Are you ever conflicted about what to do with all your egg whites, after separating the yolks? The Hubbs made an egg-white scramble for us with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Nothing goes to waste around here.