Serious Eats: Recipes

The Sweet Side of Corn: Sweet Corn Cupcakes with Brown Butter Frosting

I love corn. When it’s in season, I sneak fresh sweet corn into every meal that I can. Before it goes out of season, I cut a bunch off of the cob to keep in the freezer, and when that runs out, I content my urges with store-bought frozen or canned. I eat the fresh stuff straight off the cob or use the stripped kernels of all varieties in quesadillas, salsas, salads, soups, stuffings, casseroles and pastas. I even enjoy corn in desserts, but it wasn’t always that way.

My first encounter with corn in a sweet context came perhaps 20 years ago, in the form of pancakes—delicate, fresh kernels had been folded into the batter before it was dolloped into a skillet of hot bacon fat. I was appalled: not at the bacon grease (even then I inherently understood that just about everything could be elevated by association with bacon), but at the corn.

Where did my stepmother get off putting corn in our pancakes? Didn’t she know that corn was meant to be buttered and salted and served alongside meat and potatoes? This was heresy. Regardless, I was stuck: eat those vile pancakes or go hungry. Never one to choose the latter, I slathered the things with butter, doused them with syrup and reluctantly tucked in. Sweet, tender, and somehow even a bit luxurious, those pancakes were a revelation. Corn, I suddenly realized, is just as at home with sweet as it is with savory.

Making Sweets with Corn

Since then I’ve dabbled with corn in all sorts of sweet contexts: ice cream, flan, panna cotta, puddings, sauces, and cakes. No matter the vehicle, corn imparts unique flavor, texture and color. Its sweet, subtle flavor is pleasing on its own, but properly balanced so that it is not overwhelmed, corn works quite well with other flavors, too—pecans, thyme, ginger, and blueberries being some of my favorites.

For the cupcake recipe that follows, however, I opted to keep things basic, pairing fresh corn with its natural partner, butter. Light, moist, and chock full of corn and butter flavor, these cupcakes are a tasty way to celebrate the gift that comes from a cob.

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