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Cooking Up Johnny Cakes with The Crucian Contessa

Cooking Up Johnny Cakes with The Crucian Contessa

Editor’s note: At first glance or bite, Johnny Cakes, a staple snack treat in our home island of St. Croix and many other parts of the Caribbean, may not appear to be all that complex. If you think they’re just fried dough, though, you’re wrong. Recipes vary and are usually tightly-guarded secrets, as was the case with my friend Karen’s top secret Johnny Cake recipe we shared awhile back. Today, another good friend, The Crucian Contessa, shares her method for producing Johnny Cake magic, with some nice confidence-boosting encouragement thrown in to embolden the more novice chefs among us…

Johnny Cakes are fried heaven on a plate… or a napkin, or just plain balanced hot on your fingertips because you can’t wait to find either a plate or napkin before tearing into one. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Johnny Cakes are that rare breed of food that you can enjoy any time, day or night! They fry up fast and are gone just as quickly! Tooooooo good!

This recipe requires you to bring something a little extra to the kitchen in addition to the ingredients. You will have to walk with an extra little bit of patience and intuition. You’re going to have to let the dough tell you what it needs.

Sounds weird but that is what the kitchen does… it gives you opportunities to test your skills through the best teacher of all – trial and error.

It took me some time to perfect my Johnny Cake skills, and I only got better with each new try. That’s my wish for us all in the kitchen and in life – TRY!! As they say, you never fail from trying, either you win or you learn!

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups Unbleached Flour
  • 4 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tbsp Cold Butter
  • 1/2 tsp Fine Sea Salt
  • 2 tbsp Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Whole Milk
  • 1/4 cup Water

Directions:

Sift together all the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, sugar.

Cut in butter with your fingers or a pastry cutter until it is finely distributed throughout the dry ingredients.

Pour in the milk and water.

Using your hands begin kneading the dough. The dough will be tacky and extremely sticky. This is not a bad thing. The soft texture of the dough will help to ensure a light and fluffy outcome. However, you will need to sprinkle in some extra flour to be able to handle the dough.

Go easy… a little at a time. Flour can toughen the Johnny Cake. Your goal is to get the dough to completely come together without adding too much flour to make the Johnny Cakes tough. You want a light and fluffy outcome. This is what I meant above when I said you have to bring your kitchen intuition into play.

Be gentle with the dough and yourself. It will come together.

Kneading with love | Credit: Crucian Contessa
Kneading with love | Credit: Crucian Contessa

Continue kneading for about five minutes, and add a sprinkle of flour as necessary.

Let the dough rest for one hour in a bowl with plastic wrap to prevent an outside skin from forming over the dough. If it does form a skin, don’t worry. This dough is very forgiving.

Johnny Cake dough | Credit: Crucian Contessa
Johnny Cake dough | Credit: Crucian Contessa

After it has rested, lightly dust a sheet pan with flour.

Pinch off a piece of the dough – enough to make about a two- to three-inch ball.

Roll the dough in your palms and place on the floured surface.

Johnny Cake Rolls | Credit: Crucian Contessa
Johnny Cake Rolls | Credit: Crucian Contessa

In a frying pan, bring about one to two inches of canola or vegetable oil up to frying temperature.

Flatten the dough pieces one at a time by gently stretching them in a circular motion.

Do not just palm flatten the dough. The gentle stretching helps to create the much needed gluten that makes the Johnny Cake light and fluffy. It should be about a 1/4- to 1/2-inch in thickness.

Johnny Cake ready for frying | Credit: Crucian Contessa
Johnny Cake ready for frying | Credit: Crucian Contessa

Fry the Johnny Cakes until golden brown on one side, then flip over gently to fry until the other side is golden brown and cooked through.

You may need to modify your heat so that it doesn’t cook too slowly or too quickly.

If you fry them at too low a temperature, they will soak up the oil and be very greasy. If you fry them too quickly they will burn on the outside and not cook through properly. Again, this is “pay attention” cooking, or rather “pay intuition” cooking.

You CAN do it!!

Try one at a time to test at first. Then after you’ve successfully mastered your technique, fry the rest the same way. If it isn’t working out the way you want, make some modifications. Maybe you can increase or decrease the frying time and/or temperature, or even the size of the Johnny Cake itself.

Play with it and see what outcome works best for you and your Johnny Cakes!

Johnny Cakes frying | Credit: Crucian Contessa
Johnny Cakes frying | Credit: Crucian Contessa

Once they have finished frying, place them on a paper towel to absorb the extra grease. If you’ve fried them properly, they shouldn’t have much oil.

This recipe produces a perfect crunchy on the outside texture and a nice open and airy inside that still has some substance.

Johnny Cakes ready for eating | Credit: Crucian Contessa
Johnny Cakes ready for eating | Credit: Crucian Contessa

My Johnny Cakes are great with a cup of cocoa tea, or for breakfast with eggs and bacon, or, as we love to eat them on the Rock, with a well-fried chicken leg!

Anyway you choose to enjoy these treats is the RIGHT way!!

Enjoy!

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  • Dunori Pavalan

    Almost the same as fry bake in T&T.