Soon after I began my studies in the Culinary field, I started to develop this really weird obsession over Johnnycakes. These are the really old, historical traveling breads or pancakes (depending on when and where it was made) made from cornmeal and griddled. Though my foray into trying to figure out this food items didn’t last long, it was filled with compiled lists and attempted recreations of the mysterious cake. With many a recipe not yielding the results I so desired, I soon decided to give up and focus back on my studies.
These memories all came rushing back to me recently, though, during my trip to the Caribbean, where we visited a local making the traditional “Dumb Bread,” a kind of johnnycake, at a Plantation tour. Not only was it finally what I was looking for, but we also got a recipe to make it back home! (adjusted for an oven, as opposed to frying)
And here it is! Look at that tiny little piece of paper I saved all the way from the Caribbean! Didn’t even have to wait too long to take it out again; my Dad’s requested present for Father’s Day being a Caribbean Chicken dinner. Personally deciding to extend the idea past the main meal, I thought it’d be fun to try the recipe out for breakfast (especially since I’d have some leftover for a sandwich).
Baked Dumb Bread/Caribbean Johnnycake
3 cups Flour
1 cup Fine Cornmeal
½ c Shortening
½ c Margarine or Butter (if latter, probably Chilled)
3 Tb Baking Powder
2 Tb Sugar
¼ tsp Salt
1 Egg, Beaten
½ c Milk
A very simple (in mixing at least) recipe, we start with combining not just the Dry ingredients, but the Fats as well.
Yeah, that’s a pretty big pile of stuff. I of course can never understand the use of margarine, so I went for butter instead. Then again, as you’ll see later… I ended up with quite a few issues for my final product, and that could have been the cause of part of it. So if you choose to use butter as I did, don’t leave it out to soften, work that baby in chilled.
Now, very important, really need to use that Fine Cornmeal. If one can’t find it, or already has the regular kind and is too lazy to shop for the special style (like me!!), we do have options. I myself took out my handy-dandy Coffee Grinder-turned-Spice Powderer (didn’t want to use “grinder” twice… and I like making up words).
We of course start out with regular cornmeal.
After a few long seconds of pulsing (in small batches of course), we get a nice yellowy powder. Probably not as small as flour, but for “fine cornmeal” it should do. If mixing soon after, this is probably when we’d turn the oven to 350F.
Anyways, back to that actual mix. Once things are getting sorta together, start adding in that milk and egg. The recipe says “knead until smooth and ‘not sticky,” however mine wasn’t actually sticky to begin with, which lead me to only briefly knead it. If this happens to you, ignore it, as I’m pretty sure it’s what mainly f#$%ed up my final product: it was quite literally the texture of compressed cornmeal. Though it’s possible I may have overkneaded, I’m guessing what I really needed was a lot more gluten development for my bad boy. So don’t be afraid, don’t be doubtful, move that mass to the counter and started pushing and rolling that fella until it feels like DOUGH (get some flour down if it’s sticky); really the best advice for any bread making.
As with any decent dough, gotta let it rest after those glutens get developed, so a 15-minute break (covered with plastic or a towel) is due. Once done, shape into a ball, or whatever shape one desired (should probably stay away from pretzel though…), and “press into rounded loaf 2 inches thick on a baking pan/sheet.”
Again, I get to a point which screwed me over. Though my underkneading was sure to be a big contributor, it took at least twice as long (after cutting it in fourth partway through) to bake just so it wasn’t “doughy.” Seriously, at least on your first batch, press this down to 1in, maybe a little higher if you really want.
Score the top or prick with a fork, and bake in that 350 for 30 minutes. Now, the recipe says “turn over” after 15 minutes, and I’m pretty sure that just means turn the pan 180, like with cookies. Maybe it means actually flip the dough over, like one was cooking it in a griddle, though it doesn’t feel right here…
Alternatively, when mixed right, I’m sure one could easily break this fella into small little balls and press into a hot, well-seasoned griddle. Bet they’d cook up pretty similarly to Indian Frybread.
Serve right out of the oven, spread with butter and whatever jams are handy! (Slathered in this case; though heck, with jam it didn’t taste that bad… just gotta try and do things differently next time)
Of course, this wouldn’t be Street Food Corner if I didn’t make a sandwich or something out of this. Good thing I had some leftover Jerked Chicken!
Actually making the Chicken was pretty simple, it’s just understanding the base ingredients to use in the mix. I myself don’t have a set recipe for this, but as long as one knows what to use they should be able to blend a nice marinade.
Allspice, ground – the main spice component
Thyme – main herb
Lime juice + Zest – fresh, Caribbean flavor
Vinegar (Red, White, Malt, or Apple dependant) – nice acid component
Scotch Bonnets – main SPICY component
Need at LEAST 2, only use 1 for SMALL batches, I could barely get any in my final dish
Garlic + Green/Spring Onions – main Aromatics
Secondary Ingredients (ones often used in conjunction, but not always needed):
Brown Sugar + Honey – sweetness to counter the spice and vinegar – also glazes well
Nutmeg, Pepper, Clove, Cinnamon, Ginger (ground or fresh)
Rum + Bitters
Other Herbs and Spices
Other peppers (Jalapeno, Serrano, etc)
Choose your weapons, place it in the blender and pulse away until smooth! Adjust for flavor as needed, and make sure there’s enough liquid to get all the chunky components (usually use a lot of onions) into a paste. I myself decided to give a hard sear and blackening to all my veggies beforehand for extra flavor. Once blended, it looked like this:
Broke down my (nice and organic) chicken, tossed it all in a bag with extra herbs and veggies, and mixed with my Jerk for overnight.
Hot charcoal grill to finish it off; starting in the hot spots to get that blackened grill, off to the warm spot to cook all the way through. We certainly enjoyed it all right afterwards for dinner, and I enjoyed it again on top of that johnnycake with a little mayo and jam (works really nice with spicy components).
Now, just have to learn to make it properly next time…