Last weekend, I watched a master at work in the kitchen—my mother. She entertained my daughter by mixing up dough to roll out, pound with a mallet, and cut out shapes with cookie cutters, which my mom then fried and sprinkled with cactus honey powder.
It’s amazing how tasty and addictive a simple concoction of flour, water, oil, and cactus honey powder can be. (Grandma Lee loves cactus honey powder because it’s less sweet than regular sugar.)
What are we tasting here? “Sohn-maht”—the finger juices, otherwise known as hand taste. It’s what makes handmade tortillas and country biscuits special and memories of certain homemade foods so distinct and hard to replicate. Although I understand the rationale behind having people wear disposable gloves while preparing foods, I can’t help but wonder what we might be missing out on in the name of sanitation. (OK, maybe there are some people’s “sohn-maht” that we’re better off not knowing.)
In any case, it appears that sohn-maht is what makes a recipe turn out differently from person to person. The cook’s mind/heart comes through the food s/he prepares. It’s no wonder that so many people love my mom’s cooking—it is always filled with the deepest love.
Grandma Lee’s Fried Cookies Recipe
1 1/2 to 2 cups flour (plus a little extra on reserve to keep dough from sticking while in resting mode)
about 3/4 cup water
oil* (enough to fill pan or pot 1-2 inches)
cactus honey powder (can be found at Korean grocery, Whole Foods, specialty health food store)
1) On clean surface, make a well with flour and add water into center. Mix and knead into elastic dough, while adding reserve flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking.
2) Flour the surface area that you’ll be working on to roll out or pound dough with mallet and also the tray that you’ll let the cookies rest on before frying. Roll out or pound out dough to about 1/4 in. or 5 mm thickness. Cut out shapes with cookie cutter.
3) Heat oil over medium to medium-high heat depending on your oil mixture. You’ll know when it’s ready to fry when a small dough sample quickly browns and floats to top. Fry cookies and having cookie cooling rack ready with paper towels to soak up residual oil.
4) Sprinkle cactus honey powder over cookies while cookies are hot and serve immediately. (These taste best while they’re hot.)
*Note: The oil that is used for frying also effects the taste of the cookies. Grandma Lee likes to use a fancy extra virgin olive oil. When I fry things, I like to mix grapeseed, canola, and extra virgin olive oil. Perhaps you might want to experiment with different oils. Keep in mind that different oils have different burning points.
1) My mom had created a slightly different dough recipe for my siblings and me when we were young. In addition to water, she added egg and a bit of skim milk. (Since none of us had food allergies, it was OK.) The final result was a lighter, crispier fried cookie, which reminded me of a cracker.
2) She told me that adding a bit of rice flour with the regular wheat flour would add a bit of natural sweetness and chewiness.
3) You might want to fry with canola and a touch of sesame oil for a different flavor.
4) Topping variation: combine ginger powder, confectioner’s sugar, and the cactus honey powder and lightly dust over the fried cookies. Or if you prefer cinnamon, you can try that as well.
5) Dough variation: add maple syrup (about 2 tbs.) and grated fresh ginger (about 1 tb.) to dough mix.