Dessert might not be a common thing in Korean cuisine, but doesn’t mean that there is a shortage of sweet treats Korea has to offer!
One of the more traditional of these sweets, Yakgwa are honey flavoured cookies that are pressed into flower shaped molds to give them their signature shape, and are subsequently deep fried. This gives them a taste similar to doughnuts, just without the intense sugary coating. They’re just one form of Yumil-gwa – Korean confectionary that is made with dough and various other sweet flavourings.
Being a traditional form of Korean confectionary, these cookies have a long and illustrious past. The name for Yakgwa comes from it’s history of being made with honey. Back in the Goryeo era of Korean history, honey was seen as medicinal, which is what the first syllable, Yak, means. The second syllable, Gwa, means confectionary. Imagine that: medicinal confectionary! Given that these moreish little nibbles were dowsed in honey, which also happened to be highly prized at the time, Yakgwa were normally enjoyed by the upper classes. They were even used during the weddings of the kings of Goryeo to Yuan princesses, a part of the ceremonial pyebaek, the formal greeting exchanged between the two. They were also originally shaped like small animals or birds to add to their appeal, although this design was gradually changed due to the difficulty in stacking and storing them.
Nowadays, Yakgwa can be found all over Korea and aren’t nearly so expensive to get hold of. Despite this, they still remain a special treat. They’re often seen during Chuseok as one of the traditional sweets eaten for the celebrations. The recipe used is still incredibly similar to the original; wheat flour, the juice of ginger, cheongju (rice wine) and honey are all combined to make the dough, which is then pressed into the molds. Once they’re all fried up, the little cookies are soaked in honey and then dusted with cinnamon, though this topping can sometimes differ depending on who makes the cookies. It gives them a distinctive texture that is as addictive as ddeok, or rice cakes. Slightly soft and chewy with a little crumble on the inside, Yakgwa aren’t too sweet but are sugary to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Just because Yakgwa is a Chuseok treat, doesn’t mean they can’t be tried all year round. They’re relatively simple to make and, as soon as you’ve tried them, we bet you’ll want to come back for more!
If you’d like to see how Yakgwa is made, you can check out the video below!