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Native Blue Corn Johnnycakes

Time: 10 minutes to make the batter, 20 minutes to cook all the cakes.

Johnnycakes must be the fastest griddle cakes on the planet. Traditionally made with Rhode Island Whitecap flint cornmeal, enough liquid to wet their whistle, and not a whole lot else, johnnycakes are Rhode Island's terse nod to the flapjack. While old-timers still argue the relative virtues of East Bay vs. West Bay johnnycakes (the former crêpe-thin, made with cold milk and griddled; the latter thick mush patties made with hot water and skillet fried), there is wide agreement on the following components: Whitecap Flint cornmeal and maple syrup. Our version of johnnycakes, created with our extraordinary blue flint cornmeal, ended up an easy-going hybrid of the two styles of Rhode Island johnnycakes, but has a pedigree that reaches back to Native American times.

Despite their mottled, florid complexion, we find these cakes curiously beautiful: thin enough to be translucent around their edges, they are all deep agate blue inside and spun toffee lace on top. They also manage, slender proportions notwithstanding, to be scouringly crisp and creamily moist at the same time. Dark earth and chestnut notes from the blue corn stream up straight into your head, and roll round and round in your mouth when you fork these johnnycakes. The effect is one of brief melancholy brightened with a sunny splash of field-ripened corn. You'll want some maple syrup, too.

Equipment Mise en Place
For this recipe, you will need a medium mixing bowl, a digital kitchen scale, a wooden spoon, a small whisk, a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron griddle or skillet, a small saucepan, a small bowl, a heatproof basting brush, a 2-ounce ladle, and a metal spatula.

Ingredients
5.8 ounces (1 ¼ cups) Native Fine Blue Cornmeal
3 ounces (1 cup) dried blueberries
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
Boiling spring or filtered water
2 ½ ounces (5 tablespoons) unsalted European-style butter
5 ounces (scant ⅔ cup) whole milk, warmed slightly, plus additional to thin the batter if necessary
1 to 2 cups pure dark amber maple syrup, warmed, for serving
Soft butter for serving

Directions
1. Turn the cornmeal, blueberries, and salt into a medium bowl. Set the bowl on a digital kitchen scale, tare the weight, and pour 7 ounces of boiling water into the cornmeal. Stir with a wooden spoon utensil to moisten the ingredients. The cornmeal should be a soft paste, in no way fluid. Cover the bowl and set it aside.

2. Set a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron griddle or skillet over medium-low heat to become hot while you finish the batter. The griddle will need to be hotter than it is for ordinary pancakes. Remember: thin batter, hot pan.

3. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Remove it from the heat, tilt the pan, and part the surface foam with a spoon. Spoon off 2 tablespoons of clear yellow butterfat into a small bowl, and set it aside for greasing the griddle. Stir 2 tablespoons of the remaining butter into the bowl with the hot cornmeal and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. The paste will be soft and shiny. Discard the remaining watery butter. Whisk the milk into the mush. The batter will be quite thin compared to an average pancake batter—you might even call it runny. Let it stand for 5 minutes or so.

4. Dip a heatproof basting brush in the clarified butter and brush it across the surface of the hot griddle. Using a 2-ounce ladle (you should be able to cook 3 johnnycakes at a time), spoon batter onto the griddle. (If you allow the batter to drop onto the griddle from the center of the ladle without trying to draw a circle with it—and the griddle is hot enough—the batter will run immediately into a thin circle, 4 or 5 inches in diameter. When the unbaked side of the cake has turned dark purple and is becoming dry to the touch, 1 ½ to 2 minutes, flip the cake with a metal spatula and cook the other side to set the cake, about 1 minute longer. Transfer the johnnycakes to a baking sheet set in a warm oven to keep them hot while you cook the next batch, or simply give them to someone to eat. Grease the griddle with butter before cooking the next batch. Thin the batter with additional warm milk if necessary. Serve the johnnycakes hot with butter and warm maple syrup.

Makes twelve to fifteen 4 or 5-inch johnnycakes

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Cooking Remarks

You will need a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron griddle or skillet to cook the cakes. This batter is unleavened and will (indeed should) appear alarmingly thin. So, remember: the batter is thin and the griddle hot. If the griddle is hot enough, the batter will run out quickly into a wide, thin circle, the hot surface gripping and stopping the batter in its tracks. Once on the griddle, watch the color of the cornmeal on the uncooked side: it will turn from dusty mauve to deep purple as it cooks. Don't turn the cake until its surface becomes dry on the edges. As you cook the cakes, you may want to thin the remaining batter with additional warm milk.

 

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