I'm so excited to introduce today's recipe to you! It's gonggal-ppang, a cookie-like bread that's puffed up like a crunchy, crusty, hollow balloon, with a coating of melted sweet syrup inside.
This balloon bread was created by Chinese immigrants in Korea. I was told that the bread was originally called “air-bread” among Chinese but when it came to Korea, it was named as gonggal-ppang. Gong-gal (pronounced gong-gahl) means “fake” or “lie” in Korean. So whoever named the bread must have been a little frustrated to find out this big piece of bread was actually hollow inside! Or maybe he or she was just giving it a funny name.
When I was young, I would always see gonggal-ppang displayed in the windows of Chinese Korean restaurants. It's big and eye catching, so it was used by many restaurant owners to attract customers to come in. I tasted it only a few times, but the puffy, crunchy cookie with melted sugar syrup inside made a strong impression on me and I've been dreaming of it for years.
Gonggal-ppang made in Chinese bakeries are wood-fired in a circular oven, where the bread sticks to the walls of the oven. It kind of looks like how Indian naan bread is made. Since I started writing and filming Korean recipes, I've wanted to show how to make gonggal-ppang, but it took a few years off and on of trial and error to come up with this recipe that can be made in a conventional home oven.
It took many tries for me to develop a technique where the filling stays in the middle of the bread, and the bread stays evenly flat before baking. I tried making the bread in my hands, but I could never get it big or even enough, and it always ended up with the sugar filling off-center. When I baked them, they never expanded enough. I ate a lot of failed gonggal-ppang over the years!
Then I figured out this simple method of doing everything on my cutting board with a rolling pin. It's been the best way to get the bread evenly thin and flat without breaking a hole in it. By the way, my most recent failure was that I forgot to switch the oven from broil to bake! : ) I was supposed to bake for 15 minutes but the bread was totally burnt in 5!
All you have to do is follow my directions closely and I'm sure some of you will be able to make better gonggal-ppang than me!