How to use corn in late summer desserts, from refreshing ice cream to seasonal fruit buckles

An expert chef offers tips on how to incorporate this seasonal favorite in various sugary, satisfying treats

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published August 30, 2022 5:00PM (EDT)

Corn on the cob (Getty Images/Arx0nt)
Corn on the cob (Getty Images/Arx0nt)

Corn is summer's hottest produce item and its most versatile. The unique cultivar (which can be classified as either a vegetable or a grain, based on when it's harvested) is oftentimes prepared in savory dishes, such as arroz rojo, elote or jalapeño cornbread. It can also be enjoyed in desserts, from cakes and puddings to ice cream and even truffles!

The beauty of corn is its slight saccharine flavor, which pairs nicely with butter, heavy cream, chocolate and other key ingredients used in desserts. And so is the texture of its soft, individual kernels. The kernels can be infused into any liquid of choice — milk, plant-based alternatives, alcohol, you name it! — to add a hint of corn in traditional recipes.

Here at Salon Food, we're looking forward to closing out this season by eating a slew of corn-based goodies. To help us kickstart this endeavor, we spoke with Kathryn Gordon, chef-instructor of Pastry & Baking Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). Gordon shares a slew of handy tips and tricks on how to showcase corn in everyday desserts: 

Fresh corn is the best corn

When asked what specific varieties of corn work best in sweets, Gordon said there's no particular one. All that matters is that the corn you choose is fresh. Corn on the cob that's fresh is also vibrant in color, sweet and juicy, making it perfect for preparing in summer desserts.

To spot a fresh ear of corn, look for a bright green husk that's tightly wrapped around the corn and slightly damp to the touch. The corn itself should also feel firm — simply give the corn a light squeeze through the husk, but don't peel back the husk and then check the corn kernels as that will spoil its beautiful hue and freshness.   

As for storing newly bought corn, Gordon recommends stashing them in the refrigerator so that they don't dry out. Unhusked ears of corn can be kept loose in the vegetable crisper while husked corn should be kept in a plastic bag for extra protection. Keep in mind that refrigerated corn stays fresh for up to two days. Afterwards, the corn should be moved to the freezer.

"I love sweet corn best when it's been recently picked and you can just eat it raw off the cob," Gordon says. "If I was not eating or cooking the corn within 24 hours off the stalk, I would refrigerate the corn for storage but also, then tend to slice off the kernels and pan-sauté them before folding into a dessert."

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Sometimes life gets hectic and prevents us from keeping track of our fresh corn. For "older" corn that's dry and shriveled up, Gordon says she likes to "boil it briefly or try to coax more flavor out of the corn by lightly grilling it first, cooling it a bit and then slicing off the kernels."

Corn-infused desserts

Corn is starchy, creamy and sweet, which is why it "adapts well to savory and sweet foods on a complimentary level," Gordon explains. The starchy flavors, in particular, work exceptionally well with various fats, such as butter, coconut and cream. Desserts, like corn-infused pudding, crème brulee, panna cotta, ice cream, ganache or cheesecake, are just a few recipes Gordon suggests making. 

"Corn also does well being baked in a corn-flavored liquid," she continues. "Personally, I like the texture, colors and fiber of corn so I often add some into the dessert as well, such as to fold in fresh corn kernels into corn ice cream or my waffle batter."

Corn-flavored liquids, like "corn milk," are made via an infusion. The resulting liquid is then used in lieu of regular milk or buttermilk in recipes for cupcakes, fruit buckles, pancakes, custards and puddings.   

To make an infusion, start by "scraping off the kernels from a cob and adding them into the liquid in a recipe (such as milk)." Gordon adds, "The infusion can be done with a bit of time and gentle heating then turning off the heat to steep the flavor of the corn into the liquid before straining out the corn.  Then re-measure the liquid and proceed with the recipe."

If you're running low on time, Gordon recommends blending the corn liquid (once cool) to speed up the corn flavor extraction process and allow the liquid to become more concentrated. The longer the liquid blends, the smoother the mixture becomes. However, additional straining may be required if you don't like too much texture in your dessert.

Another corntastic dessert to try

For the more adventurous bakers and die-hard corn fans, Gordon suggests making a cornbread with corn-infused milk. Pieces of the bread can then be pan-toasted in butter and served warm alongside corn-infused ice cream (with fresh kernels folded in) and summer fruits (like sliced peaches, blackberries or figs) macerated with light brown sugar and vanilla. To top it all off, garnish the bread with some caramelized popcorn or fresh sprigs of mint!

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By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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Cakes Corn Food Grain Ice Cream Summer Summer Desserts Vegetable