“Yaksik” means “medicinal food” in Korean and it’s thought the name comes from the fact that honey, an essential ingredient in this cake, was once called “yak”, or “medicine.” This sweet dish is traditionally eaten at weddings and at hwangab (60th birthday) festivities; a 60th birthday has enormous significance in Korea.
- 300 g fresh or canned chestnuts (see Note)
- 55 g (¼ cup) caster sugar
- 60 ml (¼ cup) water
- 55 g (¼ cup, firmly packed) brown sugar
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp peanut oil
- 1½ tbsp sesame oil
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 18 large, pitted red dates (see Note), sliced, plus extra, to decorate
- 60 g (⅓ cup) chopped raisins
- 2½ tbsp pine nuts
- 400 g (2 cups) short-grain white sticky rice, soaked overnight (see Note)
- 2 tbsp honey
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Soaking time: overnight or 8 hours
Preheat the oven to 180°C. If using fresh chestnuts, using a small, sharp knife, cut a cross in the base of each chestnut, cutting through the shell. Place in a single layer on a baking try, then roast for 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then when cool enough to handle, remove the shells and the inner, papery skin. Using your hands, break each chestnut into 4 or 5 pieces and set aside.
Combine the caster sugar and 40 ml of the water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium–high heat. Cook, without stirring, for about 5 minutes or until the mixture starts to caramelise around the edges. Swirl the pan so the mixture is evenly coloured, then cook for another 2–3 minutes or until it turns a dark caramel colour; take care it does not burn. Remove from the heat, then taking care as the mixture will spit, add the remaining water and swirl to combine. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame and peanut oils and cinnamon and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the dried fruits and pine nuts, stir to combine, then set aside.
Meanwhile, drain the rice well, then transfer to a large steamer lined with either muslin or a clean tea towel, spreading the rice to form an even layer. Cover steamer with a tight-fitting lid, then cook the rice over boiling water for 20 minutes or until tender. Reserving the steamer, remove the rice to the dried fruit mixture in the bowl, then add the caramel, the brown sugar mixture and the honey. Stir, using a wooden spoon to mix everything well and coat the rice evenly in the syrupy liquid. Place the bowl in the steamer, cover with the lid, then cook over boiling water for 20 minutes or until tender. Cool slightly, then transfer to a 20 cm non-stick square cake tin, pressing the surface firmly to form an even layer in the pan. Stand for about 2 hours to cool completely and become firm, then carefully turn out onto a board. Cut into 8 even-sized pieces.
Take about 6 pitted dried red dates and make a vertical cut down the side of each so you can open them out. Roll each opened date tightly, widthwise, to form a log. Using a sharp knife, cut each into thin slices to form spirals. Use the spirals to decorate each piece of yaksik then serve.
• Grains of Korean sticky rice are much shorter than Thai sticky rice, which you could absolutely use here too – the recipe will still work and taste fine. But if you want to go all-out authentic, Korean sticky rice can easily be purchased from Korean grocers. Red dates are available from Asian grocers.
• If chestnuts aren’t in season, you can use 200 g canned, drained chestnuts instead.
Photography, styling and food preparation by china squirrel.
When she doesn’t have her head in the pantry cupboard, Leanne Kitchen finds time to photograph food and write cookbooks. You can view her work on her website.