I was really surprised the first time one of my readers requested a recipe for ppopgi. I had totally forgotten about it!
When I was in elementary school in Korea, there was a ppopgi vendor outside my school every day, and I was forever tempted by him, so the request brought back a lot of good memories.
The ingredients can’t be simpler; basically just sugar and baking soda. The key to good ppopgi is all technique, timing, and patience. The candy is sweet, but also a little smoky, nutty, and bitter. You might expect it to be hard and sticky, but the baking soda makes it light, airy, and brittle. This candy has a few different regional names. When I was young, we used to call it “gukja,” which means “ladle” and refers to the ladle it was traditionally made in. It was only later that I heard it called “ppopgi” or “dalgona.”
When I was a kid, anything sweet made for an awesome snack for me and my friends. The ppopgi didn’t even have a stick; thats new technology! These days everyone is afraid to eat sugar, but back then we couldn’t get enough of it. Some of my friends even used to snack on sugar water!
After school we’d gather around the vendor and watch him melt the sugar, mix it up, add the baking soda, and make the candy. He had a few different patterns he used for the designs: a bird, a fish, a star, and a flower. And if you can eat the candy around the design without cracking it, you win a free ppopgi.
I always hoped he would firmly press the pattern into the candy and make a good strong impression that I could easily pop out, but he was so tricky. He only pressed it in for a quick second before wordlessly handing it to me. He didn’t need to explain the challenge: I knew what I was supposed to do. Preserve the shape in the middle and eat everything else. I used all kinds of techniques: nibbling, licking, pinching, but the surprising brittleness of the candy always beat me and it would shatter.
He sometimes let me clean his ladle, and I made sugar water like I show you in the video. I thought I was getting a real treat at the time!
Ppopgi is strictly a street food in Korea, but that shouldn’t stop you from making it at home and challenging your family members and friends to see if they can save the design without cracking. Try it and have fun! Let me know how it goes!
- 1½ tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon white or brown sugar
- a pinch of baking soda
Sugar and baking soda
- Place sugar in a stainless steel ladle and heat it over medium heat until it starts to melt.
- Stir it with a spoon so it melts evenly and doesn’t burn. Control the heat by lifting the ladle far from the heat or bringing it closer, as needed.
- Stir the melting sugar until it turns into a smooth, clear liquid with no lumps.
- Add baking soda and continue stirring. It will expand and change from light brown to creamy golden beige.
- Sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar on a cookie pan. Scrape the hot, foamy candy from the ladle onto the sugar coated cookie pan.
- Place a skewer or lollipop stick in the center of the lower part of the candy, 1 inch from the edge.
- Press it down with any smooth, flat, non-stick object like a stainless steel bowl, lid, or a spatula.
- Use a cookie cutter to press a pattern into the center of the candy. Press hard and make a good impression if you want them to break out the design easily, and press softly if you want to drive them crazy!
- Wait for 1 minute until the candy gets hard. Enjoy!
I made a dozen of candies at the hotel where I stayed 1 night before the shooting day. : )
Thanks to everyone at YouTube LA Space for filming me there,
and a special thanks to Anthony Fantano!