These updated “johnnycakes” are festive breakfast fare
Who doesn’t like pancakes for breakfast? Or lunch or dinner? They’re wonderful anytime.
And they seem particularly suited to festive occasions. Such as Thanksgiving morning (or the morning after).
Cornmeal makes an especially succulent pancake, as colonial Americans discovered. Early European settlers practically lived on a version of cornmeal pancakes called “johnnycakes.”
So what could be more appropriate at Thanksgiving time? Bet you never knew that history could be so tasty.
Recipe: Cornmeal Pancakes
Although we often make wheat flour pancakes, we love using other grains as well.
Most recipes for pancakes are pretty similar: Make a batter using flour (corn, wheat, buckwheat, whatever), along with eggs, baking powder, and water and/or milk. Spoon onto a hot griddle, cook until the first side is done, then flip and cook until done throughout. Smother with maple syrup or butter and chow down.
Cornmeal is the predominant grain in these pancakes, but we also add some all-purpose (wheat) flour to make them a bit more tender. You can use either white or yellow cornmeal, in a fine, medium, or coarse grind. The coarse grind produces a slightly more textured pancake (which we happen to like).
The recipe we post about here is a classic that we found in The Joy of Cooking.
Prep time for this recipe is maybe 12 minutes. Cooking time for each batch of pancakes adds 3 or 4 minutes.
This recipe yields about one dozen 4-inch pancakes. Leftovers keep well for a day or so if refrigerated in an airtight container. Just microwave them to rewarm.
- 1 cup cornmeal (white or yellow; a finer grind produces a smoother pancake)
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt (or to taste; if using regular table salt, reduce the amount by half)
- 1 tablespoon sugar (very optional; see Notes)
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 large egg (preferably pasteurized; see Notes)
- ½ cup milk (whole milk yields gives a richer pancake, but skim works too)
- 2 tablespoons melted butter (cooled to almost room temperature)
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder (see Notes)
- ~1 tablespoon fat (if needed) to grease the griddle or skillet (butter, lard, or bacon grease are our favorites)
- pure maple syrup, butter, and/or jam to top the pancakes (optional)
- garnish of seasonal fruit (optional)
- Heat the griddle or skillet. If using an electric model, turn it on to 350 degrees F. Otherwise, place a regular griddle or skillet (preferably nonstick) on medium stovetop heat.
- Add cornmeal, salt, and sugar (if using) to a large, heatproof bowl. Mix to combine. Then add boiling water and mix again. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes (longer is OK; see Notes).
- In a separate bowl, beat together the egg, milk, and melted butter. Once the cornmeal mixture has stood for 10 minutes, add the egg mixture to the cornmeal.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour and baking powder. Alternatively, you can put these ingredients in a jar (with a lid) and shake them. Mix until the baking powder is thoroughly integrated into the flour. Add the flour mixture to the cornmeal and milk mixture. Stir briefly to combine—don’t overmix. It’s OK if the batter is somewhat lumpy.
- Test the griddle or skillet to make sure that it’s properly heated. When it’s ready, a water drop will skip off the surface.
- If your cooking surface isn’t nonstick, use a tablespoon of fat to lightly grease it.
- Using a ¼ cup measure, or a spoon that holds about that amount (exact measurement not important—see Notes), spoon the pancake batter onto the hot cooking surface. Cook until the edges of the pancakes seem firm and cooked; bubbles should form and break in the middle of the pancakes (this usually takes a couple of minutes). Turn the pancakes, then cook them another minute or two, until they’re cooked through.
- Plate each round of pancakes (they hold well in a 250-degree F oven for 30 minutes or so) while you cook the rest.
- Serve the pancakes with maple syrup, butter, jam, or whatever you fancy. We often add some seasonal fruit to the plate.
- Why add boiling water to the pancake batter in Step 2, and then let it rest for 10 minutes? Because hot water helps the cornmeal swell and fluff up, which results in lighter, better-textured pancakes.
- Sugar is optional in this recipe. Its primary purpose is to help brown the surface of the pancakes (it adds very little sweetening). We generally use it. But when we omit it, the pancakes don’t seem to brown appreciably less.
- Eggs carry a slight (but real) risk of salmonella. We suggest using pasteurized eggs when making any type of batter that you plan to taste raw. Although it’s unlikely the eggs you buy will be infected, why take the risk?
- And we do taste this batter, just to make sure we have added enough salt. We use Kosher salt, which is less salty by volume than regular table salt (its crystals are larger, so a teaspoon of Kosher salt weighs less than a teaspoon of table salt). If you’re using regular table salt, use about half the amount we suggest.
- Almost every baking powder you’ll find on your grocery shelf is “double-acting.” It’s called double-acting because you get a first reaction (the bubbles that help cause a rise) when you mix the powder with wet ingredients. Then there’s a second reaction when the batter hits the heat of the griddle.
- It’s a good idea to shake baking powder before using it to make sure all its components are well mixed.
- Baking powder consists of baking soda, an acidic ingredient (which reacts with the soda to produce leavening), and a neutral substance (usually corn starch) to provide bulk.
- Baking powder becomes weaker over time (and most baking powder tins have an expiration date). So replace your baking powder when necessary. We usually replace ours once a year, when daylight saving time ends (so we remember to do it).
- It’s important not to overmix pancake batter. When you mix it too much, the gluten in the wheat flour begins to develop, which can lead to chewy pancakes. Admittedly, this is less of a problem with cornmeal pancakes, because cornmeal is gluten free. But the all-purpose flour in this recipe does contain gluten.
- If the batter produced by this recipe is too thick for your liking, simply thin it with additional milk. But note that thin batter tends to produce flatter, less fluffy pancakes.
- You can make pancakes any size you want, from dollar-size up to the circumference of your griddle. We find that a ¼-cup measure of batter yields a nicely sized pancake, but it’s fun to experiment.
- An electric griddle is a real convenience if you regularly prepare foods that need to be turned over during cooking (such as pancakes, toasted cheese sandwiches, large quantities of bacon or sausage, or hamburgers). The low sides on the griddle make it easier to turn food with a spatula. Our electric griddle can hold 6 large pancakes or 8 medium-sized ones, which makes preparing pancakes quick work.
- Pure maple syrup pairs beautifully with cornmeal (or any) pancakes. We like to add a bit of butter, too, for extra lusciousness.
- If the bottle doesn’t say “pure” maple syrup, it’s not 100% maple syrup. Most “breakfast” or “pancake” syrups contain only a bit of maple syrup; the rest is flavoring and other sweeteners. These cheap knockoffs taste dreadful to us, so we always avoid them.
- In the United States, maple syrup is graded as “A” or “B.” Grade A is further subdivided into Light (or Fancy) Amber, Medium Amber, or Dark Amber. Grade A is what you almost always find on store shelves (grade B generally is used as an ingredient in cooking). We prefer the Dark Amber because we like its color and flavor.
- Corn (also known as maize) has long been a staple food in the New World. Legend says that Native Americans taught the early English settlers how to cook ground cornmeal into griddle cakes. These came to be called johnnycakes (or journey cakes, hoecakes, or johnny bread).
- Johnnycakes were a staple in all the American colonies, although they were particularly popular in New England. They’re still a favorite in Rhode Island.
- Many traditional recipes for johnnycakes do not contain baking powder or eggs. If you’d like to make this version, here’s how: Combine boiling water with cornmeal. Add some salt and melted fat (lard is traditional) to the mix. Let the mixture sit a bit, then cook the cakes on a hot griddle. Johnnycakes typically are quite thin (because remember, no baking powder or eggs).
- BTW, even though pancakes made with cornmeal were known only in the Americas before Europeans reached the New World, griddle cakes made with other grains were common in many other areas. In fact, griddle cakes date back to prehistory—they are one of the oldest grain-based cooked foods.
“The weather has suddenly turned gloomy and rainy,” sighed Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Good day for comfort food, like these pancakes.”
“Yep,” I said. “Autumn just creped up on us.”
“Careful with those puns,” said Mrs K R. “I could make like a pancake, and flip.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Guess I should butter you up.”
“That syrupy sweetness won’t fool me,” said Mrs K R.
“Then how about another round of griddle goodies?” I said. “Looks like you’ve blown your stack.”
“Sure,” said Mrs K R. “A-maize me with some more of these cornmeal cakes.”
“Batter up!” I said, flourishing my flat spatula. “Pancake batter, that is.”
“Whoa, buddy,” said Mrs K R. “You look like the turn-inator.”
“No,” I said in my best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice. “I prefer to be called the flapjock.”
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Baking Powder Biscuits
Easy Homemade Corn Tortillas
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Or check out the index for more recipes
OK! Mr. Flapjock...I have always intended to make these and never have. I'm not sure what has been holding me back, because I love amaizing cornmeal. Wish you could flip some my way!
A good morning after recipe for the inevitable Thanksgiving house guests is always a good thing. And I love the tip about mixing the cornmeal with hot water for lighter pancakes. And as always, your puns should have come with a warning label!
Hi Abbe, wish I could flip some your way too! These are really good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Terry, those puns are pretty terrible, aren't they? We can blame Mrs KR -- she came up with almost all of them. :-) Thanks for the comment.
That's cool, my kids are crazy about pancakes and I would love to try this and see how it goes. Thanks for sharing
We’re big fans of pancakes of all flours and shapes (the six-year old twins love their grandpa’s bear pancakes ...) but I love the idea of the water to fluff up the cornmeal a bit. Also -- it used to be that Grade B was the preferred/most maple-y maple syrup but because consumers couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea that Grade B was better than Grade A, the names were changed -- at least in Vermont, as I recall! I find lots of confusion out there, not sure we know what we’re buying anymore ...
Hi Amira, we're crazy about pancakes, too. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Alanna, good point about the grades! I think they changed this several years ago? The Grade A dark amber is (I think!) what used to be the "best" grade B! But for consumers, it's all A now. I guess cause we're all above average. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Your flapjacks look perfect for the full Thanksgiving house!
Hi John! Hope all is well with you...by the looks of these pancakes, I know you are at least eating well!! My husband and kids are big fans of sweet cornbread (they're Southern) so I think cornmeal pancakes may go down a treat. I've thought about making these may times, just never have. You've given me good incentive to try some now.
Hi Liz, good dish for Thanksgiving, huh? ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nazneen, we do eat well -- one of the benefits of being a food blogger! I'll bet your husband and kids would really like this -- tons of flavor. Thanks for the comment.
Haha - LOVE the playful banter in y'alls Griddle Giggles, Mr & Mrs FlapJock! :)
When I make these pancakes I really have to remember to let the water sit for 10 minutes - something I usually fail to do! Awesome recipe y'all!
You know I juts finished lunch and now I want a plate of pancakes! Cornmeal is a great idea and seasonal indeed. I just have to make these this weekend! With lots of (Canadian) maple syrup hi hi. Did not know about the shaking of baking powder and the effect of sugar in a pancake. Great info John!
Oh how I love a good pancake! I like the 2:1 on the cornmeal to flour. Usually, it's the other way around. I haven't made a pancake before that is predominately cornmeal, but you certainly have tempted me to change that. I'm making these this weekend. Thanks!!!
These sound great, I will probably let the mixture stand long enough for the cornmeal to be soft.
Hi Shashi, these are good even if you don't let the cornmeal rest in the hot water, but the texture is a bit better if you do. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Evelyne, Canadian maple syrup is awesome! Thanks for the comment.
Hi MJ, I've had cornmeal pancakes with less cornmeal and more wheat flour, but we really think this mix is better. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Melynda, I haven't tried it, but I'll bet you could let the mixture rest for a good hour or more before adding the milk etc. Always get too hungry after 10 minutes! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Pancakes for dinner are the best! And the idea of cooking these in bacon fat is almost too much. Major yum.
Very cool history lesson - I guess I always thought Johnny cakes were fried cornbread dough - but that's very similar to these pancakes! Lovely - I do love them at the holidays but especially for an easy dinner. Thanks!
Hi John, I have never had cornmeal pancakes before, these sound heavenly. Love the bantering between yourself and Mrs. Riff.
I'd like to butter up a couple of these right now! These little pancakes would be great any time but perfect for Thanksgiving morn! Joy of Cooking was one of the first cookbooks I got and I still have it after all these years. :-) Classic rules!
Hi Laura, anything cooked in bacon fat is wonderful! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Tricia, there are several different dishes called johnnycakes, including one that is almost muffin-like. But this was by far the most common. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Cheri, Mrs KR and I do like to banter. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pam, Joy of Cooking is a great cookbook! Particularly the earlier editions. Thanks for the comment.
Peter and I love pancakes, or hotcakes, or pikelets, John... but I've never made them with cornmeal... MUST try this soon. Thanks for a great recipe!
HI Lizzy, we don't often make pancakes out of cornmeal, but every time we do we wonder why we don't do it more often! Thanks for the comment.
I love any and all pancakes that aren't made with plain old white flour, these sound fantastic!
Hi Sue, they're really good -- super flavor! Thanks for the comment.
Wow, I have never thought in using cornmeal for pancakes...so interesting and they sure look great...thanks for the recipe John!
Hope you are enjoying your week :)
Sorry I didn't come and visit yesterday...too crazy busy here lately. I love pancakes for dinner sometimes. I have never had cornmeal pancakes..this I have to try. I have that cookbook the "Joy of Cooking" and I love it. It is a favorite of mine. Love your notes, I always learn from you something...Have to try the pancakes this weekend...Say hello to Mrs. K. Riffs and have a great rest of the week..
Hi Juliana, this really taste wonderful! Worth trying. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dottie, isn't that a wonderful cookbook? Old style, but good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Great photo, and I'm betting you didn't use motor oil as a stand in for syrup as is reportedly done in magazines. ;) I've never tried cornmeal pancakes, but I love butter and honey on cornbread, so I'm sure I'd be a fan! Sounds great.
Hi Judy, no motor oil here! Fascinating idea, though, although one I'll never be trying. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi John , saw the post yesterday , thanks for the hot water tip , made family pancakes this morning with maple syrup and fresh sliced peaches . I am pinning , hmmmm they were so yummy delicious . Thanks :)
Hi Nee, always good to make pancakes, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
The cornmeal pancakes look amazing, Mr. Flapjock.
These pancakes look amazing! Thanks for the hot water tip!
John, in the South, we called these hoe cakes. We served them for supper with our beans and greens then heated the leftovers in the morning for breakfast, served with butter and syrup. It has been a couple of years since I have made a batch--thanks for the reminder. --Rocquie
These look absolutely delicious. I usually have to be in the mood for pancakes but this put me right in that mood! Thanks for the tips & for sharing. :-)
Hi Pam, they are amazing. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Marcela, that hot water tip is so worth trying! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Rocquie, in parts of the midwest they call them hoe cakes, too. Good, whatever they're called! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pamela, glad to put you in the mood for pancakes! We're sort of the same, but when we have them wonder why we took so long to crave them! Thanks for the comment.
Johnny cakes are very popular in New England, even served as dessert in several upscale restaurants. You did a good job with yours.
You know what? Confession time: I really do believe I miss pancakes. I haven't had the REAL DEAL in AGES... AGES I tell you... I think I might miss them more than waffles!
I have eaten pancakes but I've never eaten a cornmeal pancake. And you do make them look good, John. We don't have Thanksgiving but we do have a lot of 'morning afters' and that's when I'd like to have these - after getting out of bed just before midday xx
Hi Karen, I know you know johnnycakes, so thanks for that wonderful comment!
Hi GiGI, bummer you can't eat pancakes. They are good (as so you well know). Thanks for the comment.
Hi Charlie, who doesn't love getting out of bed just before midday! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love cornmeal pancakes. They have the best texture and what a history lesson!!
Awh yeah.... I love pancakes, they were one thing I was most sad to not be able to eat when the doc said zero gluten, but a cornmeal cake, that shouldn't be too hard to ensure is gluten free right? Totes trying this soon. Thanks for a delicious recipe!
Oh Mr.Flapjack (or Mr. Johnnycake) how I do love those puns. The necessity of comfort food made its arrival this week. We are finally in November. This is a perfect meal for our luxurious weekend breakfasts. (I'd have them for dinner.) Thanks for the tips - especially the boiling water! Polenta pancakes!
Hi Alyssa, the flavor of these is really good, but I agree the texture is remarkable. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Anna, yup, cornmeal is gluten-free. This recipe has flour in it, but I'm sure you could ditch the flour -- although you'd have a slightly coarser, less tender pancake. Should be good, though! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Claudia, definitely comfort food time. We're finally going to get a freeze this weekend! End of the basil, alas. :-( Thanks for the comment.
I love pancakes for any meal of the day! These look to die for!
Hi Ashley, these really are to die for. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I adore cornbread but have never had cornmeal pancakes. What have I been missing???
Hi Scott, you've been missing a lot! These have some of the cornbread flavor, but quite different texture. Really good stuff! Thanks for the comment.
Now, this looks like the perfect breakfast! Yumm1
I love maple syrup on corn bread, so I know I would love these pancakes. I think they would be just the thing on Thanksgiving morning to help fuel you through all the preparations for the big feast.
Hi Peachy, it is! So, so tasty. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Carolyn, we love the corn bread & maple syrup combo too! In fact I was thinking of writing about that, but wanted to do something a bit different (and IMO, tastier). Hence, this post. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love traditional pancakes, but I never tried "johnnycakes" Sounds like it might be a nice change of pace to use cornmeal next time I make a big breakfast! They look delicious! Thanks for sharing this recipe, John :)
Hi Marcelle, cornmeal pancakes really are worth trying -- actually better than traditional pancakes IMO. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I'll be 'flappin' my lips for these delicious pancakes on Thanksgiving morning- but I'll still make room for the turkey dinner to follow!
Hi Fran, good thing about these is they fill you up for quite a bit. But not so much that you won't be ready for turkey! Thanks for the comment.
I've never eaten cornmeal pancakes. I always think of them being a southern treat. But twist my arm - served with maple syrup, I'd try just about anything!
I love pancakes but have not ever had Johnny cakes. These remind me of my favorite books as a kid....Little House on the Prairie. I think that is the only time I really remember hearing about Johnny Cakes!
Hi Beth, you really owe it to yourself to try these. We're talking maple syrup! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kathy, these do have a Little House on the Prairie feel to them, don't they/ Good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I learn so much by reading your Note section (and that is my favorite part of your post that I look forward to). :) I have never tried cornmeal pancakes before and what a great lesson I've learned now. I have cornmeal in my pantry. I am super curious to test it out for lunch tomorrow (I don't have time to wake up early enough for breakfast before sending the kids.. haha).
I am always on the look out for easy to make cornmeal recipes since we Indians only make them as thick flat breads that are served with savory mustard greens ( a north Indian Punjabi delicacy). I am drooling looking that the pic of these awesome looking pancakes and I am so going to make these. Thanks for sharing.
You're speaking my language here. I adore pancakes for any meal and I especially like some cornmeal ones this time of year.
Hi Nami, we wouldn't prepare this for breakfast on a busy morning either! More a lazy morning for us. Or dinner! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Taruna, I can totally see the combo of cornmeal flatcakes with Indian greens! Sounds wonderful. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Amy, cornmeal pancakes are great, aren't they? Wonderful flavor, and love their texture! Thanks for the comment.
I love the flavor of cornmeal pancakes, they're such a nice change from the typical hot cake!
Hi Kristi, aren't cornmeal pancakes wonderful? Such fun texture. And flavor! Thanks for the comment.
I see the puns are still a-flipping at your house, lol...I'm glad:) Thanks so much for sharing this updated recipe. The boiling water trick makes so much sense now that you have explained it. I must remember that!
The only thing I would change in this recipe is the eggs. I've been making pancakes lately with just egg whiltes and it seems to work GREAT! I sure wish I had time to whip these up right now. I'll be saving this recipe and my maple syrup for just the right occasion. Thanks for sharing, John...
Thank you for that punch recipe too. I happen to have a few blocks of strawberries in the freezer that will be perfect for the punch. (They are the late bearing variety that I simple stuffed in the freezer for safe keeping. They are also HUGE!!!
Wishing you and Mrs. K.R. a Thanksgiving stuffed with deliciousness !
Yum! These are so homey! Happy Thanksgiving, John and Mrs. KR!
Hi Louise, impossible for us to resist puns. :-) Those strawberries sound perfect for the punch! Hope your Thanksgiving is wonderful, and thanks for the comment.
Hi Debra, aren't these nice? And so perfect for this time of the year! Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for the comment.
Drooling.. Looks so perfect and YUM!
Hi Kushi, loads of flavor in this dish. Yum, indeed! Thanks for the comment.
Hi John and Mrs John,
Happy Thanksgiving!!! These pancakes are so lovely... for Thanksgiving and every morning!
I love pancakes, but have never made them with cornmeal. Sounds wonderful. Happy Thanksgiving John!
Hi Zoe, aren't they nice? So tasty! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dawn, cornmeal pancakes are definitely worth trying -- such a nice change. Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for the comment.
Ohhhh that maple looks really good on those amazing pancakes! feel like I wanna have breakfast now in the middle of the night
I love cornmeal and the colour of these is fantastic.
I haven't had pancakes in ages and have not tried cornmeal but it looks like I'd better get to it! Always enjoy reading your fun posts, John. Happy Thanksgiving to you and Mrs. Riffs!
Hi Raymund, breakfast at night is the best kind! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Caroline, isn't cornmeal such tasty stuff? These pancakes are wonderful! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Robyn, we don't have pancakes all that often either. We should -- they're so good! Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for the comment.
jaja flapjock! Love pancakes, and cornmeal gives them a great texture. Great recipe John, for day after thanksgiving or any other weekend really!
Hi Paula, love the texture of cornmeal pancakes! Good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Thank you for reminding me about cornmeal pancakes! I had completely forgotten about them. I've got some cornmeal I want to use up. Cornmeal pancakes are fantastic with blueberries, btw.
Hi Jeff, cornmeal pancakes are great, aren't they? I've made plenty of regular pancakes with blueberries, but not cornmeal -- need to try that! Thanks for the comment.
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