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Interview #16: Marissa Ferola's Hotteok
“I always want [my children] to know where they came from and who they are, and to be able to celebrate that fearlessly and loudly.”
In early January, I moved from the Boston area, where I’d spent the previous 16 years of my life, to Brooklyn. The decision was for very wonderful reasons personal-life wise, but I still feel a specific pang whenever I see new things appear in the place where nearly my entire adult life was shaped and remember that I’m no longer able to access them readily.
Most recently, Nine Winters Bakery—a weekly Cambridge-based pop-up at artisanal ice cream shop Honeycomb Creamery—has caused said pangs. Baker Marissa Ferola, who works on Honeycomb’s from-scratch mix-ins, cookies, and ice cream cakes, spends Mondays selling baked goods and treats inspired by her Korean-American heritage, like double-chocolate cookies with hot honey, doenjang cinnamon rolls, and—the star of the show today—hotteok, a stuffed and pan-fried Korean pancake.
It was brought to the country by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century, as an adaptation of bing. The sweet variation became popular in the 1950s and ’60s, when American foreign aid after the Korean War introduced inexpensive wheat and sugar to the country. Hotteok was cheap to make and sell — convenient for a time when South Korea’s economy was struggling.
For Marissa, a Korean adoptee who grew up in the South Shore of Massachusetts, making hotteok has been a way to connect with her Korean roots—and to share them with her children. Nine Winters is an amalgam of her daughters’ names: Janine, 4, and Winter, nearly 2.
“Creating Nine Winters and developing these recipes has really been a very personal journey for me as a Korean adoptee taking their first real deep dive into their own culture and representing myself not only as a Korean, but also as an American,” Marissa says. “I always want [my children] to know where they came from and who they are, and to be able to celebrate that fearlessly and loudly.”
Ahead, learn how Marissa went from frying donuts to crafting hotteok, the technique that goes into making them, and all about the creative collaborations she’s been rolling out in honor of AAPI Heritage Month.
“I'm a Korean adoptee, and I was born in Incheon, Korea. I came over to the States at four months, and I pretty much have always been in Massachusetts. When I was a kid, I had no sense of Korean pride or identity, because I grew up in a predominantly white and European Irish town.
Baking has always been something I've enjoyed. I started my professional baking career in Somerville, with Union Square Donuts. I was pretty rough around the edges and I really credit them with helping get me the motivation to stay in a career I'm very passionate about.
I eventually followed Kristen Rummel from Union Square Donuts to Honeycomb Creamery, which is where I’ve worked since its beginnings. Everything at Honeycomb is made here, which I take a lot of pride in.
I started playing around with Korean flavors and recipes when I first got pregnant, because I really wanted my children to be able to experience their culture and embrace their identity from the very beginning—it’s so much harder to navigate when you're an adult. I learned how much I love Korean food and how flexible and versatile the ingredients can be.
Nine Winters came about with me exploring those flavors with my oldest daughter, Janine. Hotteok is something that I became aware of through looking through tons of different Korean recipes. In Korea, it's a big after-school snack. I first tried hotteok from the H Mart freezer section—it was delicious, but after I tried it, I thought I could make it more tailored to what I would want.
I started bringing cookies in for the Honeycomb staff with more frequency, and eventually I asked Kristen, the owner, to do a pop-up. It was October 2021 when I first launched, and it was getting colder outside. I wanted to be able to offer something hot and fresh and delicious, that was less than a meal, but more than a hearty snack—to me, hotteok is the perfect option for that.”
“Hotteok are usually made with a yeasted dough, pan fried or fried, and then pressed flat once you flip it. I'm very comfortable with yeasted dough, given my experience with baking.
What I find important with hotteok is if it’s not hot, it’s not going to be very good. The filling has got to be gooey and melty, and you want the contrast between that crispy outside of the dough and a fluffy interior that’s almost like a bready pancake.
The traditional filling, which is what I use in what I call the ‘classic’ hotteok that I offer, is a mix of black sesame, brown sugar, ceylon cinnamon, and chopped peanuts for a little bit of crunch.
I started with really pushing the classic flavor, as well as a kimchi-mozzarella hotteok. The mozzarella melts inside of the dough when you're frying it, it gets that nice cheese pull that everybody loves, and the kimchi just adds that sour crunch and saltiness that I love.
I’m currently open at Honeycomb on Mondays from noon to 3 p.m. We probably make 20–25 hotteok on a busy day during that window.”
“My driving force is my children. My daughter Janine is only four, but eats everything that I make before I bring it onto a menu—and she has strong opinions.
She likes her food to pack a punch and be very flavorful. So her advice is always to add more spice and more flavor. She doesn't see the point in being delicate, which I can appreciate—she’s bold.
Originally I wanted to stay true to what’s traditionally sold, but now the hotteok have expanded. The filling possibilities are endless—it’s kind of like a donut in that way, a vessel for something hot and nourishing and warm inside.
I’ve been doing a matcha-cream cheese-roasted strawberry filling this spring—I wanted something that was more springtime and fun, and strawberries are in peak season in March and April in Korea. I use local produce as much as possible—I’m not importing Korean strawberries or anything, but I also want to highlight what’s going on in Korea right now from where I am here.
As far as deciding what would be fun, I think ‘what would my kids like?’ I used to do a sweet roasted corn filling with ricotta cheese and perilla leaves—perilla is almost like a cross between basil and mint, and has a deep earthy flavor. My kids don’t like perilla in the traditional sense, but they do in a nice corn salad with a little bit of sweet cheese.
We did a Shin Ramyun and Spam one that was just pure fun. I love Spam, I think it’s delicious. Spam and eggs and rice is a really popular snack or breakfast, and a lot of people love to put Spam in Shin Ramyun specifically. Something about it just makes it like 10 times better.
We used Shin Black when we were selling it—it’s a beef bone broth with a spicy broth packet as well. I used both and would cook the noodles in the broth, strain them out, and then make a butter roux sauce out of the broth to coat the noodles and stay nice and thick. Then I’d slice the Spam really thin, pan fry it, and stuff that all in the hotteok.
There are so many that I really want to do—like a jajangmyeon filling, which is a noodle dish with black bean paste and some pork that’s packed with umami and usually layered over hand-cut noodles. And I really want to do a Korean corn cheese filling.”
“This month, as an Asian American, I wanted to be clear that we should all elevate each other. We are such a great community, but we’re also different and have different foods and cuisines that make us special. There’s something great about working with another Asian locally owned business.
I’ve teamed up with Bamboo Thai across the river on Comm. Ave., and they provided me with mango sticky rice that I put in a hotteok to highlight Thai cuisine. For national barbecue day, May 16, I teamed up with Cho Cho’s, which is right down the street on the Lesley University campus. The owner provided me with bulgogi to make a bulgogi BBQ hotteok.
For May 23, I worked with a Taiwanese business, Concord Ave. Cafe in Cambridge, on a Taiwanese braised minced pork-filled hotteok. A few people brought their moms and made large orders to feed their family—that's the kind of thing that really makes me feel excited.
The Asian community around me is just so supportive, and it means so much as an adoptee: going from feeling like I was one of the only ones to realizing there are so many people around who want to celebrate our heritage.”
Above the Fold was created by Leah Mennies. Logo + design elements by Claudia Mak.
The above interview was condensed and edited. Interview subjects are paid an honorarium for taking the time to share their knowledge and experience.
Pronounced “ho-tduk,” with the second syllable beginning with a hybrid of a hard “d” and “t”