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Making Sourdough Johnnycakes

The johnnycake is the pancake’s hillbilly cousin. Had I known how good these little griddled cakes could be, I’d have made them a staple of the Pastry kitchen years ago. For while they closely resemble the regular pancake, taste-and-texture-wise they’re a whole different animal. A flat cornbread is really what they are, though a cornbread with a far greater depth of flavor, which comes by way of the sourdough starter.

As they have no leavening other than the starter plus a little whipped egg white boost, they’re denser and less sweet than conventional pancakes. Young Joan and I ate ours with syrup for lunch, but ultimately decided that these johnnycakes would be much more at home in a savory setting. A plated main course could be made of them by laying a couple out on a plate, topping them with a scoop of thick ham and beans. Crown the mound of beans with a little foof of micro-greens and you’ve got yourself a dining experience! Small ones would make a great appetizer served with some sour cream and chives.

But let’s get started.

Hey look! The Joe soundstage, it’s is still here! My thanks to the technical team who worked round the clock get it nailed together, lighted and operational under very trying circumstances. Drinks at the bar — when it opens again one day — are on me, crew!

Boy this ol’ thing sure brings back memories. There are the dinks from when I stabbed a bar of Ghiradelli too hard with a chocolate chunker. And there are knife scars from the day I used a little too much elbow grease cutting the bee sting cake. Oh it takes me back. Cue music…When I was seventeen…

But enough of that. There’s work to do and we’re burning daylight. I want to insert here that young miss Joan Pastry was involved in this shoot, and darn helpful she was too. She’s sheepish to show her hands, which are chapped from all the corona hand washing. Once the crisis passes you’ll no doubt see more of her. For now, start by assembling your ingredients. Combine the Corn meal, sugar and salt in a medium bowl.

Give those a stir…

Next the wet stuff. Combine the butter and milk in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low. Swirl just until the butter is melted.

Why such low heat? Because we’re going to add the egg yolk and we don’t want it to cook. Just plop it into the warm milk mixture…

And give it a whisk. Once that’s done, you’ll want to whisk this mixture into the starter until it’s smooth (evidently I neglect ed to take a picture of this step…shaking off some rust here…please be patient, it’s been a while).

Now pour the starter/milk mixture into the dry mixture and stir it together.

Set that aside and whip your egg white to stiff peaks in a small bowl. Here I was using a hand mixer, which was very convenient.

Fold the white into the batter, but don’t be too dainty about it. This is country cookin’ after all.

The batter should look about like so:

Ladle a generous 1/3 cup onto a hot, greased pan or skillet.

This one’s a little big, you should be able to get two at a time into a 10″ fry pan. Once bubbles start to form on top you’ll know the cake is ready to turn.

Just flip it over and cook another 30 seconds to corn cake perfection.

Eat them hot with fixins of your choice! The recipe makes about a dozen 4-inch cakes, which go fast. However if you’re just cooking for yourself or yourself and one other, know that these freeze beautifully. Thawed, you can give them a quick toast in a very hot skillet to get their delicate crispy crust back.

20 thoughts on “Making Sourdough Johnnycakes”

  1. So excited you started this blog again. I discovered it last year and was crushed you had finished it. Started working my way through it. You have a way of explaining things that no book, person, or tv show has managed to get the right results. Thank you for then, and thank you so much for now! This has been the good news I have desperately needed durning this surreal experience we are all having. Gonna check in everyday for a new adventure.

    1. Hey Wynne!

      You sure made my day with that comment! Thank you very much. Techniques were what I set out to teach when I started the blog lo, these many years ago. A big part of the reason was exactly what you said: so few how-to’s took the actual execution of the recipe very seriously. There’s a reason for that. Printing is expensive and so is TV time, so the instructions mostly just get crammed in at the end. But blog space is extremely low cost and essentially endless. Thus the extended — and very visual — instructions here, which are particularly useful for baking and pastry making, where techniques are everything. I’ve been rewarded with large numbers of very enthusiastic, loyal readers. I am an extremely lucky man! Welcome and please don’t hesitate to get in touch should you have any questions about anything.

      Cheers,

      Joe

  2. Nice to have you back! Especially now, when we need more “home” things to do.

    1. Happy to be here, Sally! And very nice to have you here. It’s great to be baking regularly again for the site!

      Cheers,

      Joe

  3. joe! my starter is a nonstarter. it smells like yoghuet and is glutinous, but no frothing, no bubbles and and and 🙁

      1. Yup it was the week. sorry didn’t make it back to check comments, which i will not do again heh. i am starting from scratch. thankfully no shortage of flour.

          1. it went KABOOM!!! i needed to use more water than your recommendation but yeah. maybe it wasn’t warm enough before this. anyway have fed it for day 2, let’s see what happens!

          2. If it went kaboom on day 2, don’t get excited…just keep feeding it. It’ll probably settle down for a few days before it starts growing steadily on command.

            Keep up the good work!

            – Joe

  4. Hey Joe, this looks good! Should the starter be at its peak, or is this recipe intended for excess starter that is “spent.” Given that there’s no rising time, I’m guessing it’s mostly there for flavour? Also, just to check, it looks as though you added the warmed milk/butter/egg yolk to a bowl containing the starter, rather than adding the starter to the pot. Was that to avoid heating the starter too much before cooking?

    And a substitution question: suppose one were in the middle of a nationwide lockdown, the shops were basically devoid of all non-perishable goods, and one had no corn meal but did have coarse semolina. Do you think semolina would work here? It seems as though gluten activation wouldn’t be much of a concern, and as porridgey substances, corn meal and semolina are fairly similar. Or would “one” be better off just making sourdough pancakes with (one’s dwindling supply of) regular flour instead? Thanks!

    1. Hey Jen!

      Great questions all. Looks like I failed to take that particular process shot, but I just went back and added some text just to clarify that yes, you do add the milk mixture to the starter after the egg yolk.

      Ideally the starter should be at its peak, or within about four hours of it, when you make these (I’ll note that also in the recipe). It will have the most bubbles that way, and the more of those you have, the better. Alternately you can use spent starter but that should be supplemented with about a teaspoon and a half of baking powder. But no matter what you do these aren’t going to rise terribly much, what with all that corn meal.

      Regarding your totally out there scenario: let’s say that by some utterly improbable chain of events there is some sort of national lockdown — talk about a bizarre, paranoid fantasy — and the shops were emptied of dry goods, which they would never be, obviously, because people are at the end of the day quite rational. But let’s just pretend all this craziness somehow came to pass. You could use semolina, no problem. It would be excellent. This is rustic cuisine, after all. Improvisation is the essence of a preparation of this.

      Joe

  5. So what if you left out a process shot? The pics look good, Joe! The studio looks good! The blog questions are good! Your post and your wonderful followers are a ray of sunshine in my day. Now back to making fabric face masks.

  6. Hi Joe. Great to see you baking and writing for us again!

    I’ll be reviving my starter for this one! It’s currently hibernating in the fridge but working from home gives me a bit more free time (no commute) so it should be back in shape quickly.

    Looking forward to future Dave with you and little Joan!

    You had me at “mounded with thick ham and beans”… that makes my mouth water. My “go-to” was always mounded with smoked pulled pork and coke slaw. But that will have to wait until I can pull out the smoker.

    1. Brother, are you and I ever on the same wavelength! Pork and slaw…you sir, are inspired.

      So tell the starter to hurry up while you go unpack the smoker. I’ll be over with a six pack at 8:00.

      – Joe

  7. Hi Joe,

    I came here today by way of your Clafoutis recipe as demonstrated (during your hiatus) in the Bon Appetit test kitchen, which I made by pure pandemic happenstance, and loved. Imagine my surprise to see you back! Also by luck of our lockdown distractions, I’m in possession of a spankin’ new quarantine sourdough starter. Looks like these Johnny’s are up next! Thanks for brightening our confinement with your fantastic recipes.

    1. Janice, you’re making my day! Feed that starter ’till it’s bubbly, and break out the corn meal!

      Cheerio,

      Joe

  8. Hi Joe,
    I just stumbled on your site today when I was looking for a donut recipe to use with my new hand held toy.(what I didn’t realize it is made for meda vida, a South Indian donut oops. But I think it will work, fingers crossed.) I had an old plastic one my dad bought me from Goodwill. It must have been from the 50’s. It had a great recipe on the box. Wish I would have taken better care of it. Probably a collectors item now. I usually like recipes from Allrecipes.com but I think I hit the mother load, a treasure trove of wealth in knowledge and a life time of recipes to try when I found this site. I just wanted you to know that you are truly an undiscovered gem sir and I want to thank you for sharing all this with us.❤️

    1. Mindy, you really know how to flatter a guy. I thank you.

      Please don’t hesitate to check back should you have any questions about anything at all.

      Cheers,

      Joe

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