Hoecakes may look like regular pancakes at first glance, but they are a bit different than that standard breakfast fare. Hoecakes are coarse cakes made of cornmeal, similar to cornbread. It is said that the name dates back to the pre-Civil War era, where a version of the recipe made with just cornmeal and water was baked on the blade of a hoe. This baking technique would certainly be a challenge and might not be entirely factual, though it does give the dish an intriguing origin story. These days, hoecakes are typically pan-fried to produce a cake that is crispy on the outside with a tender interior. While some recipe stick firmly to the tradition of using only cornmeal, others add flour to produce a lighter, fluffier cake.
My Hoecakes are of the fluffier variety, as I use a blend of cornmeal and all purpose flour as my base. I also use buttermilk to give them a little bit of additional flavor, though there is no added fat in the hoecakes besides the fat from the eggs that also go into the batter. The hoecakes are cooked in a skillet that is generously greased with butter, which helps them turn a deep golden brown and develop a crisp edge. That crisp edge contrasts nicely with the fluffy, moist interior of the cake.
On their own, the cakes are quite savory taste a bit like cornbread, but with deliciously caramelized edges that give them a greater depth of flavor. I serve mine with a very, very generous helping of maple butter, which adds a wonderful sweetness to them and provides a great contrast for those caramelized edges.
The maple butter takes the hoecakes from tasty to memorable and I never serve them without it. The butter is made simply by whipping butter and maple syrup together until it is light. I add a generous pat of the butter to each corncake before I remove it from the pan, so that it starts to bake right into the cake, then I add another pat to the cakes when serving. You can also serve the maple butter with traditional cornbread, as well as pancakes, waffles or toast.
This recipe makes a relatively small batch and it can be doubled if you are serving a crowd. They can be served for breakfast or brunch, however I often serve them as a side dish during dinner, just as I would serve cornbread. The hoecakes should be eaten soon after they have been cooked, so that you get the best contrast of textures, though they can be prepared up to 30 minutes before you intend to serve them and kept warm (perhaps with an extra pat of butter to ensure they stay moist!) in a low oven.
Hoecakes with Maple Butter
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
Maple Butter (recipe below)
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk until batter is well-combined.
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add a generous pat of butter to the pan (butter should sizzle and melt immediately). Spoon about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan and cook until cake is dark golden brown, then flip and cook the second side until dark.
Top with a generous pat of maple butter before removing the hoecake from the pan, so the butter melts into the hoecake, and serve immediately.
1/3 cup butter, room temperature
3 tbsp maple syrup, pref. Grade B
Combine butter and maple syrup in a small bowl, and whip ingredients together until they are well combined. Transfer into a small serving dish and chill until ready to use.