Dulces: Torta de Elotes (Corn Torte)

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So corny. [Photograph: María del Mar Sacasa]

Corn is ubiquitous in Latin American cuisine. It's used in every conceivable fashion, from the instantly recognizable tortilla to more obscure fermented beverages, like chicha de maíz. Torta de elotes—corn torte or cake—is on the more popular side and is made in several countries. It's rather similar to corn pudding: fresh corn is ground to a pulp, then combined with eggs, sugar, and other flavorings, such as sweetened condensed milk or cheese (I'll be sure to make a sweetened condensed milk version soon).

I've tasted tortas of different nationalities, but the one I like most is the one my grandmother's housekeeper, doña María used to make. My dad has nine siblings; when they were growing up they'd all sit around a massive round dining table three times a day. In addition to the ten kids, my grandparents played hosts to relatives and friends, so meals there were of massive proportions. Much of the serveware and cooking equipment used to prepare these huge meals remains in my grandmother's kitchen—I think there's a witch's cauldron back there to make vats of soup—so even when there are only a handful of people around for meals, you can expect enough food to feed a cavalry unit, horses included.

To feed the hordes, doña María used to make her torta de elotes in a large, deep, rectangular baking dish, which I suspect was actually a medium-sized roasting pan. It was thick, dense, and hearty; an edible corn brick that tasted of earthy white corn and pungent cheese.

She wasn't one to jot down recipes, though, so my recipe is fashioned from memory. The first batch I made was much too sweet, not because of the sugar, but because of the golden, juicy corn that's available at my local supermarket.The corn I'm accustomed to is much more pale, almost white, with kernels that are starchy and nearly dry. To give that particular corn flavor presence in this recipe, I used canned hominy (dried corn kernels that have been treated with alkali to denude the kernels) and added fresh yellow corn for balance. That first bite brought me right back to doña María's kitchen.

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Torta de Elotes (Corn Torte) »