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Cheap and Easy Gluten-Free: Traditional Johnny Cakes

Johnny cakes are naturally gluten-free AND tasty! This traditional recipe is easy to make, and you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry.

For the past seven years, I’ve had my boys on a gluten-free diet off and on. It seems to help their sensory issues, but I can only say “seems” because it’s rather subjective. I can’t tell if it’s the food or because generally when I kick off a gluten-free season, I also up my efforts with all the other things we do — oils, supplements, exercises, etc., etc. etc. But I think a gluten-free diet does have a significant impact on Bulldozer’s ability to process and focus. But it gets hard and expensive, and over time we add in cheat days here or there, and pretty soon we’re back to all gluten all the time. 

So we’re trying again. This time we took out dairy for Bulldozer too. (We’re going to take out dairy for Satchmo soon, but don’t tell him. This will not be pretty.) And yes, I do think it’s making a difference. But there’s no magic bullet, everything is a lot of hard work in combination with other things that are hard work. It’s all very exhausting.

There are a lot of things that make gluten-free diets hard. Not being able to swing through the drive through is a pain in the butt. The expense is frustrating. And so many things are just complex and time-consuming. And expensive. Why does every gluten-free recipe call for 5 different types of flours? And the reason I usually give up is because preparing most gluten-free recipe sucks the joy out preparing food for my family. A lot of the substitutions just don’t taste that good, honestly, and certainly not worth the time and effort they call for. If you’re gonna take my time, you’d better be good!

Anyway, this time around, I’m focusing on easy with a side goal of cheap. I’m relying a lot more on mixes mainly because Aldi has some good, cheap gluten- and dairy-free mixes. I’m starting with Traditional Johnny Cakes. This is NOT to be confused with cornbread. If you google “Johnny Cakes,” you’ll find a lot of recipes with leavening agents and eggs accompanied by a picture of cornbread. I’m a big fan of cornbread, but it’s not Johnny Cake. Johnny Cakes traditionally are an unsweetened flatbread and so, so tasty.  Mmmm, Johnny Cakes.  This is also dairy free — or dairy free possible because we’re also on THAT journey.


TRADITIONAL Johnny Cakes only require four ingredients: cornmeal, salt, boiling water, and milk. (And grease for the pan. So five.)
Keeping it real with my fancy masking tape label for the corn meal.

Traditional Johnny Cakes

These are traditional Johnny Cakes — an unsweetened flat bread. 

  • 1 cup cornmeal (Traditionally, fine white cornmeal, but I personally like the taste and texture of yellow cornmeal.)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup BOILING water (Boiling is critical! Hot doesn't cut it!)
  • 1/2 cup milk — dairy free is fine. (You may not need this full amount.)

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  1. Combine cornmeal and salt. 

  2. Slowly stir in boiling water.

  3. Add in enough milk to thin the batter to be spreadable but not runny. (Think pancake batter consistency.) I tend to use more milk when using yellow cornmeal.

  4. Heat a heavy skillet or griddle. Use oil, butter, or bacon grease (my favorite!) to grease the pan. 

  5. Pour spoonfuls of batter on the griddle and smooth out to about 1/4″ thick.  Cook until edges are dry and cake is lightly browned. Flip and cook the other side.

  6. Serve hot with butter, maple syrup, honey, jam … whatever your heart desires!

The most important thing is to bring the water to a boil. If you don’t do that, the cakes won’t turn out well. Ask me how I know. (I jumped the gun and didn’t let the water boil once, and it tasted gross. That’s how I know.)

And there you have it! An easy, tasty, gluten-free (and dairy-free!) recipe. If you try it, let me know how it turns out!

One response to “Cheap and Easy Gluten-Free: Traditional Johnny Cakes”

  1. C. Glennan Avatar
    C. Glennan

    My batter was very runny (without milk) so I added more cornmeal. It’s been sitting about an hour & still runny…..?????

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