This delicious Mexican sweet corn cake is a copycat of my favorite yummy side that used to be served at Chi-Chi’s! Also known as pan de elote, this scoopable buttery corn cake straddles the line between a warm corn pudding and cornbread perfectly…
Chi-Chi’s Mexican Sweet Corn Cake
I’m probably dating myself here, but one of the saddest days of my life was the day Chi-Chi’s shut down their restaurants. I have SO many fun memories of celebrating birthdays, graduations, and even no special occasion at all while wearing one of their big sparkly and colorful sombreros and digging into a Mexican fried ice cream smothered in hot fudge sauce…
Before we had kids, it was our Friday night hotspot on the regular. My favorite meal consisted of a small dish of cheese con queso as an appetizer, followed by a beef chimichanga with extra Mexican sweet corn cake on the side (please and thank you!), all washed down with one of their amazing frozen wild berry margaritas. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
I have yet to recreate Chi-Chi’s delicious wild berry margarita, and honestly the chimichangas just seem like WAY too much effort to try at home… But I did happen on a copycat Chi-Chi’s corn cake recipe a couple of years ago. Overall, it’s a pretty simple and easy recipe — although it does take about an hour to bake, which makes it more of a special occasion side dish in my book.
But since today is Cinco de Mayo and we’re all stuck at home, this seems like a special-enough occasion… Who’s with me?!
Masa Harina for Chi-Chi’s Corn Cake
You probably have most of the ingredients for Chi-Chi’s corn cake in your pantry and refrigerator already. Maybe not the heavy cream, but whole milk should work fine in a pinch. However, one you’ll likely need to pick up is masa harina, i.e. instant corn flour. The goods news is Walmart carries it in the Hispanic section, so you really shouldn’t have any trouble tracking it down.
If you’re not familiar with masa harina, it’s a corn flour that’s made from ground nixtamalized corn. Yeah, that’s a pretty fancy word, but it basically means it’s made with corn that has been soaked and cooked in limewater, giving it a very distinctive flavor. You’ll recognize the taste as being much like a corn tortilla, which makes sense because masa harina is most often used for making corn tortillas.
You only need a small amount for this recipe, so homemade corn tortillas would be an awesome way to put the rest of the bag to good use. But I’m also working on a tasty masa harina cornbread recipe, which will help use it up. So stay tuned for that… Either way, don’t skip the masa harina — the flavor profile it gives is what makes this sweet corn cake so good!
How To Make Mexican Corn Cake Like Chi-Chi’s
Okay, so we’ll never know if this is exactly how Chi-Chi’s made their corn cake, but the flavor and texture are spot on. If you never had the pleasure of eating at Chi-Chi’s, the easiest way for me to describe it is that it’s a very tender and scoopable slightly sweet buttery corn cake, which straddles the line between a warm corn pudding and cornbread perfectly… That’s a mouthful, but the condensed version is IT’S DELICIOSO!
As far as actually making Chi-Chi’s corn cake goes, essentially you just blend all of the ingredients together. The batter will be very thick, so just spread it out in an even layer in an 8×8″ ceramic baking dish. No need to grease the dish — the butter in the recipe will keep it from sticking, as will the next step…
Water Bath for Sweet Corn Cake Recipe
The key to the tender texture is baking the corn cake batter in a water bath. Don’t be intimidated — it’s really super simple. As I mentioned, you just need to spread the batter in an 8×8″ ceramic baking dish, and then cover it tightly with aluminum foil. Place the 8×8″ dish inside a 9×13″ baking dish, and pour about three cups of water around it.
This keeps the cooking environment very moist, while also baking the sweet corn cake batter slowly and evenly. When it’s done baking, allow the Mexican corn cake to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
I like to use my medium cookie scoop to serve up cute little corn cake balls, a la Chi-Chi’s. You’ll get about 9-ish small side servings of 2-3 scoops each from this recipe!
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