Yakgwa (약과) or Yakwa is a traditional Korean sweet pastry or cookie that is rich with flavors of ginger and honey. Yakgwa was my favorite snack growing up and I tasted hundreds of Yakgwa in my life but I have never tasted one that is as light and flavorful as this one.
This Yakgwa recipe that I learned from my mother-in-law is the most authentic since I learned that Yakgwa was created by an ancestor of my husband, 450 years ago. (Story of Yakwa and Yaksik) Once you taste this recipe, you will never be happy eating the stuff sold at markets. The Yakgwa/Yakwa sold at markets are chewy and almost gummy whereas these are flaky, and have a melt-in-your-mouth crumbly texture.
If you prefer softer, crumblier Yakgwa, consider checking out my Chapssal Yakgwa recipe instead!
BTW, I promised simple recipes and I admit that this is not a simple one but it is just too good and too important to not post. If you have any experience making pie crust dough and frying it in oil, it shouldn’t be too difficult. It will also be easier if you have a friend to help you since it gets pretty busy when it’s time to dunk the fried Yakwa or Yakgwa into the syrup. I promise you though – if done right, you will be glad you tried making it.
Prep time: approx 30 min. time: approx 40 min. Difficulty: Medium Servings – makes about 65 pieces
Our Family Yakgwa Recipe
- vegetable oil for deep frying (1 liter is plenty)
- 3 C medium-protein flour aka all-purpose flour
- 1/3 C sesame oil
- 1/3 C soju (sake can be used but soju is best)
- 1/3 C honey
- 1/4 C chopped pine nuts
- 1/4 tsp salt (optional – original recipe omits salt)
Ingredients for the Ginger Honey Syrup
- 1 C rice syrup (Jochung 조청) – if not available, you can substitute honey
- 1 C honey
- 2 C water
- 1 T grated fresh ginger (1 -2 tsp ginger powder is OK too) – add more or less to taste * revised on 12/21/11
Needed Kitchen items
- wok/pot for frying, tong or long chopsticks to pick up fried Yakgwa
- mixing bowl
- Prepare oil for frying and heating the oil in a wok/pot. Note for Yakgwa, we want to start frying at a low temperature.
- Make the syrup by mixing the rice syrup, honey, and water in a saucepan or frying pan. Heat on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once it boils, turn the heat off and add the chopped ginger, mix, and set it aside.
- Let’s make the dough. In a large mixing bowl, add the flour (add salt – optional) and then the sesame oil. Mix the flour with the oil by rubbing the mixture thoroughly with your hands, until you feel the oil is all blended in with the flour.
Here is me mixing the Yakgwa Dough.
- Mix the Soju and honey in a separate cup/bowl until the honey is all dissolved. Pour the soju/honey mixture into the flour mixture and gently press the dough to form a ball. Add more soju if you feel the dough is too dry. This is a picture of my mother-in-law’s dough, I think she ended up adding a bit more soju because it came out too dry.
Proceed to roll out the dough until it resembles the picture below.
- Divide the dough in half. Roll out one half of the dough into a 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick rectangular shape. Cut the dough into 1-inch wide strips and then cut the strips at an angle to make diamond shapes.
Pierce a hole in the center using a chopstick – this is so the dough gets heated evenly in the oil.
- Yakgwa is fried at 2 different temperatures, and this is what makes it tricky. For the first part, oil should be at a low temperature of around 130 ° C (265 °F) – the Yakgwa pieces should not rise to the top right away. When the Yakgwa rises to the top, it is ready for the next step.
The Yakgwa pictured above has just begun rising to the top of the oil.
- When all pieces have risen to the top, raise the heat to medium-high to reach the normal frying temperature. Continue frying until the Yakgwa turns rich brown.
Once the Yakgwa looks like this, remove the Yakgwa from the oil, put it in a colander lined with a paper towel, and let the oil drain for a bit.
- Soak the fried Yakgwa in the Ginger Honey Syrup you made beforehand.
When it has soaked up all the syrup (about 20 min?), take it out of the syrup and place it onto a plate. I have seen recipes that soak yakgwa in syrup for up to 12 hrs! I have not tried that long but it’s up to you – I don’t think it will make a big difference. Sprinkle the top with chopped pine nuts while it is still wet and the nuts will stick to it.
Storage Tip for Yakgwa
Yakwa / Yakgwa can be stored at cool room temperature for several days or can be kept in the fridge for longer periods. You can also freeze it and it will keep fresh longer.
LEFTOVER GINGER SYRUP
You will have plenty of syrup leftover if you follow my ginger syrup recipe but I make extra because that way it’s easier for the yakgwa pieces to soak fully. You can use the leftover syrup in banchan dishes like Myeolchi Bokkeum (use the leftover syrup in place of maple syrup – works wonderfully).
If you don’t want leftover syrup, you could make 3/4 cup rice syrup, 3/4 cup honey, and 11/2 cup water instead of my original recipe but be aware that towards the end, you will have to use a smaller pot so you have more depth of the syrup for the yakgwa pieces to be fully immersed in the syrup.
Try my Baked Yakgwa
If you don’t want to fry these, I have a baked Yakgwa recipe that you may want to try.
Korean Honey Pastry (Yakgwa or Yakwa)
- 3 cup all purpose flour (medium-protein flour)
- 1/3 cup sesame oil
- 1/3 cup soju
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/4 cup chopped pine nuts
- 1/4 tsp salt (optional – original recipe omits salt)
- 1 cup rice syrup (jochung 조청 – if not available, you can substitute honey)
- 1 cup honey
- 2 cup water
- 1 Tbsp ginger (grated, 1 -2 tsp ginger powder is OK too)
- Prepare oil for frying. Note for Yakgwa, we want to start frying at a low temperature.
- Make syrup by mixing rice syrup, honey and water in a sauce pan or frying pan. Heat on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once it boils, turn the heat off and add the chopped ginger, mix and set it aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, add flour (add salt – optional) and then sesame oil. Mix the flour with the oil by rubbing the mixture thoroughly with your hands, until you feel the oil is all blended in with the flour.
- Mix the Soju and honey in a separate cup/bowl until the honey is all dissolved.
- Pour soju/honey mixture into the flour mixture and gently press the dough to form a ball.
- Divide dough in half. Roll out one half of the dough into 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick rectangular shape. Cut the dough into 1 inch wide strips and then cut the strips at an angle to make diamond shapes.
- Yakgwa is fried in 2 different temperatures and this what makes it tricky. For the first part, oil should be around 265° F (130°C). Yakwa will slowly rise to the top.
- For the second part, when all the pieces have risen to the top, raise the heat to medium high to reach normal frying temperature . Continue frying until Yakgwa turns rich brown in color.
- When Yakgwa pieces turn rich dark brown, removec from oil and let oil drain in a colander lined with paper towel.
- Soak fried Yakgwa in prepared ginger honey syrup.
- Leave for few min until it has soaked up all the syrup, take it out of the syrup and place onto a plate.
- Sprinkle top with chopped pine nuts while it is still wet so the nuts will stick to it.
Tips & Notes:
- NUTRITIONAL FACT NOTES – these are only approximate values as only part of the syrup is used to make yakgwa. Calories maybe higher or lower depending on how much of the syrup is absorbed into your pastry.
- STORING – Yakgwa can be stored at cool room temperature for several days or can be kept in the fridge for longer periods. It can even ben FROZEN for even longer storage.
- Adjust amount of liquid by adding a bit more soju if you feel the dough is too dry.