foodFood & Drink

In the Kitchen With: Robin Ha’s Brown Sugar Pancakes

by Kristina Gill

Cook Korean! by Robin Ha

I first found out about Cook Korean! by Robin Ha from the New York Times Book Review in early June. I was intrigued by the idea of a cookbook with a heroine (named Dengki) in a comic book format. When I opened it, I was bowled over! For a change, I actually loved the pantry and refrigerator pages of a cookbook! I loved the cultural insights and food tips. I genuinely felt transported to Robin’s childhood and to her journey of learning how to cook. Though very tempted by the kimchi, vegetable side dishes, grilling, rice and noodles chapters, I chose to feature the Brown Sugar Pancakes from the Street Food chapter. They are filled with brown sugar and nuts and are flattened and fried in oil on a griddle. It won’t be the only recipe I try from the book, though! If you want to try out Robin’s suggestion below for a savory filling, you can combine Jordan and Rejina’s recipe for beef and veg with japchae in our archives with the dough from this recipe.  —Kristina

Why Robin loves this recipe: Hotteok is basically like a Korean pupusa. When I was a school girl in Korea, the ajumma (a middle-aged lady) who made the best hotteok in my town had her cart set up in front of my elementary school and kids lined up around the block every afternoon to get their hotteok after school. As the hotteok gets fried on the griddle, the dough gets crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside and the traditional brown sugar filling melts and becomes syrupy. There’s no joy like biting into a piping hot hotteok right off the griddle. The light crunch of the pancake followed by the hot sweet filling oozing out is just irresistible. And maybe this is why hotteok has been one of the most popular street foods in Korea for decades. You can also put other sweet and savory fillings inside. The trendy filling in Korea now is a savory filling of japchae (sweet potato noodles) and meat.

Illustrations by Robin Ha, portrait by Dave Kelly

Brown Sugar Pancake by Robin Ha

Brown Sugar Pancakes by Robin Ha

Brown Sugar Pancakes (Hotteok)

This popular street food is served hot right out of the pan. Watch out for the burst of melted brown sugar that oozes out of the pocket when you take the first bite.

Prep time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Makes 8 pancakes


– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 1 cup sweet rice flour
– 1 packet active dry yeast (3 teaspoons)
– 1 tablespoon sugar
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 cup milk
– Olive oil, for cooking


– 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
– 1/2 cup crushed nuts (such as peanuts, pine nuts, and walnuts)
– 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1 teaspoon salt

Let’s make the batter! First, mix all-purpose flour, sweet rice flour, yeast, sugar, and salt.

In a cup, microwave the milk until it’s lukewarm, 15 to 20 seconds.

Pour the milk into the dry ingredients and add 1 teaspoon of oil. Mix well, cover the bowl with a plastic wrap, and leave it someplace warm, like near a heating vent or in a turned-off gas oven for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the plastic wrap to check if the dough has risen. Stir the dough with a spoon. Re-cover with plastic wrap and leave it to rise someplace warm for another hour.

Fluff the dough with a spoon again. Now it’s time to make the hotteok! Wear disposable food prep gloves with some oil rubbed on them to keep your hands from sticking to the dough.

Make the filling: Mix the brown sugar, crushed nuts, ground cinnamon, and salt.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Take 1 piece of the dough in your palm, roll it into a ball, then flatten it with your palms. Put a tablespoon of the filling in the middle of the dough. Gently pack it in with the back of a spoon and add another spoonful if you can.

Pull in the dough from all sides and close it up, sealing in the filling. Rub some more oil on your gloves and keep making these balls until all the dough and filling are gone.

Heat a frying pan with plenty of oil. Put in 2 dough balls and gently press them down with a spatula. After about 15 seconds, flip them over and cook until both sides are golden brown.

Try experimenting with different fillings.

Serve hot!


About Robin: Born in South Korea, Robin Ha grew up reading and drawing comics. At 14 she moved to the United States. After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in illustration, she moved to New York City and started a career in the fashion industry. Her work has been published in independent comics anthologies including Secret Identities and The Strumpet, as well as in the pages of Marvel Comics and Heavy Metal magazine. Her blog Banchan in 2 Pages features Korean recipe comics. She currently resides in Falls Church, Virginia. You can find Robin on Twitter, Instagram, and her store.

Robin Ha by Dave Kelly

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