There is evidence, in the form of corn pollen grains unearthed 200 feet beneath Mexico City, that corn has been growing in the Western Hemisphere for 80,000 years. For the past few thousand, humans have been cultivating it to suit their taste. American Indians, realizing that sweet corn occurs as a spontaneous mutation of field corn, selectively bred crops for this characteristic. While they ground their starchy field corn into grain, they ate its sweet cousin fresh. Corn on the cob was born. Since then, farmers have never stopped trying to breed sweeter and sweeter ears.
Until 30 or so years ago, sweet corn had to be picked at just the right moment, before the sugary "milk" inside each kernel was converted into starch. As soon as the corn was picked, this conversion process went into high gear, so corn was at its sweetest immediately after harvesting. Then scientists began developing hybrids that would hold onto their sweetness for days after picking, allowing winter corn to be shipped from warmer to colder climates. While they were at it, they also engineered corn to be sweeter than ever. With names like Sugar Bun, Candy Korn and How Sweet It Is, today's varieties guarantee to deliver the sugar fix people crave.
You could decry this development as just another sign of America's out-of-control sweet tooth. Or use today's extra-sweet corn to make dessert. Add it to rice pudding or flan, make corn ice cream or try corn soufflés for dessert.
I used a couple of ears of corn to make a sweet corn Bundt cake. Stirring corn kernels into the batter gave my cake extra sweetness, moisture and a wonderfully chewy texture. It was rustic and satisfying on its own, but even better when I drizzled it with a buttery maple glaze. What a nice dessert to celebrate the last weeks of summer and the coming of fall.
SWEET CORN BUNDT CAKE WITH MAPLE GLAZE
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting pan
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
21/4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream
11/2 cups fresh corn kernels (from 2 medium ears)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1. Make cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup Bundt pan and dust with a little flour.
2. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
3. Combine sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the eggs and beat, scraping down the bowl once or twice, until smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream in 2 additions, and ending with the flour. Stir in the corn.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan 10 minutes, invert onto a wire rack and cool completely.
5. Make glaze: Combine the butter and maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat to melt the butter. Whisk in the confectioners' sugar until smooth. Pour warm glaze over cake and let stand until set, about 30 minutes. Slice and serve. Makes 10 servings.