Popcorn Cream Cake is the ultimate tribute to Summer’s sweet corn harvest! Subtle yet sublime, this cake has a soft sweet corn infused milk. The popcorn pastry cream filling amps up the corn taste and an airy buttercream is just the finishing touch. One forkful of this cake tastes like biting into a buttered corn on the cob!
Corn is ripe and plentiful during this end of summer heat. Days move slow in the heat, you go through three shirts and take two showers, nights come earlier, and geese are already heading down south. Town are less crowded with locals away on vacation, while city people wander the streets exploring the country in their carefully dressed neutral outfits.
Last week was hard to get two blog posts up. When days start out at 90 degrees F at 8am, I had a hard time dealing with things like the structural integrity of cakes. I’ve completely given up on making macarons in this hot mayonnaise weather. Yes the air feels thick and heavy like mayonnaise.
Here in New York, sweet corn is at it’s peak. I love the bi-colored variety of corn. This type of corn isn’t that old. Bi-colored corn was developed in the 20th century. The catalog names are sugary enhanced bi-colors and synergistic bi-colors, but these catalog names are far from appealing. The common consumer name is dubbed the Butter and Sugar variety.
In honor of August, may I present the Popcorn Cream Cake! A blazing love ballad of sorts, this Popcorn Cream Cake honors sweet corn.
Corn is a hard ingredient to use in a cake. Sure, it is easy to use cornmeal, but you won’t be able to eat more than one of two bites. Cornmeal, in any ratio, gives the cake a cornbread quality and yields a bread-y dense cake. Folding fresh corn into a standard cake batter is also problematic. When cooked, fresh corn kernels will release water and make the batter too watery, compromising the structure and rise of the cake.
To start, I used an airy cake recipe and I got an extra soft crumb from super fine sugar. I love using this cake recipe originally from Rose Levy-Beranbaum and then reworked by the popular Sweetapolita.. This cake is a perfect silver cake, easily adaptable to any sort of flavor pairings. It took me a while to find superfine sugar. Superfine sugar use to be sold in cardboard boxes, but now it’s relabeled as “quick dissolve” sugar and is in a slim plastic container.
Wanting an edible corn focused cake, I went in a different direction. Sweet corn infused whole milk yielded a dainty corn flavor I wanted.
Though I could’ve used simple sweet corn infused milk, I wanted to go in a whimsical direction with This Popcorn Cream Cake. Popcorn pastry was the answer to my dilemma. From Les Petites Macarons, this Popcorn Pastry Cream is such an inventive filling. You get the cooked and buttery popcorn flavor in the form of a smooth and rich custard.
Finally, I used an ultra airy buttercream. I used a teaspoon or so of the sweet corn infused milk to thin out the frosting. Bake the Popcorn Cream Cake to take advantage of this sweet corn bounty. Have a dessert honoring Summer’s classic corn on the cob!
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- For the Sweet Corn Milk:
- 2 to 3 medium sized corn cobs, husks and silks removed
- 3 cups whole milk
- pinch of kosher salt
- For the Sweet Corn Cake:
- 3 ¼ cups cake flour, sifted
- 2 1/4 cups superfine (quick dissolve) sugar
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks, 12 ounces) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 7 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1 ½ cups infused sweet corn milk, room temperature and divided
- yellow food gel
- For the Popcorn Milk:
- ¼ cup popcorn kernels
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 ½ cups whole milk
- For the Popcorn Pastry Cream:
- Popcorn milk (recipe above)
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- For the Airy Butter Frosting:
- 1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon butter extract
- 6 to 9 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- pinch of fine sea salt
- 1 to 2 teaspoons of sweet corn milk
- yellow food gel
- For assembling the Popcorn Cream Cake:
- Popped popcorn
- 10 to 20 round yellow candy melts
- Shuck corn into a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cut cobs into 4-inch segments and add to saucepan. Pour whole milk and sprinkle salt on top of the corn and cobs. Place saucepan over medium heat until mixture is hot to the touch, do not scald the milk. Remove sauce pan from heat and cover for 1 to 2 hours. Pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer, use a rubber spatula to press liquid from kernels. Keep infused milk in an air tight container until you’re ready to bake the cake.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 3 8-inch cake pans with baking spray, set aside.
- Sift together cake flour, superfine sugar, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Fit mixer with a paddle attachment and beat the dry ingredients on the lowest speed. Still on the lowest speed, add cold butter, one piece at a time. Beat until all of butter is incorporated, it should look like crumbly sand in an even coarseness.
- In a medium sized bowl or spouted measuring cup, combine vanilla extract and ¾ cup of the Sweet Corn Milk. In another bowl whisk together egg whites and remaining ¾ cup of Sweet Corn Milk.
- Add vanilla-milk mixture and raise the mixer’s speed to medium for 4 minutes. Scrape sides and bottom of the bowl. With mixer on a low speed, add the egg white-milk mixture and yellow food gel. Beat on a medium speed for 3 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Fold batter with a rubber spatula, ensuring that everything is incorporated and nothing is clinging to the sides of the bowl.
- Divide the batter evenly among the 3 cake pans and bake for 20 to 22 minutes, rotating halfway. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out with a few moist (not wet) crumbs. Let cakes cool in pans for 5 to 10 minutes before inverting them onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- Place popcorn kernels and olive oil a large stock pot. Put pot over medium-high heat and place the lid on. Shake the pot occasionally to prevent kernels from sticking to the bottom. Let kernels pop for 4 to 5 minutes. Once all of the kernels have popped, remove from heat, remove any un-popped kernels, and sprinkle over salt.
- Heat milk a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, pour milk over the popcorn, let mixture sit in the large stock pot with the lid on for 1 hour. Stir occasionally.
- Use a blender to puree mixture until smooth, about 2 minutes. Strainer mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Pour into an airtight container until you’re ready to make the pastry cream.
- Bring the popcorn milk and sugar to a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk together cornstarch, eggs, and egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Once the milk-sugar mixture is boiling, whisk in the cornstarch-egg mixture. Bring mixture back to a boil. Whisk mixture constantly, getting into a very smooth and very thick consistency. Once it gets this thick, and paste like continue to whisk for 1 more minute.
- Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. On a low speed add in the butter and vanilla. Raise speed to medium-high until the mixture has cooled down, about 15 minutes. The pastry cream can be made a day ahead.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on a medium speed, scraping the bowl as needed, until light in color, fluffy, and lump free, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add in vanilla and butter extract. Turn the mixer’s speed to low and slowly add the powdered sugar followed by the salt and yellow food gel. Beat on a medium-high speed until very fluffy about 1 to 2 minutes.
- If the cake layers have domes, use a serrated knife to level off the tops. Dollop a bit of frosting onto a cake board and secure a cake layer. Fill a pastry bag with some of the Airy Butter Frosting and pipe frosting on perimeter of cake layer, creating a ‘moat.’ Spoon in half of Popcorn Pastry Cream. Repeat this process with the second layer. Top with the third layer. Use an offset spatula to press a small bit of frosting into the cake, creating a crumb coat. Chill in the freezer for 10 minutes. Top with a Final thicker coating of Airy Butter Frosting. Chill for a final 10 minutes. Fit a pastry bag with a large round tip and pipe a top border. Press the candy melts into the side of the cake, backsides facing out. Cover the top of the cake with popcorn.