These fluffy-fried, golden-sweet, semi-flattened spheres of pure goodness are mostly found at snèks (snack bars) in Curaçao and are fair game for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They’re perfectly fine on their own or stuffed with Dutch cheese, ham, worst dushi (sweet salami), worst salú (savory salami), chicken, beef, corned beef, tuna, cod fish, conch, eggs… and even the Dutch favorite: kroket!
Originally known as the “Journey Cake” – a name derived from the fact that folks would eat them on their way to work – this delicious staple was most likely brought to Curaçao during the Great Shell Refinery-led Immigration of the 1920s when folks from all over the Caribbean (St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, St. Croix, Monserrat, St. Maarten, Jamaica, Haiti) would flock – Johnny Cake in-hand – to fill vacancies.
Cousin to the indigenous South American cornmeal arepa, our Johnny Cakes tend to be made from white flour. But variations substituting cornmeal in place of flour are found carrying the same name in a wide variety of places on the Atlantic seaboard (New England, Australia, Newfoundland, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Colombia, Bermuda).
Some (health-conscious) folks prefer to bake their Johnny Cakes, but to me a Johnny Cake just isn’t a Johnny Cake unless it has been fried to crispy-ish golden dough perfection.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsps baking powder
- 4 tbs sugar
- 2-1/2 tsps room temperature butter
- oil for frying
- extra flour
Mix dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt – in a large mixing bowl using a large fork. Work in the butter with your fingers. Add about 1 cup of water by stirring it in with a fork. Add a little more water, about ¼ cup at a time. Keep stirring until the mixture forms a soft dough.
Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough. Knead for a few minutes to allow the ingredients to blend and gluten to form. You may have to add a few sprinkles of flour to prevent the dough from becoming too sticky. (If you under-knead, the gluten will not have a chance to form a good dough. If you over-knead, the dough will be rubbery)
Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.
Flour your hands and your counter-top. Make about 12-15 round balls of dough. Set aside. Heat your frying pot with oil. Use a rolling pin to flatten out each ball. But don’t flatten them too much. When a drop of water pops in the pot it is ready for frying. Fry a few johnny cakes at a time.
Don’t overcrowd the pot – that will make the Johnny Cakes greasy. When the underside is golden brown, flip them over. Don’t flip them over more than once. Use tongs while frying to avoid poking. Fry each until both sides are golden brown.
Drain Johnny Cakes on a cooling rack.
Tip: Many people reheat johnny cakes in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. This is okay, but 3 minutes in the toaster oven gives them that freshly fried texture.
Recipe source: Uncommon Caribbean.