The Korea Herald


Sprinkling new flavors on classic deep-fried doughnut

Kkwabaegi gets a new twist

By Kim Hae-yeon

Published : Feb. 11, 2022 - 09:01

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Quafe‘s kkwabaegi (Quafe) Quafe‘s kkwabaegi (Quafe)
In street corners and market alleys of 1970s and ’80s Seoul, kkwabaegi, or twisted doughnuts, were an unmissable sight.

Before an ever-growing variety of pastries became available even in neighborhood bakeries, children and adults could rely on kkwabaegi as a sweet, chewy treat that was light on the pocket.

The texture and taste of the twisted Korean doughnut is unique. A well-made crispy, sugary kkwabaegi is crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Kkwabaegi is traditionally coated only with sugar, but cinnamon powder options also soon came along.

Quafe is located in Yeonnam-dong, Seoul. (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald) Quafe is located in Yeonnam-dong, Seoul. (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
At Quafe, a three-story shop in Yeonnam-dong, a hipster area near Hongdae, that opened in October 2020, some 18 varieties of kkwabaegi are available, including the original.

A bright neon sign near the entrance reads “New taste, new twist,” enticing customers to choose among such flavors as tiramisu, salted caramel, peanut butter pretzel, mint chocolate and even unicorn. 

Quafe‘s kkwabaegi (Quafe) Quafe‘s kkwabaegi (Quafe)
On a recent Friday afternoon, customers in their 20s to 50s crowded the store, differing from other cafes in the area whose clientele mostly skewed younger.

“As a kid, I remember my father coming home late after work with a brown bag of kkwabaegi for the family,” Lee Joon-ho, 42, owner of Quafe, told The Korea Herald on Feb. 4 when asked about the motivation behind opening Quafe. “I cherish those moments, and I hope kids can also grow up sharing such memories.” 

Lee Joon-ho, 42, is the owner of Quafe, a kkwabaegi bakery. (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald) Lee Joon-ho, 42, is the owner of Quafe, a kkwabaegi bakery. (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
The father of a 7-year-old daughter, Lee graduated Le Cordon Bleu Sydney in 2010 with a degree in hospitality management.

Coming back to Korea with an aspiration to open a popular restaurant for both locals and foreigners in town, Lee has opened a variety of restaurants, ranging from Western cuisine to Southeast Asian and Chinese. Some were successful, others failed.

“Of all the restaurants I’ve opened so far, my daughter loves this one the most,” Lee said, explaining that he sends fresh kkwabaegi for special occasions to his daughter’s kindergarten, which makes her proud.

Lee’s idea of covering kkwabaegi with different toppings stemmed from his studies abroad. At culinary school, Lee discovered a love for French cuisine and desserts. “The French restaurants I visited would serve different desserts at the end of the meal. I cannot say they were all delicious, but each was creative and new, making for an unforgettable dining experience,” Lee said.

Thinking about what could be the most representative Korean dessert, Lee concluded it was kkwabaegi.

Lee’s secret recipe for the chewy and moist doughnut comes from Quafe’s signature kneading method, which includes mashed potato from boiling water. A two-step fermentation process under controlled humidity and temperature conditions prevents the kkwabaegi from losing moisture.

Next, the twisted dough must be molded to a certain thickness to ensure that the amount of oil that penetrates remains constant. The dough is deep fried at 175 degrees Celsius for its gleamy golden color, according to Lee.

Lee’s team develops a new flavor every other month and for special days such as Valentine’s Day or Christmas. “A seasonal item, strawberry tiramisu with fresh strawberries, is popular these days,“ Lee said. The strawberry tiramisu kkwabaegi is 4,400 won.

Two new Quafe stores are to launch in the spring, in addition to freshly opened outlets in Hongdae and Jamsil.

“There is K-pop, K-drama, K-cosmetics, and K-dessert is now on its way,” Lee said. Gradually gaining global attention through social media posts by dessert fans, Lee is eagerly waiting for the pandemic to end to realize his dream of opening stores around the world, starting with Tokyo.

By Kim Hae-yeon (