Two weeks ago I flew to Ohio to take my daughter to college. In between visiting the Container Store and Target, we stopped at famed Columbus ice cream parlor Jeni’s. I was feeling adventurous in this new part of the country, so instead of asking for my usual, coffee or mint chip, I ordered ice cream made with corn and black raspberries. It was well worth the risk. This ice cream had all of the sweet and slightly earthy flavor of my favorite corn muffins, with the creamy coolness of old-fashioned frozen custard. After driving through the cornfields to and from campus, I flew back to New York. And when I drove through the cornfields of Bridgehampton, the lightbulb went on. We have sweet corn here. I could make corn ice cream at home.
But ice cream is a pain to make. You have to cook eggs and milk together, getting them to just the right temperature and consistency, for the ice cream base. If you don’t heat it properly, it will never thicken. If you overcook it, you will get a curdled mess. Maybe you can tell I’ve had my share of ice cream failures. So I decided on quicker, more foolproof frozen yogurt, which I had been making with ease for a few months.
I cooked some corn in half-and-half and sugar, combined it with thick, full-fat Greek yogurt, and ran it through my new Cusinart machine, purchased at Williams-Sonoma in Bridgehampton at the beginning of the summer. Voila, I had a new way to enjoy the sweet corn crop that will be harvested around here through September.
If you are used to eating corn along with barbecued chicken and ribs, corn-as-dessert might seem weird. But if you think about it, it makes sense. The sugar content in corn makes it as sweet as some of the fruit available at the farm stands now. In Mexico and South America, where corn has been a staple for thousands of years, it appears in puddings, cakes, and frozen desserts as well as savory dishes.
Not only is corn sweet, but its delicate, milky flavor tempers the tartness of yogurt. For insurance, I add a half-teaspoon of vanilla to signal to my taste buds that this is not a side dish. Purchase your corn from a reliable farm stand where it is picked at peak sweetness. Use it on the day you buy it, before its sugars have time to turn into starch. After briefly cooking it in half-and-half, puree the corn and cream mixture and push it through a fine strainer. This way, you’ll have a smooth frozen dessert and won’t get kernels stuck in your teeth.
Stick with full-fat yogurt. Low- and non-fat yogurts produce an icy mixture rather than a smooth and creamy one. (I said this was an easy recipe, not a diet dessert). Thicker Greek-style yogurt will give you the thickest, richest frozen result. A little bit of flavorless vodka will also prevent ice crystals from forming in the freezer.
Sweet Corn Yogurt is delicious as is, but if you see some berries on sale next to the corn, you may want to add them to the mix. Uncooked berries will freeze into icy pellets, so cook them briefly with some sugar and then cool completely before stirring them into your freshly churned yogurt.
Sweet Corn and Blueberry Frozen Yogurt
2 large or 3 small ears fresh sweet corn, husked and cleaned
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup sugar
2 cups full-fat Greek-style yogurt
2 tablespoons vodka
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and picked over
1. Cut corn from cobs. You should have about 2 cups. Combine corn kernels, cobs, half-and-half, and ¾ cup sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand 20 minutes. Discard corn cobs. Blend corn and half-and-half mixture in a blender until smooth. Press through a fine strainer and into a bowl. Refrigerate until cold.
2. Combine the blueberries and remaining ¼ cup sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low, mashing some of the berries, until it comes to a boil. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until cold.
3. Whisk together the yogurt, the corn mixture, the vodka, and the vanilla. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.
4. When the ice cream is frozen, gently mix in the blueberries by hand. Serve immediately or transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 days before serving.