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[Holly’s Korean Kitchen] Dalgona, the Korean sugar candy

Dalgona, a Korean sugar candy (Holly Ford)
Dalgona, a Korean sugar candy (Holly Ford)
Ppopgi vs dalgona

Any Korean who grew up in 1970s Korea (like myself) will have a memory of two special Korean candy treats - ppopgi and dalgona. They were slightly different; while ppopgi is made with plain sugar, dalgona was made with glucose solid.

These two candies were popular among Korean children in the ‘70s through early ’80s. Interestingly, over the past few decades people have confused the names. What most people now call “dalgona” should really be called ppopgi candy. I‘ll ride the current trend and call this recipe dalgona.

FYI, this recipe is for dalgona candy, not the dalgona coffee or whipped Korean coffee.

What is dalgona (aka ppopgi)?

Dalgona (or ppopgi) is basically an old-fashioned Korean sugar candy made with just sugar and baking soda. It has a hard and honeycomb toffee-like texture. The reason this dalgona is so nostalgic for Koreans is because of how it is made - in a soup ladle!

The popular Netflix show ”Squid Game“ features this Korean sugar candy, and it has become an overnight sensation. I haven’t watched that particular show, but I can see why it is so intriguing to non-Koreans. And dalgona is a fun candy to make if you know the story behind it.

Story of dalgona (ppopgi)

In the ‘70s Korea, there weren‘t many sweet baked goods available for children. Home baking was virtually unheard of and having an oven was a rare luxury.

Dalgona was a popular sugar candy for young children in those days, and the candy came with a game. There were many dalgona vendors on the street, each with a portable charcoal stove that provided an opportunity for children to make their own dalgona candy. As far as I can remember, I only paid a few pennies.

The vendor would give you a cheap ladle filled with a small amount of sugar. You squat down and hold the ladle directly on the briquet, stirring the sugar with a disposable wooden chopstick until the sugar caramelizes. When the sugar turns to a deep amber color, you add a tiny amount of baking soda. Suddenly the contents of the ladle turn into a golden bubbly mass. You quickly turn it over onto a flat surface. Then then the vender will press the mass down with a hotteok presss to flatten it, then gently make an indentation with a shaped cutter.

The fun part begins after that. You want to try to cut the candy around the shape with your hand. The goal is to pick out the indented shape without breaking it. The name ppopgi comes from that--it means ”picking out.“ It’s not that easy to do because the candy breaks easily.

Some kids used a needle or a toothpick to poke around the pattern to pick out the shape. Some even used their own saliva to moisten the edge. Only a few with very good fine motor skills could succeed.

If you succeed, you get a second ladle of sugar for free! It’s like a game. I took the ppopgi game challenge numerous times and hardly ever succeeded. The game can’t be too easy, otherwise the vendor won‘t make any profit, right?

By the early 1980s, as Korea developed economically and more families began to have ovens in their own homes, dalgona candy started to disappear, and dalgona street vendors exist mostly in our memories.

Dalgona, a Korean sugar candy (Holly Ford)
Dalgona, a Korean sugar candy (Holly Ford)
Memory of dalgona

Like me, most Korean children were obsessed with dalgona candy in the ‘70s. Often they attempted making it at home - using their mother’s one and only kitchen ladle. When mother was out running some errands (because she wouldn‘t let us do it if she were at home), that’s when we wanted to try it. After several attempts to caramelize the sugar, the ladle would be left with burn marks and discoloration. When she came back, mother would discover that her kitchen ladle ruined. Then comes the yelling--and maybe even worse, a smacking on your backside! Ouch!


Equipment you will need

• Ladle

• Hotteok press

• Silicon mat

• Cookie cutter


Ingredients (per serving)

• 1 ½ tbsp sugar

• 1 pinch (about 1/16 tsp) baking soda


Instructions

1. Put sugar in a ladle over med-low to low heat. When the sugar starts to melt around the edge, stir with a wooden chopstick.

2. Keep stirring until the sugar melts and caramelizes. Reduce the heat if the sugar burns too quickly. All the sugar has melted and it should have an amber color.

3. Remove the ladle from heat, and add a pinch of baking soda. Keep stirring until well mixed.

4. Pour the sugar mix on a silicon mat and press gently with a hotteok press to flatten. Quickly press down with a cookie cutter to leave an indentation on the surface. Let the candy cool and lift it up with a spatula.

5. Once cooled, store them in an airtight zip bag and keep them on the counter for up to 3 days. If the climate is humid, your dalgona might become sticky.

By Holly Ford (https://www.beyondkimchee.com)

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Hye-gyoung Ford (aka Holly) is a well-known Korean food blogger and the author of the popular cookbook, “Korean Cooking Favorites.” Born and raised in Korea, she has lived in many countries. She shares her recipes and food memories in her blog, Beyond Kimchee. - Ed.

By Korea Herald (koreaherald@heraldcorp.com)
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