Bread of the Month: Staking a cornmeal claim for ‘Johnnycakes’

Armed with freshly ground cornmeal from a local historic grist mill (see previous blog entry), I pondered ways to use it. I loved a good cornbread, but I had made many pans in my day, so I was up for something different. One Sunday, I Iooked to something cozy and comforting and breakfast-y that just said Sunday. 

My mom loved cornmeal pancakes…her favorite of the morning breakfast griddle breads. She made them in large batches so there would be plenty (for her), and  I’ve witnessed her inhale an unbelievably high number of corn cakes, finishing one (or two), and then saying, “Just one more,” at least several more times. 

I can’t really blame her. A good cornmeal pancake is a nice turn of variety to regular pancakes. Fluffy, somewhat light, buttery with corn flavor to the point of being slightly salty, then drenched in more butter and syrup or even a dollop of strawberry jam, I salivate a little just thinking of them now.

I looked through a number of recipes for cornmeal pancakes, and landed on a recipe for “johnnycakes” made with a rich corn batter doled out on the griddle in diminutive proportions.  (Recipe: https://www.thespruceeats.com/johnnycakes-3054155). Because of their small size, sturdiness and heartiness, the name “Johnny cakes” may have originally come from “journey cakes,” according to the 1950 “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book,” which features a recipe for ”Old-Time Johnny Cakes” calling for “water-ground corn meal.” Johnnycakes have been a bread whose own roots journey has been attributed to New England and the American South, as well as the Caribbean.

To begin my johnnycake-making adventure, dry ingredients (flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt) were first whisked together and set aside.

Milk was heated with butter until it just began to simmer.

Here is the step I loved — the hot milk-and-butter mixture is blended into the dry ingredients and an egg is whisked in, and the batter is allowed to sit for 10 minutes so everything can hydrate and the cornmeal will soften. How many cornmeal recipes have annoyed me with with crunchy cornmeal after baking or cooking? This was genius.

The batter was doled out in two-tablespoonfuls onto a hot, slightly greased non-stick skillet…small cakes for sure, but I could fit at least four in a pan at the time.

They also cooked up more quickly than a full-sized pancake. Soon, I had a whole tray-ful of the cakes piled up in the warming oven.

So delicious! Soft, fluffy and tender, with the substantial buttery flavor from the freshly ground cornmeal. Drenched with butter and syrup, they were ideal for a Sunday morning, and I imagined the number of them my mom would stack on her plate.

For the recipe, go to https://www.thespruceeats.com/johnnycakes-3054155.

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