I think that just about every culture must have some form of fried dough that is considered to be a popular treat. Americans have doughnuts and funnel cakes, Spaniards have churros, the French have Beignets, and in Jaimaica, festival is the fried dough of choice. Apparently, variations of fried dough are so popular that there is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the topic here. Who knew?
Anyone who travels to Anguilla will soon find out that the island’s most popular version of this tasty goodness is the johnny cake, and boy are they delicious! Often served as a side along with an entree (like at the Sunshine Shack Anguilla) or alone as a snack, johnny cakes can be widely found throughout the island.
On my last trip to Anguilla, I asked a friend of mine to show me how to make these delectable goodies and I was thrilled when I was invited over to watch the whole process! So, I’m passing along the photos I took and the instructions I got during my lesson below, so you can try this simple recipe at home. (My friend was making a large batch, so I have proportionally reduced the ingredients for a smaller serving size. So, your dough ball, for instance, will be smaller than what is seen in the photos below.)
Anguilla-Style Johnny Cakes
2 cups flour
3.5 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp butter or margarine
3/4 tsp salt
vegetable oil for frying (though johnny cakes can also be baked without oil, if you prefer)
Makes about 10-15 johnny cakes depending on how large/small you make them.
1. Place flour, baking powder, and butter into a bowl.
2. Mix the salt into 1/2 cup of water until dissolved.
3. Add the salt water mixture to the bowl, mix the ingredients with your hands, and knead well until a dry and firm dough is formed. (My friend was kneading for a good 10-15 minutes).
If the dough is too wet (slippery/gooey etc.), add just enough flour to dry out the dough and continue kneading to incorporate it evenly. If the dough is too dry, try adding small amounts of plain water and re-kneading until the proper consistency is achieved. Be careful not to add too much “extra” of the ingredients at this point as the taste of your johnny cakes might be affected.
4. Use a knife to cut off slightly-smaller-than-golf-ball sized pieces of dough. You may choose to cut off larger or smaller pieces depending on what sized johnny cakes you prefer.
5. Take each small piece of dough, re-knead a bit with your fingers to incorporate a bit of air, and then roll to form into a small ball – be careful not to make the balls too dense. (My friend said that at this stage, these balls can also be boiled to make dumplings! Mmm…gotta try that soon too!)
6. Take each rolled ball and flatten evenly into a circle and set aside until ready to cook.
7. Heat oil on medium-high heat to prepare for frying. Be careful not to make the oil too hot as the johnny cakes may cook too quickly.
8. When the oil has heated sufficiently, add flattened circles to the oil to fry.
9. Fry until the bottoms of the johnny cakes are a light golden brown and then flip each of them. Be careful not to over-cook or the johnny cakes may get too hard (as I learned with a couple when I tried this at home…ahem).
10. Remove the johnny cakes from the oil and allow to drain on a paper towel covered plate. When cooled slightly, enjoy!
When I tried this recipe on my own at home, as mentioned above, I managed to turn out a couple of hockey-pucks, but once I figured out that I needed to turn the oil temperature down so that the johnny cakes didn’t cook too quickly, my results were much improved!
I really like these particular johnny cakes because they end up being light and fluffy. There are different versions of this treat, some incorporating cornmeal and some that result in more of a more dense biscuit-like consistency. I haven’t tried them all, but that’s a mission I wouldn’t mind taking on!
Eating these johnny cakes at home isn’t quite the same as having them in Anguilla, without the sand, water and full island vibe, but it’s a pretty good snack to remind us of AXA until our next trip! Enjoy!