Traditional Johnny Cakes

This traditional Johnny Cakes recipe is made the old-fashioned way with only a small handful of ingredients and they’re fried until golden brown and delightfully crispy!  Serve them hot with butter, maple syrup, maple butter, or applesauce for a filling a thoroughly satisfying meal.

johnny cakes recipe traditional authentic corn cornmeal gluten free

Corn has been a central, staple ingredient in the Americas for thousands of years.  Corn was one of the main dishes gifted to the Pilgrims by the local Native Americans during the first Thanksgiving and some historians believe that Johnny Cakes may have been one of the dishes eaten on that occasion.

What Are Johnny Cakes?

Also known as Rhode Island Johnny Cakes, they are basically all-corn pancakes.  Most contemporary recipes for Johnny Cakes include ingredients like flour, eggs, baking powder, milk or buttermilk, and even vanilla and spices.  In other words, a pancake with some added cornmeal.  A true Johnny Cake however, also known as Rhode Island Johnny Cakes, were very simple and were made with only a small handful of ingredients:  Cornmeal, salt, and water.  Occasionally also some sugar and/or some fat like butter or bacon grease.  The mixture is scooped onto a hot griddle or heavy pan and fried until they are golden brown and crispy.  Their texture is like the corn version of potato pancakes: Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

We’ll show you how to make Johnny Cakes the old-fashioned way and they are sure to satisfy your tummy and soul just as they did the many generations before us!

Other regional names for Johnny Cakes (also spelled Johnnycakes or Jonnycake) include corn cake, ashcake, battercake, hoe cake, cornpone, hoecake (or hoe cake), journey cake (some believe “johnny” derived from “journey”), corn pone, mush bread, and Shawnee cake (some believe “Johnny” may be derived from “Shawnee.”).

How to Serve Johnny Cakes

Traditionally they are served hot with butter, maple butter, or maple syrup.

Here are some additional options:

  • With fruity toppings like applesauce, sliced bananas, or fresh berries with some honey drizzled over.
  • With savory toppings like a slice of crispy bacon or cooked sausage.  You can also sprinkle them with some grated cheese.
  • With a dollop of whipped cream or spoonful of yogurt with a drizzle of honey and sprinkle of cinnamon.

johnny cakes recipe traditional authentic corn cornmeal gluten free

© Liudmyla Chuhunova | Dreamstime

Traditional Johnny Cakes Recipe

Recipes don’t get much simpler than these.  The prep time is quick however they do require some patience to cook to develop that nice crispy texture.  Depending on your griddle/pan, the heat, and the thickness of your cakes, it can take up to 11-12 minutes of frying on each side until they are golden brown and crispy.  So it’s best to have something else to do in the kitchen while these are frying on the griddle.

Let’s get started!

Combine the cornmeal, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl.

Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan.

Gradually pour the cornmeal mixture in a steady stream into the boiling water, whisking constantly.

combining cornmeal with ingredients and whisking in boiling water

Turn off the heat and continue whisking until the mixture is smooth.

Add the butter and whisk until melted and incorporated.

Let the batter rest for 15 minutes (this will soften the grains to prevent a gritty texture as well as enable the consistency to thicken).

stirring the batter and adding butter

After about 15 minutes the consistency should resemble that of mashed potatoes.  If it’s still too runny let it sit a bit longer.

Drop the batter in roughly 1/4 cup scoops onto a frying pan heated over medium-high heat.  You can either use a non-stick frying pan (still use a little bit of oil) or oil a cast iron pan.  Space the scoops of batter about 3 inches apart because they will spread.

scoop batter into frying pan

Let the cakes fry undisturbed for several minutes until the edges are browned.  This can take anywhere from 6-12 minutes.  If you try and flip them too soon they will fall apart in a mushy mess so be patient.

Once the edges are browned flip the cakes over and use a spatula to press them down to a thickness of no more than 1/4 inch so they can become nice and crispy.

frying and flipping over the cakes

Continue to fry on the other side for several more minutes until the cakes are golden brown and crispy on the outside.  Add a little more oil or butter when you flip them over to fry them on the other side.

johnny cakes recipe traditional authentic corn cornmeal gluten free

Transfer the cakes to a wire rack placed on baking sheet and put them in a warmed oven to keep warm while you make another batch.

johnny cakes recipe traditional authentic corn cornmeal gluten free

Serve hot with butter, maple butter, maple syrup, or applesauce.


johnny cakes recipe traditional authentic corn cornmeal gluten free

For more breakfast favorites be sure to try our:

Originally published on The Daring Gourmet December 30, 2020

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