Hangwa (한과)… what are those? Traditional Korean confections! The name Hangwa means “Korean confectionary” and encompasses various types of desserts—three of which will be introduced below. They are more difficult to get outside of Korea but that doesn’t stop us! They can easily be made at home. The confectionaries date back to the Silla Dynasty (698 – 926), but were further developed in the Goryeo Dynasty (936 – 1392). They were mostly served during tea ceremonies, ancestral rites or special celebrations like Chuseok (추석), weddings or important birthdays. Today, they can be found in Korean supermarkets and cafés.
- Dasik (다식)
Colourful, bite-sized, sweet, and flavourful—we’re talking about dasik! The literal meaning of dasik is “tea food,” and as the name suggests, they’re typically enjoyed with tea. Usually round in form, they come with different designs on top, ranging from letters (family names), flowers, or simply geometric patterns. These designs are achieved by pressing the dough into the so-called dasikpan (다식판) that is made out of wood or porcelain. Depending on what colour was desired, different kinds of flours would be used: grains, rice flour, or pine pollen. It is mixed with honey and then pressed into the dasikpan.
The first mention of this dessert and the dasikpan was back in 1766 where it was said that people used small molds made of wood or ceramics to create the shape. Back then, it was only enjoyed by the royal court and in Buddhist tea ceremonies. When presented, multiple flavours and colours of dasik were placed on a plate.
Dasik can easily be made at home, but the tricky part is getting the right flour-to-honey ratio. If you add too much honey, they might not hold its shape but if you add too much flour, it will be dry and fall apart easily. Dasikpans are hard to get outside of Korea so a good alternative may be silicone molds or just simply rolling out the dough and using cookie cutters to get them in shape.
- Gwapyeon (과편)
Gwapyeon (과편) is the perfect fruity summer dessert; small and jelly-like, reminding one of the fruit jelly cups that you can get at the Asian supermarket. The name is very fitting as the literal meaning is “fruit cake.” Made with seasonal fruits, such as cherries or apricots, the fruits are boiled, sieved and then mixed with honey (or sugar) and starch (or agar). Starch and agar act as gelling agents to quicken the process and to help the dessert hold its shape.
This dessert can be made at home but it’s not for the impatient ones—the jelly has to cool for a few hours until it’s firm enough to be cut. With gwapyeon, you can play around until you find a texture that you like. Typically, it has a firm texture. For a softer texture, simply add less starch and if you like it sweeter, simply add more sugar. It is easy and quick to make, the mixture can be poured into a pan and left to cool, then you can simply cut it into small pieces and enjoy!
- Yakgwa (약과)
Yakgwa (약과) is best described as a sweet, rich-flavoured honey cookie, but with a softer and chewier texture. This dessert belongs to the yumil-gwa (유밀과) category, which refers to confections that have a wheat flour base and are then mixed with various other ingredients. The name yakgwa literally means “medicine confection,” stemming from that fact that honey is considered medicine in Korea. What sets yakgwa apart from all the previously-mentioned desserts is the fact that it’s deep fried. The wheat dough is mixed with rice wine, sesame oil, and ginger juice; and then deep fried before it soaks in honey for six to eight hours.
Originally, yakgwa were made for Buddhist rites in the Silla dynasty but were then also used for Pyebaek (폐백, wedding ceremony) in the Goryeo dynasty. In fact, this dessert was so popular that the Goryeo kings had to ban people from making this dessert as the ingredients were dwindling. Nowadays, you can also buy them at supermarkets with no risk of someone forbidding you to eat it!
When making yakgwa at home, the only difficulty is the deep-frying as it has to be fried at two different temperatures to get the right consistency. It takes some trial and error, but ultimately, it’s still super delicious once it is finished. How long you want to soak them in honey is up to you, whether it be dunking them in quickly or leaving them in there a whole evening (However, good things take time…).
Have these desserts sparked your interest? Let us know whether you’ll be attempting to make any of these or whether you’ve tried them before!
For more about Korean desserts, check out:
- For All Your Cravings: Popular Desserts from the Streets of Korea
- For All Your Cravings: Let Them Eat Rice Cake!
Written by Tran Trieu