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.
- For the frosting:
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks (140 grams)
- 1 teaspoon molasses (8 grams)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar (120 grams)
- For the cupcakes:
- ¼ cup unsalted butter (56 grams)
- Reserved butter solids, leftover from browning the butter for the frosting
- ¼ cup sugar (50 grams)
- ¼ cup brown sugar (50 grams)
- 1 large egg
- ¼ cup plain low-fat yogurt (60 grams)
- 3/4 cup corn kernels (120 grams)
- 1 ¼ cup cake flour (150 grams)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ cup corn kernels (80 grams)
Place the first quantity of butter in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and heat over medium-high flame. Swirl the pan occasionally to melt butter completely. Place a fine mesh strainer inside a heat-proof bowl; keep within easy reach of the stovetop. Continuing to heat, butter will foam and begin to brown around the edges. Be careful to avoid hot butter splatters. Scrape around the sides and bottom of the pan with a heat-proof spatula to prevent scorching and ensure even browning.
When butter solids (the sandy bits that accumulate in the bottom of the pan) have turned a uniform mahogany brown, remove pan from heat and immediately pour butter through nearby strainer, separating all but the finest bits of solid from the butter fat. Set strainer lined with butter solids aside. Place butter fat in the refrigerator to set while preparing cake batter.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 12 standard cupcake tins with paper liners.
In a mixing bowl, combine second quantity of butter with the reserved butter solids and the brown and regular sugars. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Add egg and beat until light and homogeneous.
In a blender or food processor, purée yogurt with first quantity of corn until smooth.
Combine flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder, and whisk to blend. Add about 1/3 of the flour to the butter and egg mixture and mix to incorporate. Mix in half of the corn purée. Add half of the remaining flour and mix just to incorporate. Add remaining corn purée. Mix in remainder of flour and stir to incorporate. Fold in the second quantity of corn kernels.
Spoon the batter evenly among the cupcake papers.
Bake cupcakes until set, 15 to 17 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan to cooling rack while preparing frosting.
Combine cooled brown butter with confectioners’ sugar and salt. Beat with mixer until light and fluffy, scraping down occasionally. Add molasses and vanilla, and mix to thoroughly incorporate. Frost cupcakes and store in an airtight container.