My family has always taken our corn very seriously.
I spent most of my childhood growing up in New Jersey, where, contrary to popular belief, I very rarely encountered Mafia bosses in track suits, fist pumping Guidos, or table-flipping housewives (although I think my mom came close a few times.) Anyone whose experience with New Jersey is limited to aggressive driving on the turnpike or the Continental Terminal at Newark Airport might be surprised to learn that it has so much more to offer, such as world-class produce.
It is called the "Garden State", after all, right?
Summertime in New Jersey meant visits with my mom or dad to local farmstands out in "the country" at least a few times each week. Some of the farmstands were larger and staffed, but there were several with an honor system, where you were trusted to pay for whatever you took home with you. I often wonder if those still exist, what with the whole "honor" and "trust" stuff being hard to come by these days. Anyone know?
We would return with bushels of fresh juicy peaches, bright green beans, ripe beefsteak tomatoes, and big brown bags filled with at least a dozen ears of sweet Jersey corn. The peaches would be baked into pies (my mom makes the BEST pies), sliced fresh for dessert, or peeled and frozen for use throughout the year. The tomatoes belonged to my dad, who would eat them sliced with a little salt or as part of his BLTs for weekend lunch. Green beans were always steamed, but I also liked to steal a few from the colander and snack on them raw--still do as a matter of fact.
The corn, on the other hand, was a much bigger deal. My family would have fresh corn on the cob as part of our dinner almost every. single. night. during the summer. It didn't matter what else was on the menu--we would still have corn. Grilled chicken and corn? Makes perfect sense. Lasagna and corn? Still made sense in the Biederman household. Even when my mom got braces, when I was in fourth grade, she would still serve the corn and just cut her kernels off the cob with a serrated knife. I always thought that looked cool, so I would do the same, even without braces. I'm a very skilled kernel-cutter-offer now.
Our corn was always cooked the same way: boiled for 6-8 minutes, then slathered with butter and salt. My dad would always have two ears, especially if the corn was the white kind with the petite kernels. This is his particular favorite varietal, the one that he deems the sweetest. I'm more partial to the fat yellow ears of corn, as I always find those to be sweeter, but I don't dare start that debate with my dad. That could take hours to resolve (I know this from experience) and, let's face it, dads always get to be right in those situations. You really couldn't go wrong either way though. New Jersey corn is unmatched in my opinion.
It wasn't until I really got into cooking, just after college, that I started cooking corn in other ways and experimenting with it as an ingredient. Needless to say, the ears that we get here in Las Vegas don't hold a cornstalk to those in N.J., so they require a bit more bells and whistles during preparation. I almost always grill my corn in the husk now, which provides that nice smoky flavor and slightly chars the kernels. I'm also a big fan of a creamless sweet corn bisque, corn and zucchini fritters, and about 835 different variations of corn-based salsa that I have created over the years.
Recently, I have started seeing recipes for corn ice cream or corn gelato popping up here and there. Intriguing? You bet!
Now, before you write this off as a recipe that just sounds too odd to taste good, just think about it for a minute. Corn is naturally sweet, right? Corn goes well with milk and cream in recipes like corn pudding, right? Julie has never steered you wrong with an ice cream recipe in the past, right? (Don't answer that if you disagree.)
I was really, REALLY happy with the results of this recipe. The corn flavor comes through perfectly, yielding a rich, sweet, and smooth ice cream. I decided to do a play on the butter and salt that usually accompanies corn on the cob, so I made up some simple salted butter cookies as a garnish. I might have ended up eating a few or eight of these on their own. They were really yummy.
- Sorry to sound like The Barefoot Contessa here, but the Salted Butter Cookies are an example of a recipe where the use of "good" butter will make a huge difference in flavor. I used Lurpak for mine, but Plugra or even Challenge would also work well.
- Sprinkling additional salt on the cookies before baking is completely optional. They will already have a slightly salty taste to them -- it just depends on your preferred level of saltiness.
- The cookies can be prepared in advance and frozen, sealed in a zip-top bag, for up to two weeks.
- The ice cream tastes the best eaten withing the first few days of preparation, but it will keep well in an air-tight container for several weeks.
Sweet Summer Corn Ice Cream with Salted Butter Cookies
For the Sweet Summer Corn Ice Cream:
3 large ears sweet corn, husked
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cinnamon stick
6 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream or half and half
For the Salted Butter Cookies:
10 tablespoons European-style salted butter (such as Lurpak), softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 large egg
2 cups flour
Fleur de sel or coarse sea salt for sprinkling (optional)
Prepare the ice cream: Using a serrated knife, slice the kernels off of the corn cobs into a large saucepan. Break the corn cobs in half, and add them to the saucepan. Pour the milk over the corn, add the cinnamon stick, and set the saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally, cover the saucepan, and turn off the heat. Allow the mixture to steep for 1 hour.
Remove the corn cobs and cinnamon stick from the mixture and discard. Using either an immersion blender or a traditional blender, pulse the milk and corn kernels until the corn is broken up into small pieces.
Set a mesh strainer over a large bowl, and pour the mixture over the strainer, pressing gently on the solids to realease as much of the liquid as possible. Disard the solids.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 1/2 cup of sugar, and the salt. In a large saucepan, combine the milk mixture, the cream, and the remaining sugar. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Temper the egg yolks by gradually pouring half of the hot milk mixture into the bowl, whisking constantly. Gradually return this mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens (do not boil!), 3-4 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a heat-proof bowl and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the custard and chill until very cold, at least 6 hours.
Freeze the ice cream in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze until firm enough to scoop and serve.
Prepare the cookies: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the salt and the egg, and beat until smooth, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the flour until combined.
Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a flat disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and lightly flour a work surface. Roll one of the disks of dough out to a 1/4-inch thickness. Using a round, fluted, or shaped small (1-2 inches) cookie cutter, cut out shapes and transfer them to the prepared baking sheets. If desired, brush the tops of the cookies lightly with water and top each cookie with a few grains of sea salt or Fleur de Sel. Repeat the process with the remaining dough, re-rolling scraps as necessary. Bake the cookies for 7-9 minutes, until set and very lightly golden. Allow to cool, and serve with the Sweet Summer Corn Ice Cream.