With Korea’s biggest holiday of the year coming up, Korean families are starting to get busy grocery shopping and preparing for the big event. Chuseok, also known as ‘Han ga wi,’ is celebrated when autumn comes by, on the 15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar. So this year in 2021, Chuseok takes place on the 21st of September! The word ‘Chuseok’ literally means ‘the night with the brightest autumn moonlight,’ as this day usually takes place on a full moon. You could call it the Thanksgiving Day of Korea, where everyone in the country takes time off to go meet families, have a big feast, and play family games.
Like how American Thanksgiving has a tradition of cooking turkeys, in Korean Chuseok it’s a tradition to make Songpyeons! Songpyeon is a type of sweet rice cake that’s quite easy to make with the whole family. Similar to making dumplings, you make the dough and prepare different types of fillings to stuff in it. When the big families gather at the eldest parents’ place, the kitchen head of the house - usually the eldest grandmother - will prepare the dough and the fillings for everyone to sit around and make the Songpyeon.
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The doughs were usually made plain white or green by mixing mugwort, that’s both tasty & healthy! Yet recently, the doughs are made with multiple different colours using coloured powders such as sweet pumpkin powder for yellow, strawberry powder for pink, purple kumara powder for purple, etc. As for the fillings, the most traditional include three types - sesame, beans, and chestnut. For me, having to bite into a Songpyeon and to find black beans was an actual nightmare - equivalent to eating a choc chip cookie and finding out they were actually raisin cookies 🤦🏻♀️ So, I suggested we delete the bean Songpyeons from our lives forever and make our own family tradition of making chocolate Songpyeons. You would’ve already guessed which Songpyeon was the most popular between the kids 😏
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The traditional way to shape these holiday rice cakes is to make them into rugby ball shapes and make each end pointy. The old saying went, the ones to make pretty Songpyeons would get pretty children in the future. Maybe the wish of getting cute babies went overboard because the Songpyeons made these days are pure art. I came across this video of making the prettiest Songpyeons and could not stop watching 😳
Now for those who I got interested in these holiday rice cakes, I’ve got you the recipe! The most difficult ingredient that you'll have to find would be the rice flour, but if you visit a Korean supermarket and ask the staff, they’ll probably have some stacked up for the upcoming Chuseok. Before I start, here’s just a quick recipe video by iKON’s Yun-Hyeong from his Youtube channel SONGCHELIN GUIDE, for you iKONICs out there 😘
1) Sift the rice flour and salt in a clean bowl to avoid lumps.
2) Add spoonfuls of hot water into the rice flour mix and beat with your hands to make a dough. Continue until you make a smooth lump, and when the dough is ready cover with a wet towel to let it rest.
3) Optionally, if you want to make coloured dough, divide the rice flour and mix each flour group with your preferred coloured powder (mugwort/strawberry/sweet pumpkin, etc.) before beating the dough. Tip: Best to use natural ingredients rather than artificial food colouring.
4) Onto the fillings! Grind or blend the roasted sesame seeds and brown sugar, and mix with honey.
5) Optionally, you can make black bean fillings (soak in water for 3hours+, and boil in hot water for 15mins with 1/4 tsp of salt) or chestnut fillings (boil chestnuts and mash. Mix with 3 Tbsp of brown sugar and 1 Tbsp of honey.) as well.
6) All ready! Take an appropriate amount of the dough to round it, flatten it, add a filling of your choice, and close it together (watch 4:08 of this video for a Songpyeon making tutorial). Tip: As you make the Songpyeon, remember to keep the dough under a wet towel to stop them from drying out.
7) When you’re done making your Songpyeons, steam them in a steamer on high heat for 20 minutes.
8) After steaming, pour cold water on the Songpyeons to cool them down and make them chewier! Before serving, apply a reasonable amount of sesame oil on each to avoid them sticking to one another.
Feel free to be creative with what you mix with the dough for more colours and what to put in for your fillings! Any type of Songpyeon is a good one, and I’d be curious how you decided to fancy up your rice cake. Still bet you can’t top choc chips though 😛 Happy Chuseok everyone!