With all the savory odes-to-corn out in the world, I thought it was time to lengthen the dessert list. Corn has the versatility to be an herby salad, covered in cotija, served next to ribs or as them, but it’s also undeniably sweet. I’m a dessert girl at heart, so grab an extra ear or a bag of the frozen stuff, and let’s make some cookies.
I began mulling over the flavor combination of corn and cinnamon. They seemed like the right match to me, like Kurt Russel and Goldie Hawn–surprising for a moment, but then not surprising at all. Cinnamon and corn is a popular combination for Central and South American desserts, and during my research I was inspired by atole de elote, a thick corn drink with slight recipe variations from a number of countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. It’s described over and over again as extremely comforting, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. Instead of making a dessert like corn ice cream, or other cold corn-milk desserts that require steeping and straining, I wanted something approachable and hand-held. Something you could sit on the couch with and eat semi-reclined (my preferred eating posture).
This cookie is the result of testing a few different corn-based combinations to get the greatest cookie texture. Several atole recipes trade off between using fresh corn, canned corn, masa harina, corn starch, or any combination of these. I knew two things: I wanted corn kernels in it, and I did not want it to be cakey. The difficulty stems from the fact that masa harina absorbs moisture without restraint and corn kernels have moisture. So, after a couple batches of cakey cookies, I finally landed on a batter that worked.
To make this incredible treat, start with fresh or frozen corn kernels, and dry roast them in a frying pan for five minutes over medium heat. Periodically shake them so they don’t burn, but lightly brown. Once they’ve dried and started popping, pulse half of them in a food processor. Put the chopped corn back in the pan over low heat to dry it out further. The corn will be sticky and slightly caramelized. Set it aside to cool.
The rest of the batter is prepared with the traditional creaming method. Mix all of the dry ingredients in a small bowl, including the cinnamon. At the welcome risk of sounding like Ina Garten, use the best quality ground cinnamon you can get. (It’s a huge flavor component, but if you only have a year-old container of McCormick, they’ll still be better than not having cookies at all.) In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Mix the egg white and the pan-roasted corn into the butter mixture. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir until all of the flour is absorbed. Don’t over-mix. Drop cookies onto a parchment lined baking sheet, leave them rugged, and give them about an inch and a half of space. Bake in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes.
The combination of whole corn, masa harina, all-purpose flour, and cornmeal leads to a texture that is airy-light, crispy, crumbly, and bursting with cinnamon. You can use fine cornmeal, but I was surprisingly smitten with the texture of the coarse grain. Eat these day-of and you’ll be rewarded with an ultra-crisp cookie; save them for a day and some of the crunch will be replaced by a satisfying, almost molasses cookie-like chewiness. This recipe makes about two dozen life-altering cookies.
Cinnamon Corn Cookies
- 1 cup whole corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
- ¼ cup masa harina
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup coarse cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- 1 stick of butter (softened)
- ½ cup white sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 egg white (room temperature)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Pan roast the corn for five minutes over medium heat, or until dried out and popping a little. Blitz up half of the corn in a small food processor. Return it to the pan with the whole corn, and over low heat, dry it out for another minute or two. The corn paste will caramelize slightly and get a bit sticky. Set it aside to cool.
In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients and lightly whisk to distribute everything. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. No need to beat it until fluffy, just combine the sugars and butter well. Mix the egg white and all of the pan-roasted corn into the butter mixture until completely combined. Dump in all of the dry ingredients, and mix with a spoon until completely absorbed.
Drop tablespoon-sized mounds onto the baking sheet about an inch and a half apart. You can make bigger or smaller dough mounds, but be aware that will affect the bake time by a few minutes in either direction, so keep an eye out and an active nose.
Bake at 350°F for 12-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. These cookies are best enjoyed while reclining on the couch. Keep leftovers in an airtight container on the counter for up to seven days, or in the freezer for 4-5 months.