It was 85°F in February; everybody around me was calling it the "cold season." To me, it was Day 10 of hiking through Philippine mountains, floating in electric-blue waters, gripping my seat as a driver sped three-cars-deep around winding chasms, meandering through the burning heat of city streets, and sweating more than is prudent to discuss. My partner and I were now in Candon, Ilocos Sur—the birthplace and ancestral home of my mother-in-law—and my partner's cousin was leading the two of us around town, calling our attention to points of personal interest as I wondered if it was time yet to reapply my sunscreen.
She led us inside a quiet restaurant, Inapuyan, hidden from the bustle of the main street. It was between meals and there was a band setting up in the corner for dinner service while lunchtime stragglers chatted quietly across the dining room. She ran to the kitchen—which she could do because the restaurant is run by family on her mother's side—and asked a cook to bring us three glasses of maíz con hielo (aka mais con yelo, depending on whom you ask).
It's literally the most refreshing thing I've ever eaten.
If you're familiar with the famed Filipino dessert halo-halo, then you have some idea of what I was in for. Traditionally, both halo-halo and mais con yelo are made with crushed or shaved ice drizzled with a sweet, milky mixture. The more well-known halo-halo then gets a host of toppings that may include beans in a sweet syrup, coconut jelly, candied fruit, ube ice cream, sliced banana, scoops of leche flan, and more—sometimes up to 16 different add-ons. But for mais con yelo (which some Filipinos told me is just another kind of halo-halo and other Filipinos insisted is an entirely different thing), the components are a little more streamlined. The main ingredient—besides the sweetened milk and ice—is corn, which adds a summery sweetness to a dessert that's already built for warm weather.
Mais con yelo may get a scoop of leche flan on top, too. Or it might get topped with cheddar-cheese ice cream (yep, that's a thing in the Philippines). Or it might be showered with crunchy corn flakes cereal). No matter how it's accessorized, it's a roadside staple across the Philippines.
When we stopped by Inapuyan restaurant, though, chef Jonathan Dario Salvador served us a version that's a little more involved. Instead of merely crushing ice and pouring the sweetened milk on top, Salvador whips together condensed and evaporated milk with cream, sugar, and water and freezes the mix solid. That frozen "milk ice" then goes into a shaver, where it comes out in fluffy, icy granules which Salvador piled into tall glasses over whole-kernel corn swimming in a sweet caramel-like syrup and topped with a wedge of that eggy, rich leche flan. In short, it's literally the most refreshing yet luscious thing I've ever eaten.
And now that it's corn season and I'm back in the States, it's all I can think about making for dessert. Inspired by Salvador's version, Epi Test Kitchen contributor Kat Boytsova helped me by first infusing the dairy mixture with corn milk—that starchy liquid that can be scraped from the cobs using the back of a chef's knife or spoon handle.
Kat blended the corn milk with the corn kernels, plus condensed milk, evaporated milk, sugar, cream, and water and then strained it. Since none of us have an industrial ice shaver lying around—though here's a home-style one that works almost as well—she used the granita method to freeze it. The technique is simple, even if it's more hands-on than Salvador's: pour the mixture into a shallow dish, scrapping every half hour with the tines of a fork until it's slushy and flaky.
Meanwhile, Kat made an easy brown sugar syrup on the stove and tossed in more fresh corn just to soften it slightly, retaining a crispness that adds fun texture to the whole dessert.
To finish, we steered away from the leche flan (too time consuming) and the cheese ice cream (too hard to find in the U.S.) and instead topped off our version with corn flakes, adding satisfying crunch. (If you're a real sweets lover, you could even go for Frosted Flakes, which are even more shatteringly crisp.) The three components are layered in tall sundae glasses so that you can see the distinct segments before digging deep for the syrupy sweet corn or mixing the whole thing together—after all, the name halo-halo translates to mix-mix, so if you're not stirring between each bite, you're not doing it right.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious