Corn is ubiquitous in Latin American cuisine. It’s used in every conceivable fashion, from the instantly recognizable tortilla to more obscure fermented beverages. 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.
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 and dense; 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 used canned hominy (dried corn kernels that have been treated with alakali to denude the kernels) and added fresh yellow corn for balance. That first bite brought me right back to doña María’s kitchen.
TORTA DE ELOTES (Nicaraguan Corn Torte)
Notes: This recipe can be halved. If doing so, bake it in an 8- by 8-inch dish.
- Queso duro (literally, “hard cheese”) is a firm, crumbly, salty, cow’s milk cheese eaten in several Latin American countries. Variations exist from country to country, but the overall characteristics are the same. This cheese can be found in the specialty cheese section of most supermarkets. Should you not be able to find queso duro, substitute haloumi, a Cypriot cheese made with goat’s and/or sheep’s milk.
- I love the sweet and tangy flavor of Latin American crema, but crème fraîche or sour cream are acceptable substitutions.
Active time: 20 minutes
Total time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Equipment: 13- by 9-inch baking dish, food processor, cooling rack
8 ears fresh corn, husks and silk removed
2 (29-ounce) cans hominy, drained
2/3 cup crema or sour cream (See Notes)
8 ounces queso duro or haloumi, finely grated (See Notes)
½ cup sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 13- by 9-inch baking dish with baking spray.
Cut each cob in half crosswise. Stand the cob upright, resting the cut end on a cutting board, pie plate, or large shallow mixing bowl. With a chef’s knife, cut the kernels off, rotating the cob as you go. Discard the cob. Repeat with remaining cobs.
Pulse corn in food processor until it turns to pulp—if you have a small food processor, do this in two batches—and transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Pulse hominy in food processor until it turns into a smooth paste and add it to the corn pulp.
Stir together corn and hominy, then add crema, cheese, sugar, eggs, butter, baking powder, and salt; stir until thoroughly combined.
Scrape batter into prepared baking dish. Bake until torta is set and the sides pull away slightly from the baking dish, 60 to 75 minutes. Cool torta in pan set on cooling rack, about 1 hour. Torta may be served warm or at room temperature.