I grew up outside of Washington, DC, which in my memory means mostly two things for summer: swampy temperatures (fun if you’re a kid with access to a swimming pool, less fun if you’re a curly-haired grownup) and sweet corn. By this time of year, roadside stands and supermarkets all throughout the Mid-Atlantic were already stacked sky-high with Silver Queens, Honey Creams, Butter & Sugars. Steamed, lightly salt-and-peppered corn cobs served with butter: that’s summer.
Unless you’re six, as I was one summer, and you lose your two front teeth. Then you are out of luck. (It’s with a mild tinge of regret that I didn’t know about this recipe sooner, though I’m not sure I can recommend stove top and hand-mixer use to a six-year-old.)
And sometimes, even if you have all your teeth, you want something a little more elegant out of your sweet corn. A dainty-to-eat but full flavored side to serve to company. I mean, what if the Queen of England stops over? Her Majesty won’t want to eat corn on the cob like a typewriter, dinging when she gets to one end. (Although that’s also true of anyone born after 1985, because they won’t know what typewriters are at all. We are living in the future.)
That’s where this genteel treatment comes to the rescue. This is a company’s coming, break out the china, Queen-worthy recipe. I’ll explain:
1) the Wow factor. As in Wow, these are so delicious and Wow, aren’t they just so lovely? Also, people love individual portions. I don’t know why, but they do.
2) The 2/3 C heavy cream. I have a not-very-strict rule that heavy cream is for dinner party situations and not for regular consumption. It gets broken quite a bit, that rule.
3) While the dish isn’t difficult to make at all, it has steps and you’ll have to use a few tools. Which you’ll have to clean afterward. (I don’t want to scare you off, but let’s just be realistic. You and I probably won’t be making this for ourselves at 8:30 on a Tuesday.)
4) You can do the messy parts ahead of time and have a sparkly kitchen for your friends to hang out in while you oh-so-casually whip up some soufflés. (See item one: Wow factor.)
The recipe comes from April Bloomfield (chef/co-owner of the Spotted Pig and the Breslin, in NYC), and in the Food & Wine article where I found it a few years back, she called it a corn pudding. (The name put me off a little, frankly. Who wants to eat a savory pudding? With corn in it? There are iterations all over the internet, so somebody does.) I realized, though, her recipe is actually a classic soufflé technique, and maybe Bloomfield was worried she’d put people off calling it that, since soufflés seem fancy (feed it to the Queen!) and have an unfounded reputation of being tricky and out of reach for home cooks. They’re not. You can prove it! (Also, they don’t really fall, these. They’ll de-poof just the slightest bit, but nothing terribly dramatic.)
Here’s what you get for your endeavors: a springy-light puff, airy and creamy all at once, with the most poetic sweet corn taste that the season can produce. The soufflés are lovely served with seared scallops (as the article paired them) or grilled fish, something simple (and quick!) to go with the uncomplicated, summery taste of the corn.
And, as an added bonus, you won’t even need your two front teeth to enjoy it.
Sweet Corn Soufflés
adapted from Food & Wine magazine; serves four
- 1 2/3 C corn kernels (cut from about 4 medium ears of sweet corn)
- 2/3 C milk (use whatever type you have)
- 2/3 C heavy cream
- 1 Tbsp butter, unsalted
- 1 1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt (plus an additional pinch)
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter four 8 oz ramekins.
In a medium saucepan, heat the dairy and corn over medium-high heat until simmering (watch carefully so it doesn’t boil over); lower flame and continue to simmer for 2 minutes. Take off heat and let cool slightly.
In a blender or food processor, purée half of the corn mixture. Add it back to the reserved (unprocessed) corn mixture.
In another medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk (it will look clumpy) for two minutes. Slowly whisk in the corn mixture until thickened, one minute. Whisk in salt. Remove from heat and let cool five minutes. Whisk in egg yolks and continue to cool, about 15 minutes.
(You can make the recipe up to this point; stick in the fridge overnight or leave it out at room temp, covered, for about an hour. Proceed.)
In a clean, non-reactive bowl, use a hand mixer to beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until firm peaks form. (If you pull the whisk from the whites and they stand up on end, you’ve reached the firm peak stage.) Mix one-third of the whites into the corn mixture to lighten it (this technique is also referred to as “sacrificing” the whites). Gently fold in the rest of the whites.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared ramekins. Set in a small casserole or cake pan and add water to reach about a third up the sides of the ramekins. (This creates a water bath to cook the soufflé gently and evenly.) Bake for 25-30 minutes, until puffed, browned, and slightly jiggly in the centers.
Note: if very fresh corn is hard to come by where you live, this recipe works well with good-quality frozen. (It might actually be tastier than using older fresh corn that’s gone to starch.) I’ve used Cascadian Farms brand with a really good result.