Crispy and sweet Hotteok filled with a nutty brown sugar syrup. This Korean sweet pancake recipe is authentic, made just like street food vendors in South Korea.
Hotteok is arguably one of the most popular Korean street food. It has it all – it’s sweet, crispy, chewy and crunchy. Also known as Korean sweet pancake, it’s served piping hot as a snack or dessert.
This authentic hotteok recipe follows the ingredients and method used by street food vendors in South Korea. Made from yeasted dough, Korean sweet pancakes are traditionally filled with brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts. The pancakes are then fried until crispy, making the sweet filling caramelise and turn into a delicious gooey syrup.
One bite into a hotteok and regular pancakes will never seem the same again. Their crispy and gooey goodness that’s guaranteed to make you come back for more!
If Korean foods are your guilty pleasure, you might want to check out the insanely popular Korean Corn Dogs, sweet and savoury Korean Cream Cheese Garlic Bread or quick and easy Gilgeori Toast. Indulge in Korean desserts with this cute Korean Lunchbox Cake or the Korean Café-style Homemade Strawberry Milk.
What is hotteok?
Hotteok (호떡) is a type of sweet pancake made from a soft, yeasted dough and usually filled with brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts or seeds. Also known as Korean sweet pancakes, they are shaped like a round disc and have a chewy interior, with a gooey filling. The exterior of hotteok is crispy, because it’s usually fried until crunchy. These pancakes are a very popular Korean street food, and they can be found in all food markets.
The hotteok filling is traditionally made from brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts or seeds. When fried, the brown sugar melts and turns into a caramel flavour syrup. The chewy, yet crunchy pancake combined with the gooey filling make hotteok unique and delicious.
In more recent days, however, street vendors have started introducing delicious flavours like cheese, bulgogi, vegetables or kimchi. This popular Korean street snack is constantly changing, with new flavours being introduced all the time.
These Korean sweet pancakes are especially popular during winter, because they are always served piping hot. They are very hearty and comforting, which has ensured their top position as one of Korea’s favourite street foods.
The origins of hotteok
Hotteok is assumed to originate from Chinese merchants that relocated to the Korean peninsula during the Qing Dynasty in the 1800s. The merchants brought over Chinese pancakes (xian bing) similar to hotteok, which were made from wheat flour and filled with beef and onion.
Back in the 19th century, wheat was considered a high end ingredient. So hotteok was also quite expensive. Think of it as a modern day equivalent of a Starbucks drink. Koreans started changing the recipe and made it their own by introducing rice flour instead of wheat, which was cheaper.
In time, the hotteok recipe was changed more, until it became a truly Korean snack. Sweet Korean pancakes are incredibly popular nowadays and are a big part of pop culture. Korean boyband phenomenon BTS pretty much broke the internet when they shared hotteok as one of their favourite street foods.
What does the name mean?
In Hangul (Korean alphabet), hotteok is written as 호떡. Most people assume that the name comes from the verb “호 하다”, which means to “gently blow (air) on something/someone”. Freshly made Sweet Korean pancakes are like molten lava inside, which requires a lot of blowing to cool them down.
However, the historic meaning of hotteok comes from 호 (Chinese character 胡), which means “barbarian”. This makes reference to the Chinese immigrants, which were referred to as ‘barbarians’ back in the 19th century. 떡 means “rice cake”, so put together 호떡 translates to “barbarian rice cakes”.
In Korean, hotteok (호떡) is pronounced as “hoh-ttokh”, with a harsh T and silent throaty K. Since in Hangul the letters T and D are very similar in pronunciation, hotteok is sometimes also spelled as hodduk (or hoddeok). So if you ever see either one of these spellings, just know they are one and the same thing!
Korean language employs a lot of idioms and expressions, used socially by most native speakers. The popularity of hotteok can be seen from the fact that there are not one, but two idioms about this delicious snack.
호떡집에 불난 듯 하다 = Like a hotteok restaurant on fire
Hotteok restaurants are always very busy and hectic, so this expression is used when something is very noisy, fussy or hectic.
호떡 뒤집 듯 하다 = It’s like flipping a hotteok
This expression is used in a negative way, when something is changed suddenly or on a whim, as quickly as flipping a hotteok.
What does it taste like?
Traditional hotteok has a lovely sweet and nutty flavour. The taste can vary slightly depending on the filling. Classic Korean sweet pancake is filled with brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts (walnuts or almonds), but seeds can also be used, like pumpkin or sesame. Once fried, the sugar inside the filling turns into a sticky gooey syrup, which oozes out when you bite into the pancake.
The yeasted dough is soft and slightly chewy on the inside, whilst the exterior is crunchy from frying. The texture of hotteok is quite light, and should not be bready at all.
This authentic Korean sweet pancake recipe uses mostly regular ingredients which can be easily found. There’s only one specialty ingredient, which can be substituted in case you have trouble finding it. Here’s what you will need:
For the pancake dough
- Milk – helps make the dough sweet and fluffy. Milk can also be substituted with water or plant based milk. Ensure you use warm milk when adding to the recipe to help the yeast activate.
- Yeast – I like to use instant yeast because it’s very fast. You can also use fresh yeast if desired. The dry to fresh yeast ratio is usually 1:3, so for 7 grams of instant dry yeast you will need 21 grams of fresh yeast.
- Sugar – plain granulated sugar works best for this recipe, but you can also use brown sugar if desired.
- Oil – use a flavourless vegetable oil, like sunflower or canola. I do not recommend using any other typed of oils, as it will change the flavour of the pancake.
- Wheat flour – regular all-purpose flour works best. I do not recommend using self-rising flour for this recipe because it contains baking powder.
- Glutinous rice flour – also known as sweet rice flour, it helps make the pancake dough chewy. A little goes a long way, but if you want an extra chewy pancake you can use more glutinous rice flour and less AP flour.
- Salt – plain table or sea salt is needed.
For the filling
- Sugar – I like using a combination of light brown sugar and dark brown sugar for an intense caramel flavour. You can also use entirely light brown sugar if desired. I do not recommend using plain white sugar, because the flavour will not authentic.
- Cinnamon – only a little cinnamon powder is needed, but it helps give a lovely earthy kick. You can also use other spices if desired, like nutmeg or ginger.
- Nuts – Most hotteok are filled with walnuts, but other types of nuts can also be used (peanuts or almonds). Chop the walnuts into smaller pieces so they still add crunch to the filling. I do not recommend using a food processor, as the nuts will be too fine.
- Seeds – Seeds are also commonly used as a filling. They can be added in addition to nuts or on their own. Usually a combination of pumpkin and sesame seeds are mixed in with the sugar for a crunchy texture.
- Vegetable oil – needed for frying. Always use a flavourless type of oil, such as sunflower or canola oil (rapeseed).
Korean sweet pancakes need to be pressed down when cooked, which helps flatten them into a disc shape. This is usually done with a special hotteok hand press, which looks similar to a burger press.
How to make authentic hotteok
1. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients for the pancake dough. Use a spatula to mix them into a sticky dough, without kneading it. Cover and let the dough prove.
2. Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a small bowl, then set aside to let the dough rise.
3. Once the dough has doubled in volume, make small golf-ball size pieces of dough.
4. Flatten the dough ball in your palm into the shape of a disc.
5. Add a generous scoop of sugar filling in the middle, about 1 tablespoon.
6. Use your fingers to wrap the dough around the filling, encasing it inside.
7. Add hotteok to a hot frying pan and cook over medium heat until lightly golden on one side. Flip over the pancake, then press down to flatten it and fry until golden brown.
8. Flip once more and fry until golden brown, pressing down again to flatten the other side too.
Let the hotteok cool down for a few minutes, then enjoy it hot, when the centre is extra gooey. Be careful to not burn yourself, as the filling can get very hot!
Flavour Variations & Filling Ideas
Although traditional Korean sweet pancakes usually have a sweet sugar filling, nowadays there are countless creative fillings to choose from. Here are some of my favourite fillings:
- Red beans (팥 호떡) – sweet red bean paste is added in the center of the dough to make a delicious treat. This type of pancake is very filling and has a dense, sticky centre.
- Green tea (녹차호떡) – matcha powder is used for the pancake dough and the filling. This type of sweet pancake has a fresh, herbal flavour.
- Cheese (치즈 호떡) – cheese is added in addition to the sugar filling. This way the pancake becomes sweet and savoury, with a lovely sweet melted cheese interior. The best cheese to use for a gooey melty centre is mozzarella cheese.
- Honey (꿀 호떡) – honey is added to the filling for a wonderful floral aroma.
- Chocolate (초콜릿 호떡) – cocoa powder is added to the sugar filling for a rich chocolatey flavour.
- Mugwort (쑥 호떡) – dried mugwort or mugwort powder is added to the dough for a herby, grassy flavour.
- Vegetable (야채호떡) – filled with various stir fried vegetables, such as scallions, onion, chives, carrots, mushrooms and more.
- Kimchi (김치호떡) – filled with stir fried kimchi or a savoury and spicy flavour.
- Pizza (피자호떡) – pizza flavour is recreated by filling the hotteok with cheese, tomato sauce and pepperoni or vegetables.
- Japchae (잡채 호떡) – one of my personal favourites, this type of hotteok is filled with a Korean noodle dish. Japchae is made with glass noodles, vegetables and a sweet sesame sauce.
- Meat (고기 호떡) – minced meat is mixed with scallions and various vegetables, then used as a filling. This type of hotteok is the closest in flavour to the Chinese pancake called xian bing.
Success Tips & Tricks
- Lukewarm ingredients – it’s important to use lukewarm milk and/or water when mixing it with yeast. This will ensure the dough rises well and makes an extra fluffy hotteok.
- Good yeast – as the only rising agent in this recipe, yeast is very important. Make sure your yeast is active by placing it in lukewarm water or milk. If it start bubbling up after 4-5 minutes, the yeast is good quality.
- No kneading – as the dough needs to be quite sticky and fluffy, it shouldn’t be kneaded. Kneading it can make the texture of the pancake bready, which isn’t what we’re looking for.
- Proof the dough – is crucial for getting a soft, fluffy pancake. Make sure you let it proof well in a warm place.
- Use a lot of filling – for the most gooey and syrupy filling ever, you need to be very generous with the filling. Adding too little filling will make the sugar become absorbed into the dough, so you won’t get the syrupy filling.
- Fry well – is very important for a fully cooked dough and a liquid, gooey centre, as well as a crispy exterior. Make sure you fry the hotteok well on each side until dark golden brown in colour.
- Press it down – very important to get the right shape and texture. If the pancake is too thick, it will taste doughy. Pressing it down makes it thin and perfect. Use a hotteok presser, spatula or stainless steel potato masher for best results.
- Soak off the oil - I like to place the Sweet Korean pancakes on a thick paper towel after frying to get rid of excess oil.
- Serve hot – for the best flavour and texture, make sure to serve Korean sweet pancakes within minutes of cooking them. This way you get that perfect gooey centre! Be careful not to burn your tongue, as the syrup can get very hot.
How to serve & store
Serving: serve Sweet Korean pancake within minutes of cooking it for the best flavour. Make sure you let it cool down for a few minutes so you don’t burn yourself with the syrupy filling.
Fridge: you can also make Korean sweet pancakes in advance or store leftovers. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2-3 days. To reheat, fry for a few minutes until hot to the tough. You can also microwave them, but this will make the pancake crust less crunchy.
Freezer: for long term storage, hotteok can also be frozen. Cover in plastic wrap or aluminium foil, then place in an airtight container and freeze for up to 2-3 months. To thaw, leave the pancakes in the fridge overnight and reheat in the pan until hot.
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Hotteok: Korean Sweet Pancake Recipe (호떡)
- 1 hotteok presser, spatula or potato press*
- 1 large deep frying pan
For the pancake dough
- ¾ cup water, lukewarm (200 grams)
- ¼ cup milk, lukewarm * (50 grams)
- 1 packet instant dry yeast (7 grams)
- ⅛ cup granulated sugar (25 grams)
- ⅛ cup vegetable oil * (30 grams)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (240 grams)
- ⅓ cup glutinous rice flour (60 grams)
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt
For the brown sugar filling
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar * (50 grams)
- ¼ cup light brown sugar (50 grams)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
- ¼ cup chopped walnuts (30 grams)
- ¼ cup sesame seeds, optional (30 grams)
- vegetable oil, for frying *
Preparing the pancake dough
- In a large mixing bowl add lukewarm water, sugar and yeast. Mix well to dissolve, then set aside for 5 minutes.
- Pour in the vegetable oil, then sift in the all purpose flour, sweet rice flour and salt. Combine everything loosely with a spatula or wooden spoon. Only mix until the dough is combined, do not knead. Cover with plastic wrap, then let sit in a warm place for 30-45 minutes.
- Fold over the dough with a spatula for a few minutes to deflate the air. The dough will be fairly sticky, but do not add extra flour. Cover once again and let proof for another 30-45 minutes.
- Prepare the filling by combining dark brown sugar, light brown sugar, cinnamon and chopped walnuts. Mix well and set aside.
- Add a little vegetable oil on your hands to prevent the dough from sticking. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces.
- Take one dough piece and flatten it into a disc. Add a heaping teaspoon of the sugar filling mixture in the middle.
- Wrap all sides of the dough around the filling, enclosing it inside. The dough should easily stick to itself, but pinch it if necessary to enclose the filling. Repeat the process for the remaining dough pieces.
- Heat up a large pan with vegetable oil over medium heat. Once the oil is sizzling, add two hotteok at a time onto the pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes without pressing.
- Flip the pancakes over and press down with a spatula or hotteok press to flatten into a disc.
- Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the the hotteok is golden-brown in colour. Flip the pancake once more, pressing it down again to flatten and cook until golden-brown. This should take another 1-2 minutes.
- Let cool down for a few minutes before enjoying whilst still hot.
- I recommend using a kitchen scale in grams for more accuracy. The cups used for the conversion are standard US customary cups (1 cup flour = 136g). There are many different types of cups across the globe, which is why I strongly recommend using grams instead.
- Nutritional value is estimative and it's calculated per serving (this recipe makes 12 hotteok pancakes).
- Any type of milk can be used, including plant-based alternatives.
- Use an odourless, flavourless vegetable oil like sunflower or canola (rapeseed).
- Dark brown sugar can be replaced with light brown sugar.
- Sunflower or canola oil only.