This Brazilian corn pudding, curau de milho, is a simple custard or pudding-like dessert that you can enjoy warm or chilled. It's really easy to make and has a bright color, smooth texture and tasty corn flavor.
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There are always a few things that I look forward to coming into season at each point in the year. Many of them are fruits, like cherries, mangoes and nectarines, but also some vegetables. Artichokes are one of them, but corn is definitely another.
Corn, for us, often signals grilling season and is one we enjoy often as a side in summer to things like chicken satay, or made into a Mexican street corn salad. But really it's a lot more versatile than just that. And I don't just mean by being more processed to make cornmeal or masa for tortillas and the like.
Where is corn from and grown?
Corn was first cultivated over 9000 years ago in what is now Mexico. It was highly appreciated by Mayan and other indigenous civilizations in the region who used it widely, with that legacy still true in Mexican cuisine today.
From there, corn spread both North and South in the Americas and after colonization, to Europe and further around the world. Today it is grown in many countries, where climate allows, both as a food crop and as feed for animals as well as biofuel.
Brazil is now the third largest producer of corn in the world and you’ll find it in a number of traditional dishes, including this dessert. It's one of a few corn dishes often found during "Festa Junina", ('June Party' or festivities) which are celebrated around the country.
Festa Junina celebrations
Festa Junina is essentially an amalgamation of celebrations for a number of prominent saints' days that fall in June, also drawing on Pagan Midsummer festivities (which were brought and adapted to midwinter by Portuguese colonists, bring Southern Hemisphere). One of the main saints days is Sao Joao (Saint John) who is celebrated on 24th June.
Saint John’s day is also a big celebration in some places in Portugal and Spain. In Spain, it's particularly popular around the coast with bonfires and sardines on the beach the night before (it always worked out well for me whenever I was there as my birthday is the 23rd, so it was a ready-made party!)
In Brazil, Festa Junina traditionally celebrates the end of the rainy season, harvest time and a general celebration of rural life. Food is a big part of celebrations and includes many snack-like dishes as well as ones using seasonal produce, which includes corn.
Some things you'll find include popcorn, corn on the cob, pamonha (a kind of corn cake, either sweet or savory), quentão (a kind of mulled wine made with cachaça), cocada (a coconut candy) and paçoca (a soft peanut candy).
Corn pudding variations
While it's relatively simple, you'll find a few variations in this dish. It also goes by different names in different regions - usually carau de milho in Rio but canjica in the northeast (canjica is the name for a hominy pudding in most parts of the country, also popular for Festa Junina).
Traditionally, you grate the corn from the husks but now it's more typical to use a food processor or blender to break up the corn with the milk. You then strain the mixture to release all the flavor and starch, while removing the solids.
Some recipes use sweetened condensed milk to form part or all of the sweetener, as well as part of the liquid. It can also help speed up the cooking if you are making a larger batch. But traditional recipes seem to just use corn, milk and sugar, as I have used here. With a smaller batch and using a relatively wide pot, it doesn't take too long.
What kind of corn is best?
Ideally, you want to use fresh corn straight off the cob as it will have a higher level of natural starch This is what helps the pudding thicken.
You can use canned or frozen corn, but the processing reduces the starch level. As a result, it won't thicken as well when you cook it, so you may find you need to add a little corn starch to help it along.
The variety of corn can also make a difference. I know some people have said the typical corn in the USA is nowhere near as starchy as the corn in Brazil. I made this in Australia and the corn there is different again. So, you may need to play by ear to see if it needs a little help with some corn starch (I didn't need any in Australia).
How to serve this dessert
You can eat this pudding both warm and chilled. It is a little like a warm custard when warm and more like pudding when chilled. I think the flavor is probably a bit stronger when chilled and more mellow warm, but that may just be my perception. Personally I prefer it warm.
Just like a custard, it can form a skin as it cools, so it's worth covering with cling wrap/film directly over the surface to help prevent this. Then store in the fridge until needed.
Brazilian corn pudding is an easy, tasty and comforting treat. It's sweet, creamy so easy to eat. While it may be a popular festival food, you really don't need a special excuse to make and enjoy it. So give corn a sweet use and enjoy some soon!
Try these other creamy desserts:
- Passion fruit mousse (mousse de maracuya)
- Mango panna cotta
- Arroz con leche (Spanish rice pudding)
- Plus get more dessert recipes in the archives.
Brazilian corn pudding (curau de milho)
- 3 cups fresh corn 420g, from 2 - 3 ears of corn, depending on size
- 2 cups whole milk 480ml
- 1 pinch salt
- ½ cup sugar 100g
- cinnamon to serve
- Cut the kernels from the ears of corn and measure them out. As well as the main kernels, you can scrape the husk with the back of a knife to get all the last little bits out (this part often has more of the starch that helps it thicken).
- Place the corn in a blender with the milk and blend until smooth.
- Pour the corn milk through a strainer or colander lined with cheesecloth, a little at a time so it doesn't overflow. Stir and press the corn solids so that you get as much liquid from them as possible. When you have most of the liquid out, gather together the corners of the cheesecloth and squeeze well to get as much liquid out as possible. (You can also just use a fine strainer, but it's easier to squeeze all the liquid out using the cheesecloth.)
- Place the strained corn milk in a wide, relatively large pot with the sugar and stir to help the sugar dissolve. Place over a medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- Simmer the mixture for around 15-20 minutes, stirring regularly at first then continuously towards the end to prevent the mixture sticking and burning on the bottom, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of a semi-thick custard or pudding. If you find it is not thickening on its own, then dissolve a little corn starch in water (say ½tsp in 1tsp to start) and mix this in to help it along.
- Divide the mixture between individual dishes and serve warm, or chilled, topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
I first shared the recipe for curau de milho on Curious Cuisiniere where I am a contributor.
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