Dalgona Candy: How to Make This Popular Korean Treat

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My Korean mother has fond childhood memories of dalgona candy, or ppopgi, so we relived them while making a batch in her New York apartment. Here's what I learned.

As a child in Seoul in the early 1960s, my mother was the local ppopgi ajusshi‘s sworn enemy.

With a small charcoal burner and single griddle, the ppopgi ajusshi was a street vendor who sold ppopgi candy (now known as dalgona candy). He would caramelize sugar in a soup ladle, pour it onto a griddle, flatten it and stamp a fun shape in the candy while it was hot. For a few cents, children could buy one candy, and if they could poke out the shape without breaking it, the next one would be free.

The ppopgi ajusshi happened to set up shop right next to my mother’s house, and—unusually small and dexterous at six years old—she would squat there for hours, poking out the shape and winning a free treat, one after the other. She was so successful at winning free candy, the ppopgi ajusshi begged my grandmother to stop letting my mother come to his stall. He even moved around the neighborhood to avoid my mother, and then brainstormed harder shapes when she found him!

My mother’s face still lights up when she reminisces about ppopgi. She’s amused to hear people all over the world are now experiencing the delight and satisfaction of successfully poking out the shape for the first time. In honor of its newfound popularity, Mama Park and I decided to try making dalgona candy together in my parents’ New York City kitchen. I learned all about the confection and a bit of Korean history—and we got to savor the toasty, sweet nostalgia together.

What Is Dalgona Candy?

Dalgona Candy - South Korean treat. Round sugar cookie with star inside.vaaseenaa/Getty Images

The traditional Korean recipe consists of just two ingredients: sugar and baking soda. The end result is crunchy, toasty, melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Although this candy has been called “dalgona candy” because it’s similar in texture and color to dalgona, the Korean whipped coffee drink, the candy actually has humble roots in ppopgi.

In Korean, “dalgona” (달고나) means “it’s sweet,” while “ppopgi” means to pick or pluck out, named after the activity of poking out the candy itself. Ppopgi street vendors were often stationed in front of elementary schools, where kids would spend a bit of pocket change for a treat and a fun challenge. The more complicated the shape, the more difficult the challenge was.

Many Koreans recall playing this activity and, unless you’re Mama Park, how difficult it was to win!

History of Dalgona Candy (or Ppopgi)

During Japanese colonization, sugar was imported from Japan and rare in Korea. My father often reminds me that sweets were reserved for the extremely wealthy up until the Korean War, and for many Koreans, the chocolate bars handed out by American G.I.s were the first candy they had ever tasted. As a newly independent South Korea began to rebuild its economy from scratch, and produce its own sugar, ppopgi vendors began to pop up in metropolitan areas.

However, with the rise of the middle class and more commercially available candy in the ’90s, ppopgi street vendors faded in popularity—that is, until the series Squid Game became a hit. Riding on the coattails of the viral dalgona coffee trend and propelled by the sensation of the Netflix series, ppopgi, aka dalgona candy, is the latest global TikTok challenge. The world is catching on to the deliciousness and rich variety of Korean cuisine.

How to Make Dalgona Candy

making dalgona candy korean traditional instant sugar candykdsoo322/Getty Images

Dalgona candy is fairly simple and quick to make, but like homemade caramel, it requires a lot of attention. Every second matters, so my mother and I found that it’s best to prep your ingredients and workspace ahead of time. My first few batches were a sticky mess, but soon, we were giggling like kids and competing to see who could poke out their shape first!

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/16 teaspoon baking soda
  • Optional: Dash of ground cinnamon or matcha powder

Tools You’ll Need

Directions

Step 1: Prep your workspace

Line a baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper. Set aside.

Rub some neutral-tasting oil (like canola or vegetable oil) on the underside of your hotteok press. (This is the traditional tool, but I used a pastry scraper.) This will help prevent the hot candy from sticking!

Step 2: Melt the sugar

Melt 2 tablespoons of sugar in a soup ladle over a low flame, scraping the edges of the sugar down with a chopstick or popsicle stick so it melts evenly.

When the sugar has fully melted (about 2 minutes, depending on your heat) and become a pale amber color, remove the ladle from the flame and sprinkle on a pinch of baking soda. You’ll see the mixture start to bubble up.

Stir vigorously with your chopstick for another 5 seconds until the mixture turns frothy and changes to a light caramel color.

Step 3: Form the candy

Pour the mixture onto your prepped parchment paper in a circular shape. (At this point, you can choose to sprinkle a bit of cinnamon or matcha powder onto the candy.) Wait about 30 seconds before pressing your hotteok press down.

Immediately press a cookie cutter down into the candy (but not all the way through, or else the game won’t be very challenging) and remove the cutter.

Step 4: Punch out the shape

While you can certainly use a needle to carve out the candy shape, like in Squid Game, the traditional way is to use your fingers and break off little pieces. You can use the crumbles to top a bowl of vanilla ice cream or your favorite fall baked goods!

Dalgona Candy Tips

crumbled Dalgona candyNatashaBreen/Getty Images

  • Lower the ladle closer to the flame or remove it based on the color of the sugar. If your sugar becomes too dark too fast, then your flame is too hot.

  • If you find that your candy is sticking to your hotteok press, you may not be using enough baking soda. But make sure not to use too much baking soda or it will taste bitter.

  • If you’re making multiple candies, prepare a pot of boiling water on another burner. That way, you can dip the ladle into the water to quickly clean off any leftover candy.

  • If you’d like to make a big batch at once, triple or quadruple the ingredients and use a saucepan. You’ll need to work even more quickly in between candies, though, to prevent the candy from hardening before you can flatten and stamp the shape.

How to Store Dalgona Candy

Store leftover candy in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator or freezer, as it may melt at room temperature.

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Sarah Jinee Park
Sarah Jinee Park is a Korean American writer and editor from Queens, NY. By day, she works at a tech start up, and by night, she's the Executive Editor of Mochi Magazine. In a past life, she led creative writing and graphic noveling workshops for children. Her fiction and poetry have been published in Truancy Magazine, Peach Velvet Magazine, and Polychrome Magazine. Read more of her work at sarahjineepark.com.