Adapted from a Mount Vernon recipe
Wife Jan’s college friends are visiting and I have been cooking up a storm. Her friends come with a long list of food restrictions—no wheat, rye, barley, tomatoes, citrus, or lactose—so it is quite the challenge. I am making breakfast and I though corn pancakes would fit the bill. I decided to make a pear fruit salad to go with them.
Looking on-line for hoecake recipes, I found that most of them included at least part wheat flour—so they were right out. I eventually found two recipes that used only corn flour. One of these appeared to be an authentic “field” recipe—something you could actually see a field worker cooking on a greased hoe over an open fire. The one I choose looked more like what would have been served in the big house.
Note: While the Wikipedia entry suggests that there is no difference between hoecakes and johnnycakes, my experience is that johnnycakes have added sugar, as opposed to being unsweetened before being cooked—you can of course add honey or molasses to the hoecakes after they are cooked.
One of the things that attracted me to this recipe was the overnight fermentation of the batter. I have learned from making pizza dough that this can be a crucial technique in improving a dish’s flavor. While this time I only fermented the corn meal for one night, I wonder if letting it sit refrigerated several days might make it even better—something to try in the future.
Note: It is important to use corn meal—rather than finely ground corn flour—in making hoecakes. I use Quaker brand, partly because it is what my mother Claudia used, but it also produces the best mouth feel when cooked. Corn flour produces a more pasty, dense pancake.
While I stayed fairly close to the original recipe this time, I still could not help but change something major. The original recipes for most hoecakes call for frying them in oil—bacon grease preferably. I have guests who are Jewish and others who do not need the extra fat of frying. In the recipe’s direction it called for making the batter as thick as waffle batter. I have a non-stick waffle iron and I though why not just make these as waffles?
Note: In my experience, hoecakes can come out as dense and chewy, especially if cooked in grease that is not hot enough. Of course, if the grease is too hot they come out raw in the middle and burned on the outside.
After Breakfast Note: These came out beautifully—light, crisp and delicious.
2½ cups cornmeal, divided uses
½ tsp. active dry yeast
3-4 cups lukewarm water, divided uses
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ tsp. Kosher salt
1. Put 1¼ cups of the cornmeal in a large bowl and stir in the powdered yeast.
2. Add 1½ cups of the lukewarm water, stirring to combine thoroughly.
Tip: At this point, your mixture should have the consistency of a grainy pancake batter.
Note: Make sure that the water is not too warm or it will kill the yeast. Leave the corn slurry on the counter for 20-30 minutes to proof the yeast. After that time there should be foam forming on the surface of the mixture. If your water was too hot and killed the yeast stir in another half teaspoon.
3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
Tip: Overnight is better.
4. Preheat the oven to 200°F.
Tip: It takes some time to cook all of the waffles and you do not want to serve something that os cold and soggy. A 200 degree oven keeps them crisp and warm.
5. Stir 1 cup of warm water into the batter.
6. In a small cup scramble the egg with the salt and whisk it thoroughly into the batter.
7. Gradually whisk in the remaining 1¼ cups of cornmeal.
8. Cover the bowl and let the mixture rest for 20-30 minutes, at room temperature.
Tip: You want to give the cornmeal time to absorb the water.
Note: After resting the mixture should be as thick as waffle batter—adjust the cornmeal or water, if necessary
9. Pour the batter in the center of the waffle iron to within an inch of the edges.
Tip: This batter will not expand as much as a wheat batter, so it should not drip over the sides as it cooks.
Note: If you wish to make these as hoecakes, follow the original instructions: “Heat a griddle on medium-high heat, and lightly grease it with lard or vegetable shortening. Preparing 1 hoecake at a time, drop a scant ¼ cup of the batter onto the griddle and cook on one side for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. With a spatula, turn the hoecake over and continue cooking another 4 to 5 minutes, until browned.”
10. Place the finished hoe-waffles directly on the oven rack to keep them warm while making the rest of the batch.
Tip: (Optional) Drizzle each waffle with melted butter, just before serving.
11. Serve the hoe-waffles warm, with butter, honey, maple syrup, and/or molasses on the side.