Sweetcorn Cakes / Tamales (Cheesecake Factory-style)
This is the ultimate recipe for those of you who, like me, tasted heaven when scoffing the sweet corn cakes at the Cheesecake Factory, a popular American chain of restaurants with a dessert menu (unsurprisingly) focusing on cheesecakes. And delicious ones at that. But they also have a great main menu, and I am forever thankful I chose the sweetcorn cakes while on holiday in Vegas in 2007. (Apart from the Liberace Museum, the Cheesecake Factory was my favourite part). These are are hot, fluffy, rather sweet little corn cakes, baked in a water bath (do not be afraid), gently fried and served smothered in salsa and sour cream. They are a bit like cornbread, a bit like spoon bread, and the vague nod to a steaming process plus the inclusion of masa harina makes these little beauties more than just a little reminiscent of tamales. There’s nothing quite like them in Britain. Not even at American or Mexican themed restaurants. (Although admittedly they do not really resemble proper Mexican tamales, despite the name.) You will either love them or hate them; obviously if you love corn, you will enjoy these. I spent years trying to re-create the restaurant version at home, and the recipe you see below is, I believe, pretty close.
This is a two-stage recipe that does require a bit of forward planning – they take a while to cook, but the process isn’t difficult. They are baked in the oven, allowed to ‘rest’ for 15 minutes in the ramekins, then gently fried in a little oil until golden brown. This last tip was discreetly given to me by a Cheesecake Factory employee, and it really is the finishing touch.
Please note, masa harina (a kind of lime-treated flour made from corn) is not the same as cornmeal or cornflour, and it really is required for this recipe. Try your nearest large supermarket – many stock a wide range of imported goods. Whole Foods also sell it; failing that there are a number of online options such as The Cool Chile Co. and Mex Grocer.
1 x 326g [285g drained weight] tin of sweetcorn, blitzed until almost smooth in a food processor
75g vegan butter (foil-wrapped Stork, Pure, Vitalite etc)
50g masa harina
75ml milk (any kind, non-dairy is fine)
50g yellow cornmeal/polenta
2 tbsp white sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt and pepper
Salad/salsa/sour cream/tortilla chips to serve (optional, but recommended!)
Serves 2. You will need 4 large-ish ramekins. (I never grease them).
To make the sweetcorn cakes:
Preheat oven to 200c / 400f / Gas Mark 6
Rinse and drain the corn and process, using a hand blender or food processor. Do not make completely smooth; a few bits of corn are fine (and preferable). Set aside.
Cream together the vegan butter and masa harina.
Slowly add the milk until combined to a smooth and creamy consistency.
Sprinkle in the cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper and beat thoroughly.
Finally, spoon in the blitzed corn. Give it a final whizz, and get a full kettle of water on the boil. While you are waiting, spoon the mixture into your 4 ramekins in equal amounts. Place the ramekins into a large dish or baking tin big enough to hold all the ramekins and carefully pour hot water into the dish/tin until the level comes about half way up the sides of the ramekins. Loosely cover the ramekins/tin very carefully with foil.
Place in your pre-heated oven and bake for approx 50mins. They should look risen and golden. When cooked, remove the ramekins from the water bath and allow to stand for about 10mins. This improves texture and allows for easy removal.
Use a tea-towel to handle the ramekins – unless you have asbestos hands like me – as they’ll still be quite hot. Turn the ramekins upside down on to a plate and gently tap the bottom – they’ll come out easily. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan and fry the cakes for a few minutes on each side until hot and golden brown. Serve immediately. I place them on a bed of salad, and top them with salsa and sour cream, with a handful of tortilla chips on the side.