Fresh Corn Cakes

corn cakes

No one’s been quite been able to explain the popularity of canned corn in France to me. But the explanation of why fresh corn isn’t familiar – or eaten – is that fresh corn is considered animal feed. Which still doesn’t explain how something isn’t fit for human consumption if it’s raw, but if it’s cooked and canned, that’s another story. And when it’s in that sloshy, soggy state, it’s often found in unfamiliar places – like scattered on pizza or piled up in a salade niçoise.

(Which gives people in Nice fits, because it’s pas respectueuse – you’re only supposed to use raw vegetables in a salade niçoise.)

Corn kernels

On the other hand, we Americans can’t get enough fresh corn and come August, most of us living in France who’ve been perfectly content to consume wonderful cheese, bread, and wine for the past eleven months, well, suddenly our seasonal clocks collectively kick in and we develop insatiable cravings for plump, fresh tomatoes and corn on the cob slathered with butter and salt.

So how excited was I when a friend took me to Grand Frais, a giant supermarket near where she lives, which specializes in produce, and I was faced with mounds of fresh corn for just €1,50 ($2) for three ears? And if you bought three, they threw in the fourth one for free. Of course, I couldn’t resist (the corn, and the bargain), and proudly exited the store with a big sack containing a dozen ears of corn.

corncorn cakes

The funny thing was, when she saw my pile of corn, the cashier asked me what animal I was going to feed it to…and I don’t think she was expecting me to point to my friends when she mentioned the word “animals.” I tried to tell her how good fresh corn was, as I’m often wont to do around here (I guess I’m hopelessly Californian – always trying to raise awareness of neglected issues…) but stopped when she told me she didn’t like any vegetables, because she didn’t like the smells of them when they were cooking.

I’ll chalk that up to a curious paradox of someone lucky enough to work in a well-stocked produce store, but was thrilled for myself (and the two-legged animaux I had in tow), and couldn’t wait to smell the corn roasting on the wood-burning fire that we were cooking dinner over later that night.

corn cake batter

Although we ate our fill of corn, I must be rusty because I didn’t realize how much twelve ears of corn would yield. (In case you’re on a quiz show, each large ear will give you about 1 cup of kernels, or 150g.) So I needed to find a few other creative ways to use the rest of it.

corn cake batter

I turned to my trusty volume of Chez Panisse Vegetables, a wonderful treatise on using all the great vegetables that show up during the four seasons in California, which I dip into frequently, for old time’s sake. In spite of making me a little wistful for all those gorgeous ears of Silver Queen corn and heirloom tomatoes that we used to get at the restaurant all summer, I get my taste of California here in Paris, and continued to spread the word of fresh corn at a dinner party/picnic that I was invited, hosted by a vegetarian friend, and these certainly fit the bill.

corn cakes

In addition to the corn, the other magic ingredient in these tasty corn cakes is corn flour, which is different from corn meal and corn starch; it’s similar in texture to wheat flour, but it is sunny yellow and makes the corn cakes even more corny.

Fresh corn cakes - blog

Corn Cakes

Makes 16 corn cakes

Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters

I added a chopped bird’s eye chile, which made them pretty spicy. So you can either omit the chile, use a different chile, or add a bit more chili powder than I called for. I had considered adding some fresh herbs, and had some chopped basil waiting in the wings. But when I tasted them, I didn’t want anything to detract from the wonderful fresh corn flavor. To fry them up, I used clarified butter which will smoke less. If you want to serve them warm, put a baking sheet in a low oven, about 325ºF (160ºC) and put them in there as you remove them from the pan until ready to serve. Aside from the four I ate right out of the pan, the others were enjoyed at room temperature at the outdoor picnic dinner I went to.

Aside from just a little salted butter swiped and melted over them just after they’re fried, these corn cakes would be great with some roasted tomato salsa heaped on top, alongside a pile of garlicky sautéed greens, or crowned with a dollop of sour cream and salmon eggs with chives. They also would make a nice side course with grilled fish, chicken, or meat.

  • 1 1/2 cups (235g) corn flour (see Note, below)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (preferably aluminum-free)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon chile powder or cayenne
  • 4 tablespoons (55g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 1 cup (250ml) whole or lowfat milk
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 ears of fresh corn (2 cups kernels, 300g)
  • optional: a spoonful of freshly chopped chile peppers
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 large egg white

1. Whisk together the corn flour, baking powder, salt and chile powder in a large bowl.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the butter with the milk and honey, until the butter is melted. Set aside until tepid, then make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the milk mixture, the 2 egg yolks, the corn, and the chopped chile, if using.

3. In a clean, dry bowl, beat the 3 egg whites until stiff and they hold their shape, then fold them completely into the corn mixture.

4. Heat some butter in a skillet. When hot, spoon batter in mounds into the pan, spaced apart – making as many as will comfortably fit in the pan. (I used a spring-loaded ice cream scoop, which holds about 1/4 cup, 60ml, of batter. You can use a large spoon if you wish.) Flatten them slightly if the batter is too rounded.

5. Let the corn cakes cook until browned on the bottom and starting to bubble around the edges. Flip the corn cakes with a spatula and cook on the other side for about a minute, until lightly browned on the reverse side.

Note: As mentioned, corn flour is not the same as cornmeal; it’s very finely ground corn. I found it at my local natural food store easily and you can get it online. Since the corn cakes use corn flour as a binder, they are gluten-free if you make sure the corn flour you are using is processed in a gluten-free facility.

Note that in certain countries including the United Kingdom, corn flour refers to corn starch (called amidon, Maïzena, or fécule de maïs in French), which is highly refined and very starchy, and should not be used. According to this site, you can grind cornmeal in a blender to replicate corn flour.

corn cakes

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  • Gina
    August 17, 2013 1:15pm

    I wonder if that one-star restaurant somewhere on the road between Marseille and Paris still serves fresh sole with plain canned creamed corn as a sauce… yes, it was as yucky as it sounds!

  • Kathy D.
    August 17, 2013 1:33pm

    The “tunnel vision” about certain foods in France has always baffled me, but I think it varies with region. Where I am, in the center, a lot of people turn their noses up at what is eaten in the South (not French, they say). According to Jamie Oliver, on a British program where he traveled through Italy to cook, they are exactly the same there: resistant to change and unwilling to admit some other way of eating is “correct”. In Italy too, corn is considered only fit for animals….but of course they grind it up to make a very popular dish called “polenta”….go figure! And in France they also make all kinds of snack foods with it, particularly some gross corn squiqqles flavored with peanuts…something called “cacahuètes soufflées” (peanut puffs). And don’t even get me started on “sucré/salé” (salty & sweet).

  • rainey
    August 18, 2013 3:46am

    These looked so good and we’re well into fresh corn season in SoCal. I had to force myself to wait until this morning when my husband would be home and the family could gather to make them. They were an enormous success. The flavor, of course, was terrific but they were also a hit for their lovely color.

    I’m planning to try them again soon as accompaniment to a hearty chili for a dinner on the patio. And I can also see tiny ones seasoned with dill then topped with a bit of grilled salmon and a dab of sour cream as an appetizer.

    Thanks for this neat and versatile recipe.

  • rainey
    August 18, 2013 3:59am

    I made mine with buttermilk. I just melted the butter rather than warm the buttermilk to avoid curdling. I also just used 2 egg whites since I just didn’t want to have the extra yolk to deal with. We were very happy with the results nonetheless.

    And the way to cut the kernals free that satisfies me best is to stick a broad blade knife between a straight row of kernals, cut to one side and then rotate the cob under the blade all the way back to the starting point. I have to do the top half of the cob and then the lower half but I get nice distinct kernals that way with a minimum of partial ones.

  • Christopher
    August 18, 2013 9:39pm

    Great recipe David – thank you. Seems to me that the chopped green chill adds a whole dimension to it. We had our cakes with hunks of barbecued swordfish and big dollops of sloppy salsa verde – maybe a little odd, but it worked, and was delicious.

  • August 19, 2013 12:37am

    Those look very nice, and we do have fresh corn here. Alas my teeth are too fragile to eat it on the cob, so this recipe sounds great. I’d never use tinned corn in that; if it is out of season, good frozen kernels would be possible, but obviously not as tasty as fresh.

    Food preferences and prejudices can be very local and quirky, and I never got the advantage of dumping some tinned kernels into an otherwise fresh salad. I have friends near Pontoise who grow great tomatoes; are there not good ripe ones in Paris in August? I’m rarely in Paris then, as I’m usually there for conferences and such that would never take place during the August holiday.

    I’ve ground a bit of polenta into “corn flour” of the type you describe in an electric coffee mill – only used for spices.

  • August 19, 2013 1:00am

    I’ve read over the comments on the first page, which I hadn’t seen. Unlike my concitadine Éloïse, we don’t like the white and yellow corn, which we find far too sweet, and are always looking for good heritage yellow corn that is not supersweet. I think I’ve spotted some at Marché Jean-Talon (I live very close to it) so I’ll try them.

    • curtis johnson
      August 19, 2013 1:27am

      For us sweet corn can never be too sweet! The sweeter the better, the best sweet corn can be eateni raw or just a few minutes in simmering water, or grilled to caramelize the sugars. MMM1 I’m in Florida and we are past our corn season, corn at Publix is now 3 for $2, back in May and June it was 10 for $2, love the sugar and cream variety with mixed white and yellow, the smaller the kernel the more delicate the taste and texture!

  • August 19, 2013 3:07pm

    This is a great recipe! I love that it is gluten free.
    I had a little trouble finding corn flour that was not self rising so I just left out the baking powder. I also put a little extra kick in the mix with some dried smoked peppers from my garden last year. So there was a little bit of a smoky undertone. Thanks for the recipe! (Others could use something like smoked paprika for that type of effect.)

  • Chris
    August 19, 2013 5:35pm

    I used to think sweet corn could never be too sweet, but some new varieties overdo it. The worst of all I bought on the outskirts of Montreal several years ago. I thought “maïs sucré” sounded quaint in contrast to the expected “maïs doux” but the stuff was so sweet it ended up tasting like it had been cooked in sugar syrup, and was even sticky to the touch.

    Interestingly, 50 cents an ear is what corn is mostly going for here in Connecticut this summer. Is there an international corn price setting organization?

  • August 19, 2013 7:26pm

    I love fresh corn! What a funny cultural difference between America and France! These corn cakes look amazing – I can’t wait to try this recipe

  • Rebecca
    August 19, 2013 8:53pm

    My family moved to the north of France from England in 1998. Back then there were two vegetables that were impossible to get hold of : corn and brussel sprouts. It seemed strange given that we were surrounded by fields of corn! It took us a while to find out that the corn grown locally was all for animal consumption, it’s much tougher and is indeed unfit for human consumption. You can now easily get hold of corn from the markets as it’s being grown more and more by small farmers.

  • Gail Vanderheyden
    August 20, 2013 1:48am

    I made these yummy corn cakes yesterday. I whirled cornmeal in the food processor, weighed it, (there’s a first time for everything) used corn from the Saturday farm market, added 2 jalapenos and 1 Anaheim pepper from my garden.
    In the winter, I might try the recipe using Trader Joe’s frozen smoked corn kernals. They have a great flavor.

  • August 20, 2013 1:15pm

    GAHHHHH…I have nightmares about the salmon and corn pizza that was a constant “special” at the pizza place around the corner from my apartment in Paris…the horror!

  • Zoe
    August 20, 2013 4:59pm

    Whaddya think about substituting the milk for buttermilk? I have some needing to be used.

    • August 20, 2013 5:01pm
      David Lebovitz

      I think a few people mentioned they used buttermilk successfully and I think it’d work, too. If you do try it, let us know how it works out.

  • rainey
    August 20, 2013 6:34pm

    Buttermilk worked out great. I always like to incorporate the additional flavor of buttermilk.

    I just melted the butter instead of warming the milk to avoid the curdling that buttermilk is subject to when heated.

  • Catherine
    August 20, 2013 9:51pm

    I used to find the occasional ear of corn at my local primeur in the 19th – possibly more open to ‘unusual’ fruit and veg because of the multi-cultural nature of the neighbourhood. However, having just moved to Montreal, there’s corn in abundance this year, and this recipe got an enthusiastic reception from my pancake-mad kids.

  • LisaMary
    August 21, 2013 3:32am

    So thrilled with these that I’m eating and typing. Thank you David! Paired mine with grilled tomatoes with some blue cheese melted on them and a dry Riesling. We will be having these many times more before fresh corn is over. (maybe even sweetened a bit more and made for breakfast with the overabundance of Oregon blueberries?)

  • Rena
    August 21, 2013 8:39am

    The corn cakes look great. I thought of you Monday when I tried sweet corn gelato in Placerville on the drive home from Tahoe. It was delicious. Something else to do with all that fresh corn perhaps. Thank you for all the inspiration!

  • E
    August 21, 2013 3:32pm

    My Grand Frais, near Cannes, sells actual honest-to-goodness Citrons, and also pecans. You might try a Grand Frais next time you need either ingredient. They also have dried blueberries, cherries, and cranberries as well as all the fresh fruit and veg a body could want.

  • Karen
    August 21, 2013 4:49pm

    These were great! Last night I made them with chili instead of the usual cornbread. I had batter left over, so I then had some later for dessert with maple syrup and fresh blackberries, and they tasted even better!

  • curtis johnson
    August 22, 2013 1:54am

    Had been wanting to get a waffle iron to try my sourdough pancake batter on, then thought, why not yeast raised corn waffles, Walmart(sorry) had a double belgian waffle maker and corn was 3 for a buck, better price than the 3 for 2 bucks lately at Publix (tiny Hass avocados are a buck fifty?? whats up with that?) Anyway went home and made the waffles topped with a syrup of 3 parts pepper jelly 1 part maple syrup and dabs of sour cream paired with a breakfast sausage egg scramble, mmm! breakfast for dinner!

  • Angel
    August 22, 2013 8:09pm

    They look great! I will give them a try soon and I’ll let you know how they turn out!

  • pat Kogan
    August 23, 2013 11:05am

    David…have you ever found a good source for fresh corn in Paris? I’m one of those expats suffering from the August-without-corn on the cob- blues. Also… when I first arrived in Paris and served Parsnips (Panais) to French friends they were astonished. They told me they had never tasted them before and that in France they are traditionally fed to pigs to make their meat tastier. Now- little by little- I am seing it on menus in restaurants along with “le Butternut” (ie Butternut squash) which also arrived in French markets in the past 5 years or so.

    • August 23, 2013 3:01pm
      David Lebovitz

      A few market vendors might occasionally have fresh corn, especially those that have a lot of international shoppers at their stand. There’s one vendor at the Richard Lenoir market and I think at Raspail (Sunday) and Batignolles (Saturday), you might find some. Another option is Tang Frères in the 13th (Chinatown).

      Regarding parsnips, I also find it curious that people aren’t familiar with them (or don’t like them) because other root vegetables, such as beets, turnips, carrots, and potatoes are very popular.

  • JudyMac
    August 23, 2013 10:48pm

    Now you have your work cut out for you, i.e., you must indoctrinate the French on the wonders of corn. Being from the South, my favorite way to eat corn is fried, or you may know it as cream style. Nothing better than a pan of cream style Silver Queen. So, I have the Chez Panisse Vegetables book and now your recipe, so on my next trip to the Farmer’s Market I must look for some corn flour. They seem to have every kind of flour from all over the world, so they must have it. My grandfather ran a corn mill, and my grandmother had hot cornbread or biscuits for every meal. But surprisingly, I’m not familiar with corn flour. My Mom was a big fan of Mexican cornbread. She lived to be 97, and since she was from a small farm in Appalachia, she forever loved a big chunk of cornbread in a tall glass of very cold milk. When you didn’t have much, that sometimes had to suffice.

    • August 24, 2013 9:52am
      David Lebovitz

      I think one hinderance is that most French people don’t eat with their hands, and corn on the cob falls in that category. Also unless some French farmers start growing crops of sweet corn in larger quantities (like some are now doing with kale, due to demand), it’s not likely to be more prevalent and opening up a can or corn will continue to be the norm. There are some market vendors who in Paris, such as one at the Bastille market and others at Raspail and Batignolles, that are growing a small quantity, but I don’t see anyone but Americans buying it.

    • Kathy D.
      August 24, 2013 6:26pm

      @JudyMac. Depending on where you live (US?), if there is a Whole Foods, or another natural food market, you should be able to find corn flour, maybe even in bulk.

  • Gail
    August 24, 2013 12:12am

    I reheated the left over corn cakes last night. I made a dip of commercial cilantro chutney mixed with plain yogurt. O
    It was perfect. The amount of each depends on your taste. The chutney can be very strong. The yogurt thins it out and cools it down. Similar to what they serve with samosas at Indian restaurants.

  • Lisa
    August 24, 2013 12:52am

    I love the trick of using a rimmed baking sheet as a surface for corn-kernel removal. When I get lazy and just use a cutting board because it’s already on the counter, I inevitably regret the mess of scattered corn bits afterwards.

  • JudyMac
    August 24, 2013 4:44am

    Unless I missed something in your pictures or discussion of corn in general, or in your recipe instructions, I don’t see anything that tells what is done (or not done) to the corn before adding it to the mix. Recipe just says “2 cups kernels.” If fresh corn, is it cut off the cob and added raw? Or is it blanched and then added to the mix? I, for one, would like to know, and I can’t tell by looking at your picture.

    • August 24, 2013 8:43am
      David Lebovitz

      It’s just added as is, raw and uncooked, to the batter.

  • pat kogan
    August 24, 2013 12:43pm

    Hello (again) David…

    2 other questions about things I can’t seem to find in Paris…I keep wondering:

    1) What ever happened to good old chocolate chip ice cream? There seems to be a huge selection of variations on caramel / nut / and fruit flavors commercially available but I never see chocolate chip in stores. Even Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia seems to have disappeared in France. Is this a French thing or has it gone out of vogue in ice cream circles?

    2) In the US supermarket shelves have been loaded for years with prepared organic stocks…chicken, vegetable, beef, etc etc…all pretty good quality. Great for whipping up a quick risotto or soup or stew…just reach for the carton and go! But they do not exist here. Instead people make their own (which I do when I have time) or resort to cubes (which I hate doing). There are lots of prepared soups and “potages” but not this useful ingredient…Do you have any idea why that never caught on here? Why some enterprising organic food company isn’t manufacturing or importing that sort of thing?


  • Elsie
    August 27, 2013 12:18am

    I just made these and while they taste good, they look nothing like the pictures. They are very flat and the batter was very runny. I had to stir the batter while scooping it to put in the pan in order to get some kernels as they would sink to the bootm. Is this normal or do you think I did something wrong? Usually my pancake batter is thick and fluffy rather than thin. Thank you.

    Yes, it does sound like you did something wrong. Mine came out as shown, and my batter (that is in the bowl, in the post) was quite thick. -dl

  • Rochelle Eissenstat
    August 29, 2013 12:19am

    My corn cakes came out thick, tender, delicious. I do not think anyone would think that they are GF. I did change the butter for 4 tablespoons of walnut oil & I used almond milk, so that the pancakes would be nondairy.

  • Tiffany
    August 29, 2013 12:57am

    Very good! i hate beating eggwhites but i did anyway and this recipe was great. i’m from New Mexico they always put fresh green chile (never canned, ha!) and cheese in cornbread. when i made this i used the green chile and it was great, not dry at all as cornbread often is (when i make it).

  • Elsie
    August 29, 2013 1:14am

    Thank you David for responding. I will try again as I love anything to do with corn.

  • Greg
    August 29, 2013 4:15pm

    The last time I looked ( have just returned from 5 weeks in the south of France) the French were enthusiastically eating their seafood with their hands as well as their cheeses, breads and pastries. The other explanations as to why the French don’t eat corn seem very plausible. They just don’t know what they are missing. This attitude extends to many other worthy and tasty vegetables, legumes and grains that are ne’er to be found in France (and it seems also in continental Europe in general).They seem very set in their ways and traditions

    • August 29, 2013 5:34pm
      David Lebovitz

      It’s a challenge to write about a culture without using the conditional, or including words like “most”, “in general” or “usually” in posts. There are, indeed, some foods the French eat with their hands, including bread, shellfish, as well as chocolates and morning pastries, but it’s somewhat uncommon to sit down to a meal of something that gets picked up with your hands. In restaurants, people usually eat sandwiches, hamburgers, and pizza with a knife and fork. (I’m sure there are exceptions, though.) And the foods that French people do handle are generally things that slide easily into the mouth, without having to bite off a piece. (Bread, for example, is torn and pieces placed in the mouth. But once again, that’s a generalization and I’m sure there are people that just bite into it – such as at breakfast, when they are enjoying their morning toast and so forth.) So in some instances, some things do get handled.

  • elizabeth
    August 31, 2013 1:34am

    Help. The first one I ate warm, slathered in butter. The second with butter and the extra egg yolk that I fried. The THIRD with butter and homemade blueberry jam. This is fantastic, I love the crisp kernels of corn. I did make them a little smaller though ;) Thanks for another great recipe. Corn is in high season here in Southern Ontario.

  • Sarah
    September 1, 2013 9:47pm

    I’ve recently turned to coconuts for everything (oil, milk, water, even as a moisturizer) So I don’t have any milk handy, except for coconut milk. Can I substitute it in this recipe?

  • Constance
    September 4, 2013 2:33am

    “I’m in love”! They look amazing!