Ripe summer corn is as sweet as many of the fruits we habitually make into dessert, but rarely do we see it at the end of the meal.
This isn’t at all true in Mexico, where corn ice cream is a year-round tradition. Or in Vietnam and Thailand, where the kernels are often stirred into sugary coconut-milk puddings. Or in the Philippines, where they’re paired with sweet and milky shaved ice.
But here in the United States, the kernels are generally savory fare, even though we use plenty of cornmeal in pastries and cakes.
Not so at my house. During the height of corn season, I try to eat as much fresh corn as possible, desserts included. Homemade corn ice cream is a staple, and has been ever since my very first spoonful.
That was at Gramercy Tavern in New York, when I was working on a cookbook with Claudia Fleming, the restaurant’s pastry chef at the time. She handed me a taste directly from the ice cream machine and made me guess what it was. The flavor was familiar, but I couldn’t place it.
Fresh corn, she told me. Like creamed corn, but sweeter and better.
To get the most flavor out of the ears, Fleming steeped both kernels and cobs in hot milk and cream. Then she puréed the kernels before making them into a runny custard. The resulting ice cream was silky smooth and velvety.
This recipe is based on hers, although I’ve made a few tweaks, including lightening it up by pulling back on the egg yolks.
Since the ice cream itself uses so few ingredients, wait until you can get really good, sweet, plump ears of corn. Taste a kernel before committing yourself. If your ears are on the less sweet side, save them for the savory parts of the meal where it matters a little less.
Fleming, who abides by the mantra “what grows together goes together,” sometimes pairs her corn ice cream with blackberry compote. Here, I do, too, seasoning the fruit with fragrant lemon verbena, or lemon zest if you can’t find the herb. (Hint: It’s easy to grow, even in a pot on a partly shady deck.)
Or use the corn ice cream in a hot fudge sundae. Corn and fudge sauce, it turns out, make an excellent combination. But even unadorned, this ice cream deserves to be the golden end of the meal.
Sweet Corn Ice Cream with Blackberry Verbena Sauce
Using a large knife, slice the kernels off the corn cobs and place into a large saucepan. Break cobs in half and add to pot along with milk, cream and ½ cup sugar. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring, then remove from heat. Let stand to infuse for 1 hour, then discard corn cobs.
Using an immersion or regular blender, purée kernel mixture. Return mixture to a simmer, then turn off heat. In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks, 1/8 teaspoon salt and another ¼ cup of sugar. Add a cup of hot cream mixture to yolks, stirring constantly so they don’t curdle. Add yolk mixture to saucepan, stirring. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until custard thickens enough to coat the spoon, about 10 minutes.
Pass custard through a fine sieve, pressing down hard on the solids. Discard solids. Whisk in sour cream until smooth. Let custard cool in an ice bath, then cover and chill for at least 4 hours.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine remaining 5 tablespoons sugar, lemon verbena (or zest) and ¼ cup water and bring to a simmer. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar melts and syrup thickens slightly, about 7 minutes. Add blackberries and cook for 5 to 7 minutes longer, until fruit just softens but doesn’t fall apart. Let cool, then discard verbena.
Freeze corn mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Serve with blackberries and syrup on top.
Yield: 1½ pints