Johnny Cakes (Hoe Cakes)

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
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Fluffy and golden, these Johnny Cakes (also known as hoe cakes or cornmeal pancakes) are a vintage recipe that continues to impress! Serve them up in the morning, or as a grab-and-go snack, and enjoy this cousin of the classic pancake!

A Classic Cornbread Pancake Recipe!

As a huge pancake lover, I’m so excited to share today’s recipe with you guys. It’s one of my absolute favorite things to cook and eat. That’s right, I’m talking about johnny cakes! Buttery, golden, and fluffy, these amazing cornmeal pancakes are an old-timey dish that’s sure to please.

In the south, johnny cakes are also called hoe cakes. These flat, crispy-edged cornbread pancakes are super flavorful, and not too sweet. They go wonderfully with a generous drizzle of maple syrup, or you can serve them with something savory like a pot of greens or beans.

(For a sweet, summery hoe cake recipe the whole family will devour, try these Sweet Hoecakes with Blackberry Sauce!)

A stack of hoe cakes with a triangular bite cut out of it.

Why Do They Call Them Johnny Cakes?

It’s not clear why they’re called johnny cakes. It may be that originally they were known as journey cakes, since some recipes are made very simply with plain cornmeal, salt, and water – easy to whip up on a journey. Or it might be an English version of the Native American word “janiken,” which means “corn cake.” Some historians also think that “johnny” might be a mispronunciation of Shawnee.

The alternative name, hoe cake, which is common in the South, probably had to do with a cast iron skillet called a hoe, not the garden tool. One thing’s for sure: whatever you call these little cornmeal pancakes, they’re addictively delicious.

From top: Eggs, water, cornmeal, melted butter, buttermilk, flour, sugar, baking soda.

What You’ll Need

While the most basic recipes for johnny cakes or hoecakes use only cornmeal, salt, and water, this one has a few more bells and whistles. Adding eggs, buttermilk, and a few other goodies creates an irresistible flavor and texture!

  • Flour: A base of all-purpose flour keeps the hoe cakes soft, and not too gritty.
  • Cornmeal: You’ll often see recipes that call for self-rising meal, but for this one, choose regular cornmeal instead. We’ll add our own rising agent – baking soda.
  • Sugar: I include a little sugar in my johnny cakes, but if you prefer to leave it out, that works, too!
  • Baking Soda: The baking soda will react with the buttermilk to make the cakes light. Make sure to use baking soda, not baking powder.
  • Salt
  • Buttermilk: If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make a substitute – see the “Tips” section below.
  • Water
  • Eggs: A couple of whole eggs help the johnny cakes stay in one piece, instead of crumbling apart.
  • Butter: Melt the butter before you add it to the batter.
  • Syrup: Have some of your favorite syrup, such as maple syrup, for serving – this is optional.

Are Grits and Cornmeal the Same?

Grits and cornmeal are both made from corn, but they are not the same. Grits are coarsely ground, while cornmeal comes in several different grades, from very fine corn flour to coarse meal that has a very bold, noticeable texture.  Additionally, grits are made from hominy, which means the corn was treated with lye. This makes it slightly softer in texture and more nutritious to eat. 

Pouring syrup over a stack of johnny cakes with pats of butter in between.

How to Make Authentic Johnny Cakes

Making a batch of johnny cakes is similar to making a batch of pancakes. After all, they are very similar, with the main difference being the addition of cornmeal! Here we go:

  • Combine the Dry Ingredients. In one mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Whisk these ingredients to combine them and break up any big lumps.
  • Combine the Wet Ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, water, eggs, and melted butter until smooth. The butter will solidify into little bits somewhat, but that’s okay.
  • Mix the Two Together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until just combined. Do not over mix, or the johnny cakes will be tough.
  • Get Ready to Cook. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and spray it with non-stick spray (or add a half tablespoon of butter to the pan to grease it). 
  • Cook the Johnny Cakes. Once the pan is hot, spoon about ¼ cup of the batter onto the pan for each cake. Let them cook for about four minutes, or until the edges are set and the surface is bubbly. Then flip the cakes and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until both sides are golden brown.
  • Enjoy! Serve the johnny cakes hot, with syrup and butter if desired.
Lifting a cornmeal pancake from a skillet.

Helpful Tips and Tricks

This recipe is so simple, and so good. And with a few helpful tricks like these up your sleeve, it’s practically foolproof! Here are my best tips for perfect johnny cakes:

  • Buttermilk Substitution: If you don’t have any buttermilk on hand, no worries. Just mix one tablespoon of vinegar with enough milk to make a cup. Stir, and let this mixture a second for about five minutes before you add it to the batter.
  • Yellow vs. White Cornmeal: You can use yellow or white cornmeal to make these. White cornmeal tends to have a more subtle taste, while yellow cornmeal has a more pronounced corn flavor, and of course, that sunny yellow color.
  • Bacon Grease: For an unforgettable flavor, try frying your johnny cakes in the leftover grease from cooking bacon. Talk about an amazing breakfast!
Overhead shot of a stack of johnny cakes, topped with butter and syrup.

Tasty Serving Suggestions

You can’t go wrong serving these little cakes with maple syrup, as shown in the photos. Substitute cane syrup if you’re feeling really southern! Or, try a johnny cake with one of these savory recipes instead:

  • Greens: Johnny cakes are the legendary side dish for sopping up the broth (also known as pot liquor or pot likker) from a mess of greens. Try this recipe for Beer Bacon Collard Greens. So good!
  • Charro Beans: Cornbread of any kind is a wonderful match for these Instant Pot Charro Beans, a meaty dish with sausage, bacon, chorizo, and more!
  • Chili: Whip up some hoe cakes to make chili night even more special. This earthy, hearty Chili Colorado is one of our favorites!
A fork lifting a bite of cornmeal pancakes from a plate.

Refrigerating, Freezing, and Reheating

Store leftover johnny cakes in your fridge, to keep them fresh and tasty. Cool them down before storing them, and make sure to put them in an airtight container or a zip-top bag to keep other food odors out. 

For longer storage, freeze the cakes with pieces of wax paper or parchment in between them, to prevent sticking. They will keep frozen for three months or more. 

To reheat, you can warm the johnny cakes in a covered skillet over low heat, in the microwave for a few seconds, or in the oven at 350°F.

Cornmeal pancakes with butter and syrup.
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Recipe
Yield: 4 Servings

Johnny Cakes (Hoe Cakes)

Fluffy and golden, these Johnny Cakes (also known as hoe cakes or cornmeal pancakes) are a vintage recipe that continues to impress! Serve them up in the morning, or as a grab-and-go snack, and enjoy this cousin of the classic pancake!
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • Maple syrup, for serving

Instructions 

  • In a large bowl, whisk to combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, water, eggs and melted butter until smooth.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not over mix.
  • Heat a large pan or skillet over medium heat and spray it with non-stick spray (or add a half tablespoon of butter to the pan to grease it).
  • Then spoon 1/4 cup of the batter onto the pan for each cake, adding 3-4 at a time depending on how large your skillet is.
  • Cook for 4-5 minutes or until the edges are set and the surface is bubbly then flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until both sides are golden brown.
  • Serve hot with syrup and a slice of butter if desired.

Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. You can also freeze them in an air tight container for up to 3 months. If freezing, I recommend placing a piece of parchment paper in between each johnny cake so they do not freeze together.

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 756kcal, Carbohydrates: 118g, Protein: 12g, Fat: 27g, Saturated Fat: 16g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 9g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 156mg, Sodium: 801mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 60g

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Welcome!

Jessica
I'm a trial & error, self taught, sugar addict who thankfully learned how to survive in the kitchen! I am also a wife, mama of 3.