Is there anything more American than corn?
Living in the Midwest you can’t drive more than 20 miles without passing a corn field. And I only say 20 because I live in Chicago, but most of the Midwest it’s more like 2 miles. There’s something very folksy and Americana about corn. When you think of sweet corn you typically envision barbecues on the lawn, corn bread at chili competitions, and creamed corn on the table at Thanksgiving. It is a cultural staple. An iconic representation. It’s kitsch. I love it.
Lately, however, I feel that corn has gotten a bit of a bad rep. It’s association with high fructose corn syrup has caused people to assume it’s unhealthy and cheap. It can be considered sort of “low brow”. Which offends me not only as a midwesterner, but also because corn has such a beautifully versatile, yet instantly recognizable and unique flavor. It is perfect for any season, and any time of day (yes, even breakfast, corn and black bean omelette anyone?) It is also rich in fiber and b vitamins, so like, shut up about the starch.
It got me to thinking, how do I give corn a glow up while still highlighting it's hometown roots?
Bring it to the dessert table, of course! And, if you can, make it french. This recipe has elements of creme brulee in it’s creamy and silky custard, and clafoutis with it’s scattering of fresh fruit. It is sweet and summery, light an fruity. A wonderful addition to any dinner.
And you almost never saw it. This recipe ended up in the trash four times before I had something edible. Now that is far from the number of times I’ve had to test a recipe before I was happy enough to publish it, but it is the most times I’ve sent something directly to the trash. It was completely unconsumable. This totally baffled me because I have made custards countless times and I’ve never had this issue before. Was I crazy? What was I doing wrong?
Buttermilk. I originally was using buttermilk instead of half and half to bring out that lovely corn flavor. However, I forgot to consider that buttermilk has a very low curdling point. So it would go in the oven as a perfectly fine custard batter, and come out as something between a quiche and cottage cheese. I’m ashamed to say it took me 4 attempts of changing the ratio of eggs, adjusting the bake time, adding thickeners, and smudging my apartment against lactose intolerant demons before I realized it was the damned buttermilk.
I considered continuing to work with it to see if I could stabilize the buttermilk with a starch or something, but in the end, I just didn’t want to publish something so finicky. I couldn’t live with myself if one of my readers also had to trash all their hard work because I published a fussy custard. So I swapped out the buttermilk for half and half, and like magic, it was perfectly set custard every time thereafter. Is this a lesson in perseverance or stubbornness? Depends on who you ask.
Tips for Making Corn Custard
- For best results, use fresh corn (and the cob!). If that’s not an option, thawed frozen corn is the next best. Do not use canned corn as it is too salty.
- To get all the possible tasty sweet corn flavor in your custard, “milk” your corn. After you strain your corn, take your rubber spatula or a butter knife and run it down the cob like a squeegee to scrape all that corn juice into your custard.
- Be very careful not to get any water from the water bath in your custards! If you do they will not set. This is why I place the dish on the oven rack and then carefully pour in the water with a kettle.
- Oven temperatures vary, so keep a close eye on these so as not to over bake. The centers should be jiggly when they are removed from the oven. They will finish setting up as they cool.
- Save your strained corn to use in other dishes!
Variations on Sweet Corn Custard with Blueberries
- For a fun texture, add 1 tsp of cornmeal to the custard.
- For even more corn flavor and texture, try adding 1-2 tablespoons of the strained corn to each ramekin, with or without the blueberries.
- Mix up the fruit! Try blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries!
- Add more cayenne for a sweet and spicy combo, or garnish with freshly chopped cilantro.
- Make it a pie! Bake in a blind-baked pie or tart shell until edges are set but center still jiggles. Do not use a water bath in this situation as it will make your crust soggy.
- For more blueberry flavor, add a quick blueberry sauce. Try this homemade blueberry sauce recipe from Live Well Bake Often.
- Try it on its own without fruit for a simple but decadent dessert.
Sweet Corn Custard with Blueberries
- 5 to 6 Ceramic or stoneware ramekins
- 1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
- 1 Cup Half and Half
- 2 Ears Sweet Corn or about 2 cups frozen sweet corn kernels
- 4 Large Yolks
- 1 Large Egg
- 7 Tbs Granulated Sugar
- 1 tsp All Purpose Flour
- ½ tsp Nutmeg
- ½ tsp Vanilla
- 1 Pinch Salt
- 2 Pinches Cayenne Optional
- 1 ¼ Cups Fresh Blueberries
- Preheat oven to 300°F.
- If using fresh corn, shuck the corn and cut the kernels from the cobs. Cut the cobs into halves or thirds. If using frozen corn, make sure it is completely thawed.
- Heat heavy whipping cream, half and half, corn kernels and cobs in a saucepan just until simmering. Stir occasionally to avoid scalding the cream. Turn off heat, cover, and let steep for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, whisk together egg, yolks, sugar, four, nutmeg, salt, cayenne, and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl.
- Once steeped, strain out corn with a fine-mesh strainer into a large mixing bowl, pressing kernels and scraping cobs with a rubber spatula.
- Slowly stream half of the strained cream into the egg mixture while whisking. Once incorporated, add the tempered egg/cream mixture back into the remaining cream hile whisking. Strain again to remove any possible curdled egg.
- Evenly distribute blueberries amongst 4 to 5 small ramekins (I used 5 inch brulee ramekins). Place ramekins in a glass baking dish, making sure they sit flat.
- Pour custard evenly amongst ramekins. Custard is best if full only 1 to 1½ inches high, deeper custard may bake unevenly, risking curdling along edges.
- Place baking dish on the center rack of the oven. Using a kettle or pitcher, carefully pour water into baking dish until waterline reaches halfway up the ramekins. Be very careful not to get any water into the ramekins.
- Bake at 300°F for 25-35 minutes, rotating halfway through, until edges are set but center is jiggly. Watch closely as oven temperatures can vary.
- Allow to cool in the water, then remove the ramekins, place on a sheet pan and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before consuming. Custard is good in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
- For an interesting texture, add 1 tsp of cornmeal
- Try adding 1-2 tablespoons of the strained corn to each ramekin, with or without the blueberries
- Mix up the fruit! Try blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries!
- Try it on its own, no fruit!