Confectionary and deserts are often little explored when talking about Korean cuisine. But since the explosion of ‘kimchi diplomacy’ on the world in recent decades, we keep getting dragged further and further into a treasure trove of sweet goods.
In many ways, it’s not that the treats are necessarily so different from what we’re used to—sticky glazes, crisp pastry fresh from a searing hot cast iron, golden layers of deep-fried dough—but often it’s the variety of flavours and the decoration that lures us in.
Yakgwa (or Gwajul) was originally a delicacy reserved for special occasions including weddings, chuseoks and coming of age ceremonies. It’s a wheat-flour based dough with a distinct flavour profile.
The dough is a smooth mix of flour, honey, rice wine, sesame oil and ginger juice. Honey is the key ingredient as it pertains to the name: “Yak” means medicinal, as in the medicinal status of honey in traditional Korean medicine practices, while “Gwa” means confectionary. This is, essentially, sweet medicine. In English, it’s commonly named ‘Honey Cookie’ though it’s generally thicker than the cookies we’re used to in the U.K.
Commercially, it’s usually moulded into an intricate flower shape. This is usually done by pressing the dough into wooden yakgwa moulds.
For the home cooks among us, flattening the dough out into an even width and cutting it into neat squares is just as good and delicious.
To make Yakgwa, you’ll need:
- 2-3 Cups Wheat Flour
- ¼ Cup Honey
- 2 tsp Ginger Guice (grate raw ginger and squeeze!)
- 2 tsp Toasted Sesame Oil
- ½ cup Water
- ½ cup Rice Wine
- Plenty of Vegetable oil for frying
- Pinch of Sesame Seeds for flourish
Mix all dough ingredients by hand until the dough loosely forms. Alternatively, mix ingredients in a food processor by pulsing on and off in short bursts until a crumbly dough forms. Wrap in plastic wrap and leave to relax in a cool area for at least 30 minutes.
When the dough is relaxed, roll out to a square or rectangle half an inch thick. Cut into your desired shape and fry until lightly golden brown in oil heated between 120-140 degrees.
Decorate the top with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds and enjoy!