Pumpkin Pancakes Recipe: A Taste of Home with a Japanese Twist

pumpkin pancake with bananas and chocolate

Pancakes are a popular luxury breakfast in Japan, but why pay to eat out when they’re so easy to make at home?

This is a little bit of a change from our recent posts on visas and scholarships, but if you’re going to be happy as an expat in Japan, food is essential. Whether it’s my favorite Japanese cuisine or comfort food with a Japanese twist, from time to time I’ll be sharing the food that I’ve learned to cook since living here, and how to do it in a Japanese kitchen.

Pumpkin Pancakes Recipe

Japanese kabocha squash, often translated as “pumpkin,” is superior to the pumpkin you get in America in every culinary way (its only shortcoming: not good for jack o’lantern carving). It tastes great on its own, so you can make any American pumpkin treat substituting kabocha and dramatically reducing the sugar, or you can add it to any number of baked goods.

I love it in my pancakes – and it’s a great way to make sure my three-year-old gets more veggies in her diet.

I make this recipe every weekend (21 pancakes) and freeze the uneaten pancakes to pop in the toaster oven on weekday mornings for a quick, filling breakfast before going to work. Three pancakes a day, with fruit jam, syrup, or chocolate ganache (if it’s going to be a particularly bad day at work), and I’m good to go.

Required Gear

You can make this recipe with a pair of mixing bowls, measuring cops, a masher, whisk, ladle, spatula, and frying pan, but I recommend having the following items to make your life a whole lot easier. They come in handy for a lot of other cooking, too.

pancakes on electric hotplate

An electric hotplate or griddle cooks more, cooks faster, and is easier to clean. One of my favorite kitchen gadgets!

Digital kitchen scale
I have come to love cooking in metric using my kitchen scale instead of measuring cups for large-quantity solids. Much more precise control! I convert my recipes using The Metric Kitchen, and I will include both grams and cup measurements below.
Electric Hotplate
Sure, you can cook these on a stove top, but if you’re stuck with IH cooking like many of us (why, Japan, why?), this will literally cut an hour off your time for a double batch. This is the hotplate/griddle I use, but right now I can only find it on Amazon’s Japanese site. If you want to order in English and still get it shipped to Japan, here’s a similar one from Oster.
Silicon steamer
A microwave steamer is going to make it a lot easier to prepare your kabocha. It takes only about 3-4 minutes to steam in one of these.
A hand-sifter
Because Japanese pastry flour is not available presifted and chunks of flour make for an unpleasant pancake experience

Shopping List: For 21 15cm (6-inch) Pancakes

21 Pancakes = 3/day for a week = prepare a week’s worth of breakfast in about an hour!

If you have this stuff around the house already, great! I’ll include the Japanese for things that might not be obvious.

  • Bread Flour (強力粉) – 200g (1 3/4 cups)
  • Pastry Flour (薄力粉) – 200g (1 3/4 cups)
  • Brown sugar (三温糖) – 50g (5 Tablespoons)
  • Salt – 4g (1 teaspoon)
  • Baking Powder – 10 g (2 Tablespoons) (I find this to be expensive at grocery stores, so I buy in bulk online).
  • Baking Soda – 5g (1 teaspoon)
  • Kabocha – 1/4 (approx 450g before preparing – modify to your tastes)
  • Butter – 65 grams (4.5 Tablespoons)
  • Milk – 475 mL (2 cups)
  • Yogurt – 140g (1/2 cup)
  • Vanilla extract – 1 teaspoon, if you’ve imported it from outside Japan, or about 10 drops of the Japanese concentrated stuff


These are all variations that we’ve tried and liked.

  1. The no-kabocha version: This recipe works just as well for plain pancakes, just leave out the kabocha and add the yogurt together with the milk, instead.
  2. Whole wheat: Replace up to half of the flours with whole wheat flour. If you whole wheat is “all purpose”, then you can replace half of each type of flour. If it is not for baking, then replace only the pastry flour.
  3. Reduced Dairy: Replace the milk and yogurt with soy milk and replace half the butter with 3 Tablespoons of olive oil.

Preparing the Kabocha

pumpkin pancakes recipe mashed pumpkin

Kabocha and yogurt after mashing

  1. Scoop out the insides with a spoon and peel the outside skin with a knife, just deep enough that the green is gone.
  2. If using a quarter-kabocha, cut into three wedges, then cut each wedge into 4 even-volume pieces and arrange in bottom of silicon steamer
  3. Steam in microwave for 3 and a half minutes. After steaming, it should be soft enough to mash, but don’t worry if there are some whitish unmashable chunks, especially on the outside. You can fish those out with the masher later. It’s better to have chunks than to over-microwave and turn it into rubber!
  4. Using a knife or the masher, remove the kabocha into a large, metal, mixing bowl (do not pour in the water from the steamer) and mash. Once thoroughly mashed, add the 1/2 cup of yogurt and continue mashing/mixing with the masher until mixture reaches a uniform consistency. It should be pretty stiff, so pull it to one side of the bowl, leaving the other side relatively empty. Set aside.

Mixing the Batter

  1. Pro Tip: If you are cooking in a frying pan, add 10g of butter (just under one Tablespoon) and melt the butter directly in the cooking pan- but don’t do it just yet.

    If you are cooking on a griddle, melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl and set aside.
  2. Sift both flours into a mixing bowl and add the brown sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix thoroughly with a whisk.
  3. Prep your cooking device: If you’re using a griddle, preheat it to 150 C (300 F). If using a frying pan, you want it medium low. This is also the time for frying pan users to start melting the butter.
  4. Crack the four eggs into the open side of the metal bowl containing the kabocha. Whisk them until light and frothy, then mix the eggs and kabocha-yogurt mixture together until well blended.
  5. Pro tip: Overmixing after combining the wet and dry ingredients is the top cause of rubbery, unpleasant pancakes. When in doubt, under-do it. You can always mix a little more with the ladle later.

    Add the milk and vanilla then, whisking constantly, pour in the butter. Mix until smooth and fish out any large chunks of undercooked pumpkin with the masher.
    If you’ve been melting the butter in a frying pan, add it slowly and whisk briskly as you do so. Whisking air in as you add it keeps the hot butter from cooking the eggs.
  6. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and whisk together slowly, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl on a regular basis. Whisk just until flour is no longer visible and there are no “flour balls” in your batter. It should still be lumpy.

Cooking the Pancakes

  1. Once pan or griddle is heated, ladle batter onto the cooking surface. As I mentioned before, it takes forever to cook this many pancakes on a frying pan, so I tend to make them larger in a pan to get it over with sooner. If you want to make character pancakes (kyarapan) like in the image at the bottom, use a small spoon to draw the features first, wait about 30 seconds or so for them to cook, then pour the batter for the rest of the pancake over top of them.
    pumpkin pancakes ready to flip

    Ready to flip!

  2. Pancakes are ready to flip when the edge is firm and air bubbles rise through the center.
    Note: If you are making kyarapan, the air bubbles will not rise through, so cook a plain pancake first to get used to the timing and watch for the edges to get just firm enough to get your spatula underneath.
    After flipping, cook pancakes for about one more minute until bottoms are brown, then serve!

That’s it! I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!
Please let me know what you think in the comments and add any variations or other suggestions you might have!

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character-shaped pancakes

Kyara-pan: Character pancakes!
My daughter doesn’t need any extra incentive to eat these, but I have fun making designs.

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