Another day, another Batali recipe, this one with more ominous implications.
Forgive me Father, for I have fried.
Yes, I watched as the better part of two cartons of vegetable oil glugged their way into a pot. I lowered in the balls of raw dough with a bamboo skimmer. (Had there been a Snickers Bar handy, I confess I would have tossed that in as well; it’s the spirit of the thing.) And I cooed as they puffed and bronzed in the burning hot oil.
Do I regret it? Not even a little bit. I don’t even regret that first slightly raw batch, whose centers were more like wet cement and were consumed, despite this fact.
In my defense, this was not just frying for frying’s sake. This was frying for the sake of dream fulfillment—a long-prophesied return to the Babbo dessert I tried nearly four years ago.
It’s a delicious homage to corn, two ways: sweet corn pudding topped with blackberry crème de cassis compote and cornmeal zeppole. Together, they offer a near-overwhelming taste experience—and a perfect alternative to the corn ice cream that’s become so ubiquitous of late.
For those of you who feel reluctant to fry, please don’t dismiss the dish entirely. Because, while I heartily endorse the recipe in its complete form, there is something pure and beautiful to the corn crema-blackberry pairing, that easily stands alone. (You could even toss in some of Claudia Flemming’s candied corn kernels, for added texture.)
Sweet Corn Crema with Cornmeal Zeppole
Adapted from The Babbo Cookbook, by Mario Batali
For the crema:
2 ears fresh sweet corn
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
⅔ cup sugar
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
8 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
For the zeppole:
5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2⅓ cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1⅔ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons whole milk
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons instant polenta
2 tablespoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
6 cups vegetable oil, for frying
For the blackberry compote (makes 2 cups):
2 pints blackberries
2 tablespoons crème de cassis
¼ cup sugar
Make the dough:
In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and ⅓ cup sugar until very light. Add the eggs and continue to beat; the mixture will appear broken. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the vanilla and milk.
In a small bowl, stir together the flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat until completely incorporated. You will have a very soft, sticky dough. Sprinkle dough liberally with flour and wrap tightly in plastic. Chill until somewhat firm, at least 8 hours.
Make the crema:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Arrange eight 4-ounce ramekins or custard cups in a flat-bottomed roasting pan large enough to accommodate them with ¾ inch of space in between the cups.
Using a sharp knife, slice the corn kernels off the cobs. Cut the cobs in half and place in a medium saucepan with the kernels, milk, cream, and ⅓ cup of sugar. With the tip of a knife, scrape the vanilla bean into the pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat and steep until cool.
Discard the corncobs, then use an immersion blender to puree the mixture until somewhat smooth. (This step may also be done in a regular blender in small batches.) Bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring constantly, then set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining ⅓ cup sugar until completely blended. Gradually whisk half of the hot corn custard into the yolks, then pour the tempered yolk mixture back into the remaining custard and mix well. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing the corn kernels to extract as much liquid as possible. Stir in the salt.
Divide the custard evenly among the ramekins. Carefully add enough hot tap water to the roasting pan to come a third of the way up sides of the ramekins. Cover the entire roasting pan with aluminum foil and bake for about 40 minutes. The custards will be done when they are no longer liquid in the center and are completely set.
Remove the pan from the oven and discard the foil. Allow the custards to cool in the water bath for 20 minutes, then refrigerate at least 4 hours, until thoroughly chilled.
Make the compote:
Place the berries in a medium saucepan and toss with the crème de cassis and sugar. Place the pan over low heat and cook slowly, shaking it occasionally to cook the berries evenly. When the berries have softened and released their juices, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Make the zeppole:
When the dough is completely chilled and firm, flour a board liberally and unwrap the dough. Roll to ¾-inch thickness. Using a small doughnut cutter, cut out as many zeppole as possible, re-roling the scraps as necessary. As you cut the zeppole, place them on a baking sheet sprinkled lightly with flour. Return the zeppole to the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat the vegetable oil to 340 degrees. Place the remaining 2 cups of sugar in a shallow bowl. Line several baking sheets with two layers of paper towels.
Fry the zeppole a few at a time in the oil, until golden brown on both sides and cooked through. [You may want to do a test batch to tweak the timing.] Drain on the paper towels, and, while they are still hot, roll them in sugar.
Spoon some of the compote over each serving of crema and serve with a warm zeppole.