Capture the spirit of the spirit of this year’s Olympic games with a sweet treat that comes from South Korea, yumil-gwa. Yumil-gwa are a variety of delicious Korean confections made using honey and oil.
Yumil-gwa varieties date back as early as the year 918.
In earlier days, they were featured at feasts and in religious rites. Today, they’re still enjoyed in celebratory settings, but you can also enjoy them as an everyday snack!
This recipe is for a type of yumil-gwa known as yakgwa, which is made with a uniquely flavored dough featuring honey, a Korean spirit called soju and sesame oil. Rolled and cut out, the small pastries are fried to golden perfection, and then soaked in a sweet honey syrup before serving. You’ll love the finished results!
How to make yakgwa
Adapted from Kimchimari
Makes 16-24 (2″ – 3″) pastries
For the dough:
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup sesame oil
- 1/3 cup soju, sake, rice wine or water (see recipe note)
- 1/3 cup honey
- ¼ cup finely ground pine nuts
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Enough oil to fill a frying pan at least 1″ deep
For the honey syrup :
- 2 cups honey
- 2 cups water
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
Set up your mise en place! Be prepared in advance by having the oil in the pan, ready to go (don’t heat it yet) and set up a wire rack on top of paper towels. Have tongs nearby, too, for flipping your pastries as they fry.
Make the dough. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes cohesive. Then, switch to kneading by hand until it can easily be formed into a ball. Divide the dough into two equal portions (it will make it easier to roll out that way).
On a work surface (dusted with flour, if needed), roll the dough to an approximately 1/3″ thickness. Using 2″ to 3″ cookie cutters, cut out shapes. I used a small biscuit cutter to give my circles a little shape around the edges.
Heat the oil. Here’s where things get a little tricky: You’ll start each batch at a lower temperature, then raise the heat to attain crispy edges.
Start by heating the oil to about 265 F. Gently transfer as many portions of dough as you can into the pan, without crowding them. Let each pastry fry until golden on the first side, 2 and 4 minutes, depending on the size of your cutouts. Flip, and let the second side fry to match.
Now, raise the heat to high and briefly fry both sides a second time, until you get a deep brown finish.
Immediately transfer to the wire rack, then lower the heat back to 265 F. Continue this process until you’ve fried all of your dough portions.
Make the ginger honey syrup. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the honey, water and ginger and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, and let it simmer until the mixture has thickened to the point where it seems resistant to drop off the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and let cool.
Dunk the fried yakgwa in the honey syrup. I like to leave them in the mixture for a few minutes before removing so that they are really saturated with flavor. Repeat in batches, if needed, until you’ve coated all of them.
Use your pine nuts to garnish the tops of the pastries while the coating is still sticky. You can arrange them in a little starburst pattern, as I did, or just sprinkle the tops.
Store well wrapped leftovers at room temperature for up to 2 days, or refrigerate for up to 5 days.
This recipe calls for a Korean distilled spirit called soju. If can’t find it, you can substitute sake, rice wine or water.
Have you ever made a Korean dessert?
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