Well, if you thought math would never come in handy again after school, take a look at this dessert being made by this charming vendor in South Korea. In the making of a treat called The King’s Dessert (sometimes called dragon’s beard candy), he takes a disk of cold, hardened honey, covers it with cornstarch, forms it into a ring shape, and then starts to pull it to make strings, doubling the number each time until he ends up with 16,000 strings—all in 2 minutes! That’s impressive.
He then cuts off a small piece, adds a filling of nuts, folds it over, and it’s done! This ancient confection – also called “kkul tarae” or (honey skein)- that consists of wispy sugar strands that look like dragon whiskers was originated in the Han Dynasty ruling. After eating hand-pulled sugar, the wisps stuck to his face resembling dragon whiskers. Others claim that the candy was named after the mythical creature, the symbol of the Chinese emperor. Since it was to special and labor-intensive, only the royal court could enjoy it.
This simple treat with an ingredient list of two (corn syrup/ honey and cornstarch) manages to be ranked a royal dessert because of its mesmerizing, theatrical preparation. Once the sweetener has simmered and cooled to a hard gel, confectioners shape it into a ring that is folded again and again until it has been separated into thousands of fine hairs. Intense patience and care is required for this process, since the slightest mishap can destroy the strands. Upon completion, the strings are wound around fillings such as crushed peanuts, coconut or sesame seeds, forming a sweet, rich and delicate nugget.
Fortunately, this sweet treat can now be had on street corners throughout Asia and Chinatowns around the world. Vendors get creative with specialties including entertaining narratives and special effects. One Roger Poon, a candymaker from Singapore, adds liquid nitrogen to create clouds of smoke to imitate dragon’s breath. Here are some tips for eating your dragon beard candy:
1. It’s easy to become engulfed in your candy’s beauty but you must try to eat it quickly. The dragon beard candy is very sensitive to temperature and moisture causing it to melt almost instantaneously.
2. Dragon beard candy is delicious immediately after being made since the fine strands melt on your tongue as you get to the delicately sweet nut filling.
3. All you need are your hands. It’s delicate structure will break into many pieces if eaten with a fork.
4. Warm hands make it slightly challenging to eat your candy. Be sure to hold it gently with your fingers so as to minimise the melting process.
5. Popping the whole thing in your mouth at once is probably the cleanest way to eat this candy. The common way is to eat it in two bites.
6. Keep tissue nearby because the fine strands will stick to your face, chin and clothes. So for those with beards, just note that the threads will get caught in your whiskers.