We’re halfway through National Ice Cream Month, and though I’ll be sad when it ends, I’m reminded that we can enjoy ice cream anytime we like. Don’t fret, fellow frozen treat lovers, because I have plenty more where all this came from—tried-and-true ice cream flavors as well as some new ones brewing in my culinary mind.
But this one, Sweet Corn Ice Cream with Blueberry-Whiskey Ribbon, is in my bowl today. I’ve confessed already that I seldom make the same recipe twice, but this will be the third time in two years I’ve made this one, so it’s clearly won a special place in my life. It’s creamy and sweet, unmistakably “corn-y,” inspired by the pure sweetness of summer and ever-so-slightly boozy, thanks to the brilliant blueberry-infused batch bourbon whiskey produced by one of our local distilleries.
This recipe makes 1 1/2 quarts ice cream. There are two equally important components: the custard and the compote. The custard needs plenty of time to chill before freezing, so we’ll begin here.
Ingredients – the custard
2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup organic cane sugar, divided
Pinch of sea salt
4 good-sized ears fresh sweet corn, husk and silk removed*
3 free range egg yolks
1 Tbsp. vodka* (optional, for improved texture)
Blueberry-whiskey compote (recipe and instructions follow)
Corn—choose the deepest yellow color corn you can find, for a richer appearance of ice cream. It also helps to have corn picked at its peak level of sweetness. If you have a local farmer’s market, that’s the first place I’d recommend!
Vodka—the alcohol is completely optional in this ice cream. It does not affect the flavor, but can be helpful for the final texture, making the ice cream easier to scoop straight from the freezer. For this batch, I used Tito’s handcrafted vodka, which is made from 100% corn. It seemed appropriate here.
Instructions for the custard
Trim the ends of the corn ears. This will make it easier to cut the kernels off each piece. Standing an ear on end, use your knife to carefully strip the kernels completely off the ear. They will not come off the ear perfectly – some will get smashed or split, and that’s OK. Repeat with all pieces of corn and keep the cobs. Cut the cobs in half crosswise, into chunks about 3 inches long.
Add milk, heavy cream and half of the sugar to a heavy bottomed pot and warm over medium-low heat, stirring constantly to dissolve sugar. Add all of the corn kernels and the cob chunks to the pot. Stir to submerge the cobs, reduce the heat and simmer on low until mixture is just barely bubbling at the edges. Remove cobs from the mixture and allow them to cool enough to handle, then squeeze each cob with your clean hands to extract the flavorful goodness. Discard the cobs, and remove the corn-cream mixture from the heat.
Use the immersion blender* to process the corn-cream mixture, but only for about 15 to 20 seconds. You don’t want to puree the whole batch; we’re just trying to extract another hit of flavor before we strain and discard the corn.
(*Alternatively, use a ladle to scoop about 2 cups of the corn-cream into a regular blender or smoothie blender, and let it cool just enough to blend for a few seconds, then pick up with the recipe from this point.)
Set a large double-mesh strainer over a large glass bowl, and pour the pureed mixture through it to separate the corn solids from the cream. Gently press down on the corn to extract as much liquid as you can; you might even want to do this in batches. Either discard the corn solids, or save it for another use.
Return the strained cream to the heavy-bottomed pot. Gently stir over low heat just until it begins to steam.
In a mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks with remaining sugar on a medium low speed (or by hand) until the mixture is smooth, light-colored and slightly thickened.
Ladle out 1 cup of the hot cream mixture into a measuring cup with a pour spout. While whisking the yolks, pour a slow and steady stream of the cream mixture into them. This is called “tempering.” Do not rush this step, which is essentially emulsifying the mixture so that the egg yolks are incorporated but not scrambled. Do it again with another 1/2 cup of the cream mixture.
Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the pot with the remaining cream, stirring constantly over low heat. Frequently check the back of your spoon – when you can make a visible line on it with your finger, the custard is done.
Remove from heat, pour into a large glass bowl resting in an ice bath, and stir gently until mixture cools. Lay a sheet of heavy plastic wrap directly on the surface, sealing out any air bubbles. Cover the entire bowl with a lid or another layer of plastic wrap and place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.
Next up, make the blueberry-whiskey compote for your ribbon!
Ingredients – the compote
1 cup frozen blueberries (I especially love to use “wild” blueberries)
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1/2 cup blueberry juice (optional; substitute ¼ cup water)
3 oz. Smashing Violet blueberry infused bourbon whiskey*
Generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice
*This stuff is pretty incredible, but only available in North Carolina, either at the Broad Branch Distillery in Winston-Salem or select North Carolina ABC stores. Substitute a craft bourbon of your choice for similar results, but for sure look for the blueberry juice to make up the difference. While I’m on the subject of Broad Branch, here’s another reason I’m loving them right now.
Instructions for the compote
In a medium saucepan, combine the blueberries, cane sugar and blueberry juice (or water) over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring and smashing berries occasionally, until mixture is reduced and begins to bubble vigorously. This will take longer if you’re using the blueberry juice, somewhere between 15 and 25 minutes.
Stir in Smashing Violet whiskey (or your bourbon substitute). It may seem like 3 oz. is a lot of booze—and, well, you’re damn right it is. No apologies here (but c’mon, it’s only 60 proof anyway). Simmer another 5 to 8 minutes, to burn off some of the sharpness of the alcohol while reducing the compote again.
Remove from heat, cool to room temperature, then place plastic wrap directly on top of the compote and chill in refrigerator at least an hour, but preferably overnight. This mixture will thicken up significantly as it cools.
I scream, you scream…
In the morning, set up the ice cream machine and freeze the sweet corn custard according to manufacturer’s instructions. The blueberry ribbon is added later, so only do the custard at this stage.
Add a layer of custard into insulated container, then alternate layers of blueberry whiskey compote and custard (ending with custard on top) and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours, but overnight is better.
Call a couple friends to come over and hang out in the backyard, and thank God for the sweet blessings of summer.