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~ My Johnny Cakes -- Jonnycakes -- Journey Cakes ~

6a0120a8551282970b0168e545bb8a970c 2I watch the Sopranos on A&E every morning or afternoon, or any chance I get.  I watch the series over and over again, no matter how many times they rerun it.  It's, well, "like being a part of the family".  They're currently running the sixth season and last week the episode entitled "Johnny Cakes" was on.  Suffice it to say, it is about a character named Vito who is adjusting to his new lifestyle in New Hampshire and strikes up a friendship with a diner owner named Jim, who makes the best Johnny cakes in town.  I love Johnny cakes, I mean, I really love Johnny cakes a lot, and, I haven't made them in a while.  I also believe/guess that a lot of folks here in Central PA haven't ever eaten them, so, hence today's breakfast blog post (or breakfast for dinner post).

What the heck is a Johnny cake?  Is it the same as a pancake?

Dating back to the early 1600's, Johnny cakes are said to be the precursor to the pancake.  The origin of the name is a mystery, and, most likely has nothing to do with the name John.  We do know they were originally called journey cakes because they were packed into saddlebags to take on long trips.  They were sometimes called ash cakes, because they could be baked or reheated in the hot embers of a fire, and, hoe cakes, are ash cakes that are placed on a hoe and also cooked over an open fire.  Corn cakes were first made by Native Americans, who called them janiken, and that sounds suspiciously close to Johnny cake to me.  They used ground corn as an ingredient in a lot of their food, so most historians believe it was the colonists who slurred the words "Shawnee cakes" into "Johnny cakes".  It's no surprise these delicious cornmeal cakes are associated with New England, as it was the Native Americans who taught the Pilgrims how to grind corn (because their supply of wheat flour spoiled during their voyage from England) in 1620.

DSC01341My first experience with Johnny cakes was back in 1991 or 1992 (I can't pinpoint the exact year, but I know what car we were driving, so I'm in the right time frame).  Joe and I decided to take a tennis vacation and headed to the Killington ski resort in Vermont.  During the Summer, Killington offers tennis packages and boasts first-class accommodations, all in the clean, crisp, cool air of the great state of Vermont.  We drove nine hours, along winding, two-lane interstate and country roads looking at truly picturesque mountains and greenery.  We FINALLY arrived.  It was idillic, until the killer mosquitos came out and that's all I'm sayin' about that.  Joe and I ended up spending a great deal of time sight-seeing, shopping in country stores and eating in local restaurants.  I tasted my first Johnny cake for breakfast before hitting the courts on our first day.  I liked them so much, I ordered them every morning for the rest of our stay and got a recipe (mostly instructions) from one of the chef's who worked in the resort's kitchen.  Ya gotta love it.

6a0120a8551282970b0162ff4a3949970dIn their purest form, Johnny cakes are made from yellow or white corn meal (your choice), boiling water, salt and sometimes sugar.  The corn meal gives them their unique texture, but they get most of their flavor from what they are cooked in, so, bacon drippings or butter, or either combined with some oil are always used.   I use a combination of butter and corn oil, which is in keeping with a corn theme.

The batter has the consistency of loose mashed potatoes and many versions contain milk and egg. Unlike pancakes they don't contain any leavening, like baking powder, which is great because you can mix up a batch in advance of cooking them. Like pancakes, you can top them with more butter, fresh fruit, syrup and or honey. I like a pat or two of soft, sweet butter and, of course, a good douse of pure, Vermont maple syrup.

Make someone's day -- Make 'em some Johnny cakes!















1  cup yellow cornmeal

1  cup white cornmeal

1 3/4  cups boiling water

4  tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled for about 10 minutes

1/2  cup whole milk, at room temperature, not cold

1 large egg

4  tablespoons sugar (1/4 cup)

2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2  additional whole milk, slightly warm

4  tablespoons additional butter, for frying

4  tablespoons corn oil, for frying

PICT1007~ Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, in the microwave or on the stovetop, melt and cool the 4 tablespoons of butter as directed. Using a fork, whisk in the 1/2 cup milk, egg, sugar and salt.  You will have 3/4 cup of butter/milk mixture.






~ Step 2.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the two corn meals. Set aside.  In a small saucepan, bring 1 3/4 cups of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Using a whisk, add the boiling water, every last hot drop, to the cornmeal, thoroughly combine and set aside for about 5 minutes.  This mixture will be very thick and pasty.  Meanwhile:





~ Step 3.  Heat the additional 1/2 cup of milk in the microwave or on the stovetop.  Add all of the milk to the pasty cornmeal mixture.

PICT1040Using a fork, combine the mixture until it literally resembles, very loose mashed potatoes.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside about 20-30 minutes, longer, or overnight!

PICT1044~ Step 4.  In a 12", nonstick skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of butter into 4 tablespoons of corn oil over medium heat.  This will be enough to fry all of the Johnny cakes.  Using a 1/4 cup ladle (4 tablespoons) as a measure, drop four Johnny cakes into the skillet.  Adjust the heat to medium-high and fry, until golden brown on both sides, about 2 1/2-3 minutes per side, turning only once. Error on the side of slightly lower heat, as, if the heat is too high, the cakes will be raw in the center, so take your time here.  Johnny cakes are denser than pancakes, which means they take longer to cook.  Remember what your grandmother said, "patience is a virtue".

Johnny cakes, which contain no leaveners are denser than pancakes, so, they take longer to cook than pancakes:

PICT1056My Johnny Cakes - Jonnycakes - Journey Cakes:  Visit an Original New England Breakfast Tradition:  Recipe yields 16, 3 1/2" round Johnny cakes.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; whisk; 1-2-quart saucepan; plastic wrap; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; 2-ounce ladle; spatula

Cook's Note:  All things considered, Johnny cakes can and do rival ordinary pancakes on any given day.  Crispy on the outside, with a slightly grainy, yet creamy, texture on the inside, there is nothing not to love.  I think of them as individual cornbreads that are fried in a skillet.  By the way, did I mention they are gluten-free too?

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


Eileen! I'm so pleased you enjoyed my post, and, I couldn't agree with you more... there is no substitute for pure maple syrup (preferably from Vermont)!

Great post. I love Johnny Cakes, maple syrup, and Vermont. Please emphasize that Johnny Cakes must be served with pure maple syrup or use no syrup. Just butter. Or serve with blueberries and/or strawberries.

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