Corn is sweet, so why not turn it into a dessert?

The directions for cooking fresh corn usually read like this: “Put on the water, head to your backyard, pick and shuck corn, drop in pot.”

Fresh picked and fresh cooked still is the superior way, especially if you get your ears from your garden or a local farmer. When slathered with butter and sprinkled with coarse salt, it’s the kind of summer food I dream about.

However, most of the corn we buy today has been modified. Through selective breeding and improved strains, corn has become sweeter and sweeter, and it retains that sweetness much longer before the sugar turns to starch. The corn I buy today in the supermarket will remain sweet for sometime. And who knows how long it took to be shipped to my grocer?

As Tema Flanagan writes in her book, “Corn: A Savor the South Cookbook”: “The sweet corn of today isn’t the same as it was even a generation or two ago. It used to be that fresh-picked sweet corn was a much more perishable treat, with the kernels losing their tender sweetness within a day or so of picking.”

She continues: “These days, as you probably know, you can buy fresh corn and store it for several days in the refrigerator without any noticeable loss in quality.”

The old-school varieties of corn you might have grown up with are now called normal sugar corn. They’re hard to find if you don’t grow them or seek out a farmer who does.

Today, it’s all about the sweet.

So, in this sweet corn season why not push it a bit further and turn corn into dessert.

My first thought was cornbread. Often, it’s way too sweet. I put that to advantage, stirring up a moist cornmeal cake with corn kernels and golden raisins to nudge it even further into the dessert category.

Then I turned to the stove and made a rice-and-corn pudding. Once you taste it, you’ll say, of course these things go together. It was modeled after a superbly creamy rice pudding sampled at a recent Southern Foodways Summer Symposium in Charlotte, N.C. The symposium’s focus was Latino food and culture in the new South.

The dish was featured at a breakfast, and had a trace of savory and spicy flavors. The sweetness of the pudding and its tart pineapple topping was most welcome.

Corporate chef Scott Wallen from Harper’s Restaurant Group in Charlotte, who prepared it, said it was based on Arroz con Leche, the Latino take on rice pudding that always includes sweetened condensed milk for creamy richness. He used short-grain Arborio rice and cooked it risotto-style. I simplified the method and added some fresh sweet corn.

The dish was a collaboration with the Latin American chefs preparing our breakfast. “We wanted something sweet, and a palate cleanser,” he said. “Prepared with cayenne, salt, cilantro, lime juice and crumbled queso fresco cheese, it’s typically served with a rich, fatty meat, such as pork.” The inspiration for the pineapple salad came from a side dish for a savory meal.

Ice cream is another sweet way to highlight corn. On a trip in Mexico, I swooned over corn ice cream from a roadside vendor. I don’t include a recipe but check out a corn-flavored ice cream by Pittsburgh Ice Cream Co. next month at Market Street Grocery at Market Square, Downtown. Nathan Holmes, owner of the ice cream company, churns and sells his ice creams there and makes them from just about anything (within reason).

Once the organic corn comes in for the season, he’s planning to make brown buttered sweet corn ice cream. Right now, he’s churning up icy treats for Picklesburgh, which will be held on July 28 and 29 on the Roberto Clemente Bridge. The flavors are pickled strawberry sorbet, lemony bread-and-butter jalapeno, dill pickle and pickled ginger ice cream. 

Miriam Rubin: or on Twitter @mmmrubin.

Rice and Corn Pudding with Pineapple (Miriam Rubin)

Rice and Corn Pudding With Pineapple

PG tested

The fresh pineapple cuts through the richness. Don’t like it spicy? Leave out the chilies. Chef Scott Wallen who made the dish suggested charring the corn in the salad, a splendid idea. Do it if you have a few more minutes.

3/4 cup Arborio rice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups whole milk

1 (14-ounces) can sweetened condensed milk

1½ cups corn kernels

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling

Pineapple-Corn Salad

1/2 pineapple, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 cup corn kernels

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Pinch of cinnamon

Put rice and salt in heavy Dutch oven. Add 5 cups water and bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, 10 minutes, until tender with a little bite. Drain and return to Dutch oven.

Add milk, condensed milk, corn, vanilla and cinnamon. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring often, 12 to 14 minutes, until thickened and no longer milky looking. Transfer to large bowl, cover and refrigerate until fairly cool. If it’s gotten very thick or sticky, stir in 1/2 cup more milk.

Meanwhile, mix together ingredients for pineapple-corn salad. Cover and refrigerate.

Spoon pudding into serving bowls and, using a small strainer, dust cinnamon over each. Serve topped with pineapple salad.

Makes 6 servings.

— Miriam Rubin

Sweet Corn Cake (Miriam Rubin)

Sweet Corn Cake

PG tested

This was inspired from a cake in Carla Hall’s wonderful book “Carla’s Comfort Food.” She added diced membrillo (quince paste). It’s a very tender, moist cake. Use fine cornmeal, such as Quaker because stone-ground cornmeal tends to be too coarse.

1 cup fine cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1¼ cups corn kernels

1/2 cup golden raisins

3/4 cup whole milk

3/4 cup canola oil

1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

In large bowl, stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add corn and raisins and stir to mix.

In medium bowl, whisk milk, oil and egg. Add to dry ingredients and stir to blend. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until puffed, lightly browned and a toothpick comes out dry. Transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings.

— Miriam Rubin


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