Yakgwa is a cookie that is a little bit like fried dough, a little bit like a savory biscuit, and a little bit like a hot glazed donut. It’s a traditional Korean tea accompaniment, meaning “medicinal cookie.” The fried wheat flour and sesame oil biscuit is soaked in a honey syrup (the healthy part). The sweetness is intended to offset the bitterness of green tea. Yakgwa are customarily shaped like a chrysanthemum.
I was introduced to yakgwa over the Korean holidays. On Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving, you are supposed to offer these cookies ceremonially to honor your ancestors. I found that living relatives seem to appreciate the cookies too.
When making homemade yakgwa, it is important not to overwork the dough. You fold the dough upon itself, like you’re making a laminated pastry dough — but be careful! Don’t press to hard when rolling out your dough. Gluten development, resulting from overworking your dough, will make the cookies tough. You want them to be light and airy.
Maintaining the temperature of your frying oil is very important. Too high and the dough will be too hard. Too low and it will be too pale and mushy. The cookies will continue to color for a few minutes after you remove them from the oil, so make sure they are just before the point that you want them.
Additionally, some recipes will substitute more modern ingredients for flavor. I’ve chosen to add corn syrup to the glaze, so the cookies are more durable and shiny. Otherwise they tend to go stale quickly. However, you can substitute honey if you wish.
For the cookies –
180 grams wheat flour
3 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons rice wine
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ginger juice
2 tablespoons ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the syrup –
2 cups corn syrup
20 grams peeled ginger
3 tablespoons water
10 grams cinnamon sticks
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Korean citron tea, or 2 teaspoons candied lemon peel with 1 teaspoon honey
4 cups vegetable oil for frying
Sesame seeds for garnish
Equipment: Thermometer, steeping bag, and cookie cutters
1.) Sieve your flour, salt, pepper, and ground cinnamon together. Add your sesame oil and mix until the flour forms clumps. Sieve dough again.
2.) Combine dough with honey, rice wine, salt, and ginger juice. Again mix thoroughly, but gently, and pat it softly into a ball.
3.) Place the dough ball on a flat clean surface. Whack it with a rolling pin 3-4 times to make it flatter. Carefully push (don’t roll with strong pressure). Fold the dough onto itself, like a paper you’re folding in thirds to fit into an envelope. Whack the square and repeat. Do this a few times, until the dough is thin, about 1/2 centimeter thick.
4.) Cut your dough into flower shapes or small diamonds. Poke holes in the cookies with a fork.
5.) Make your syrup. Combine the corn syrup, honey, and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan over low heat. Place the ginger and the citron tea into a steeping bag or a cheesecloth sack. Add this to your syrup. After 5 minutes, remove from heat. Cover and keep this warm while you fry your yakgwa.
6.) Heat your oil to 85-90 degrees Celsius. Add your yakgwa. Allow the cookies to fry for 10-15 minutes at that temperature, until the yakgwa float to the surface. Then turn the heat up to 140-145 degrees Celsius. Flip them with a slotted spoon to ensure even browning on all sides. Remove them after 10 minutes, just before they are golden brown. Place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
7.) Place the yakgwa into the syrup allow them to absorb the syrup. Optimally this will take a few hours. The more saturated the cookies are, the creamier they will taste inside. When you remove yakgwa from your syrup, sprinkle with sesame seeds. Allow them to drain again for 2 hours after soaking.