This deep-fried cookie, soaked in a mixture of jochung (Korean rice syrup) and honey, comes in many shapes, textures and sizes. The most common varieties are pressed in a yakgwa press or mold. Since the specialty press may be hard to find in the US, our version calls for cutting the laminated dough into bite-size squares. Likewise, we skipped frying the cookie at two different temperatures, and instead cook it at one, with minimal difference to the flavor and texture. Another shortcut: We omit resting the cookies for 2 days before soaking them in syrup for 4 to 8 hours. Even so, making yakgwa takes time. But with a little bit of patience and planning, you too, can enjoy these crumbly, pie-like cookies with a side of sikhae, Korean sweet rice punch or herbal tea.
a deep-fry thermometer and long chopsticks (optional)
For the cookies: Whisk together the flour, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the sesame oil and toss with a rubber spatula until some, if not most, of the flour granules are hydrated in the oil and become pea-size pieces.
Transfer the flour mixture to a fine-mesh sieve set over a large bowl. Use a metal spoon to scrape the mixture in the sieve to help it pass through. The resulting dough will resemble a coarse ground cornmeal.
Add the soju and ginger-infused simple syrup and toss together with the rubber spatula until just combined. Put your hands in the bowl and gently knead and press the dough into a ball until there are no specks of dry flour. Do not overwork the dough. Keep in mind that the dough is supposed to be very dry and crumbly. It’s OK if some dough breaks apart. You’ll know the dough is ready when it’s pressed and pinched together, but holds its shape.
Gather the dough, adding 1 teaspoon of soju at a time if needed. Gently pat down the dough into a square and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate and let rest for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the coating syrup.
For the coating syrup: Bring the jochung, honey, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl to cool.
Roll the rested dough into a 1/2-inch-thick large square (about 7-inches-by-7-inches), lightly brushing the work surface or rolling pin with sesame oil as needed. Cut the dough in half vertically. Flip over one half and place it directly on top of the remaining half. Press down on the dough and roll it out into a 1/2-inch-thick square again. Repeat the process of cutting, flipping, layering and rolling out the dough two more times.
Cut the final dough square into 16 pieces (each about 1 3/4 inches). Make a small hole in the center of each cookie with a toothpick and set aside.
Heat at least 1 inch of oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 300 to 320 degrees F. Line a sheet tray with paper towels.
Add all the cookies into the oil (it is OK to overcrowd in this case) and fry, carefully stirring constantly with long chopsticks or a long-handled wooden spoon, until the cookies are deep golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to the prepared sheet tray and let cool.
Toss the cooled cookies in the coating syrup in a large bowl and let sit for 4 to 8 hours. Tranfer the cookies to another sheet tray fitted with a cooling rack and garnish the center of each cookie with 3 pine nuts. Let sit for 1 hour and serve.
Ginger-Infused Simple Syrup:
Yield:About 1 cup
For the ginger-infused simple syrup: Bring the sugar, ginger and 1 cup water to a boil in a small pot over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the honey. Let cool and discard the ginger slices.
The syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Use it to sweeten hot coffee or tea, or in a cocktail.
Look for jochung, a Korean rice syrup, in the sweetener section in the Korean grocery store. Choose one that lists only rice syrup in the ingredients, as some brands use a combination of corn syrup and rice syrup.
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