Easy old-fashioned Johnny Cakes are versatile little yellow miracles of crispy warm deliciousness! Also known as hoe cakes, cornmeal pancakes, or fried cornbread, they can be served any time of day straight out of your skillet.
Depending on where you are from, johnny cakes are also called journey cakes, hoe cakes, corn pones, corn cakes, and even johnny bread. But no matter what you call them, this staple of early America is a simple fried cornbread or cornmeal pancake that is quick and easy to make.
Why this recipe works:
- It has stood the test of time. Johnny cakes or hoe cakes have been around for over a hundred years and have been made thousands of times.
- It’s versatile, and these cornmeal pancakes can be eaten hot or cold for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a snack.
- There are only a few ingredients, and you probably already have everything you need in your pantry and fridge.
- Did I mention they are easy, simple, and utterly delicious!
Here’s what you will need:
- Self-rising flour – which contains baking powder and salt, and cornmeal, provides structure to the batter.
- Self-rising cornmeal – provides the crispy crunch and corn flavor that makes johnny cakes so delicious.
- Eggs – adds flavor and binds everything together. Along with the flour and cornmeal, eggs are essential in keeping the cakes from falling apart.
- Sugar – just a touch adds just a bit of sweetness and enhances the corn flavor.
- Buttermilk – adds a tangy flavor, works in tandem with baking powder to help the pancakes rise.
- Vegetable oil – adds moisture and keeps the cakes tender and fluffy.
I like to make my johnny cakes (hoe cakes) in a cast-iron skillet, but you can also use a non-stick skillet. I’ve also included some ideas for adjusting the recipe if you only have all-purpose flour or regular cornmeal in the tips section below. I also have a quick tip for making homemade buttermilk.
How to make them:
- Add the flour, cornmeal, and sugar to a large bowl and whisk to mix.
- Then, add the eggs and buttermilk to a smaller bowl and whisk well.
- Finally, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Then add a quarter of a cup of vegetable oil and one-half cup of water.
- Mix well to combine all ingredients but don’t over mix. The batter will be thick. If you think it is too thick, add a bit more water, about one tablespoon at a time, until it gets to the consistency you like.
- Add one-quarter of a cup of vegetable oil (I use peanut oil, but any kind will do) to a large skillet over medium heat.
- When the oil is hot, add about two tablespoons of batter for each pancake to the hot skillet. I like to use a small ice-cream scoop, but you can also use a spoon.
- Cook the hoe cakes for about one to two minutes or until bubbles form on the top side. Use a pancake turner and flip them over. Cook until each side is golden brown and the edges are crispy.
- Use a pancake turner or spatula to remove the cakes and place them on a paper towel to drain.
- Johnny cakes (hoe cakes), like pancakes, are best when served while still warm.
Frequently asked questions:
How did johnny cakes and hoe cakes get their name?
Legend has it that johnny cakes were originally called journey cakes in the North because they could be carried on long trips in saddlebags and baked along the way.
It was originally thought that hoe cakes originally got their name because they were cooked on a hoe over a fire. The current thinking is they got their name from the griddle pan they were cooked in, called a hoe. In the old days, corn was one of the main staples of a Southern diet. It was used as an ingredient in all kinds of dishes, including grits, cornbread, mush, and yes, even moonshine.
What’s the difference between traditional pancakes and johnny cakes?
The main difference between the two is that traditional pancakes don’t contain cornmeal.
How and when to serve them?
For breakfast, hoe cakes ascend into the stratosphere with the addition of a pat of butter and blackberry or maple syrup.
I like to serve them with pulled pork, baby back ribs, or tomato soup. I also like to serve them with Southern peas like white acre peas, field peas, and purple hull peas. They also are wonderful served with collard greens.
These old-fashioned, corn-flavored, crunchy bites of goodness also make the perfect snack topped with a scoop of peanut butter or jelly or pimento cheese. A hot johnny cake (hoe cake) crumbled in a glass of cold buttermilk is a culinary extravaganza!
- I’ve called for vegetable oil in this recipe, but many southern cooks prefer to cook them in bacon grease.
- Hoe cakes, like pancakes, should be served warm. To keep them warm while cooking the rest, place them on an oven-safe plate and keep them in an oven at 225 degrees F.
- I’ve seen a few recipes that call for self-rising cornmeal mix instead of self-rising cornmeal. I have tried it, and while it works in a pinch, I don’t think you get the corn flavor or crunch regular cornmeal provides.
- To substitute all-purpose flour, add 1-1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- To substitute regular cornmeal, add 1 tablespoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- You can make your own buttermilk by adding one tablespoon of white vinegar or fresh lemon juice to one cup of whole milk and letting it sit for five minutes.
- Hoe cake batter can be made ahead of time and stored covered in the fridge for two to three days.
More recipes with cornmeal:
If you like the delicious corn taste and crunch cornmeal adds to your recipes, you might also like these recipes:
- Cornmeal Biscuits and Orange Butter
- Tomato Cobbler with Cornmeal-Cheddar Biscuits,
- Make-Ahead Cornbread Dressing with Sausage
- Easy Traditional Southern Style Cornbread
- Broccoli Cheddar Cheese Cornbread Muffins
- Traditional Southern Cornbread Dressing
- Old-Fashioned Southern Buttermilk Cornbread
- Best Southern Crispy Fried Oysters
- Southern Fried Fish
★ If you make this dish, please leave a comment and give this recipe a star rating. I would love to know how you liked it!
Thank you so much for visiting Grits and Pinecones!
Southern Hoecake Recipe
- 1 cup self-rising flour
- 1 cup self-rising cornmeal
- 2 eggs beaten
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup vegetable oil divided
- Add the flour, cornmeal, and sugar to a large bowl. Add the eggs and buttermilk to a smaller bowl and whisk well.
- Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients along with ¼ cup of vegetable oil and ½ cup of water. Mix well to combine all ingredients but don’t over mix. The batter will be thick. If you think it is too thick, add a bit more water, about one tablespoon at a time, until it gets to the consistency you like.
- Add ¼ cup of vegetable oil (I use peanut oil, but any kind will do) to a large skillet over medium heat.
- When the oil is hot, add the batter using a large spoon or small ice-cream scoop. About two tablespoons of batter will make a hoecake about 3 inches across.
- Cook the hoe cake for one to two minutes on each side or until each side is brown and the edges are crispy. Use a pancake turner or spatula to remove them and drain them on a paper towel.
- Serve immediately.
**This recipe was originally posted on May 16, 2016. Republished on February 26, 2020, with expanded text and tips, new images, and a new “how-to” video.