South Korea: Hotteok
When thinking about what to make for South Korea in my Gent Goes Global series, I wanted to make sure I was exploring something new. Though limited, my experience with Korean food included dishes like bibimbap and sides such as kimchi. Steering away from those, I wanted to explore some desserts and found myself researching hotteok.
Hotteok are a popular street food in South Korea, served in cold weather to help warm you up. The soft and bread-like pancake shell gives way to a molten brown sugar syrup center, spiced with cinnamon and filled with chopped nuts for extra texture. They are notorious for burning unsuspecting tongues with the hot sugar, but it’s the only way to eat them; let them cool, and the delight of the syrup is lost. It’s a risky food, but one with a high reward.
After making these, I can say that they are fairly close in technique to Cong You Bing (Chinese scallion pancakes I made a few months back). A yeasted dough is wrapped around a filling, flattened, and fried. In fact, the history of hotteok suggests that hotteok is intrinsically linked to cong you bing and other Chinese-style pancakes. Numerous articles I found (including this one) suggest that Chinese merchants brought their yeasted pancakes to the Korean peninsula in the late 1800’s when Qing dynasty soldiers were dispatched there to help fight the Japanese. After the war was over, many merchants stayed in Korea. Though they sold all types of street food, it was the syrupy sweet hotteok that was a favorite among locals. Nowadays it’s a staple in Korea with many variations, including versions stuffed with pumpkin or cream cheese.
These hotteok I made are simple, filled with brown sugar, cinnamon, and peanuts to give a crunchy and salty note to an otherwise soft and sweet snack. Simply make the dough, let it rest, mix the filling ingredients together, roll out and separate the dough into pieces, fill them and roll them up, and fry them in a lightly oiled skillet. It can seem like an involved process at first but it’s really so simple, and results in a delicious warming snack!
Though spring is approaching and the season for these is disappearing, we still have a few cold and gray days ahead of us here to enjoy hotteok. I loved getting to learn about hotteok and its legacy. Knowing that this classic street food is a cross-cultural creation is beautiful and reaffirms my belief that magic happens when people from different places come together and create something new. I hope you enjoy making hotteok and sharing them with your loved ones on a chilly day. Until next time, here’s to good drinking, great eating, and even better living.
For the dough
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
For the filling
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 3 Tbsp roughly chopped peanuts
- Mix the dough ingredients together in a large bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about an hour. Punch the dough down, recover, and let rise again for about 20 minutes.
- Mix the filling ingredients in a small bowl. Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead for about 5 minutes, until soft enough to handle. Cut into 6 equal pieces. Working one by one, use your hands to flatten the pieces, add in about a tablespoon of filling, and close the dough over the filling, making a small ball. Repeat with all dough pieces.
- Heat a thin layer of cooking oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add in dough balls, being careful not to overcrowd and leaving room for squashing (I did 4 at a time in a 12" skillet). Cook for about 30 seconds on one side, then flip and use the back of a spatula to squash it flat (careful not to ooze any filling!). Cook on this side for about a minute, then flip back over to the first side. Cover the skillet and let cook for about another minute (this helps make the filling melty and syrupy). When both sides are browned and the filling is molten, they are ready to be drained on paper towels and enjoyed! Careful – it's hot!
- The recipe for this comes from My Korean Kitchen, an excellent blog and resource for all kinds of Korean recipes.