Songpyeon, half-moon shaped rice cake, is a must-have Chuseok delicacy. The sweet, earthy flavor of beets, and their vibrant red color works beautifully with the songpyeon dough.
The weather has cooled down, the trees are changing colors, and the persimmons in my backyard are ripening. I absolutely love this time of year! Over the last couple of days, Koreans have been celebrating Chuseok (추석). Also referred to as Hangawi (한가위), it’s a mid-autumn/harvest festival, which takes place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.
Families gather, give thanks to their ancestors, and enjoy a great time together sharing abundant foods. As the old Korean saying goes, “No more, no less, just be like Hangawi”! Enjoy this beautiful, bountiful season!
Songpyeon (송편), aka half-moon shaped rice cake, is a must-have Chuseok delicacy. I previously posted my songpyeon recipe with several natural food coloring options. Here’s another option for you!
I love the sweet, earthy flavor of beets, and their vibrant red color works beautifully with the songpyeon dough.
In this updated recipe, I used beet boiled water to create natural red color. You can easily adjust the color by reducing the water more or less. If you like strong red color, you can use the beet puree by roasting it first in the oven and puree in a blender.
Songpyeon is stuffed with a sweet filling and traditionally steamed on a bed of pine needles, hence the name songpyeon (“song” in “songpyeon” means pine tree). I’m lucky to have quite a few pine trees in my backyard.
Songpeon, half-moon shaped rice cake, made with natural beet coloring
2 to 3slicesred beet (about 1/4-inch thick)
2cupsfrozen rice powderlabeled 쌀가루 or 쌀떡가루, thawed to room temperature - see note
about 2 ounces pine needlesrinsed 2 - 3 times (optional)
1/3cuproasted sesame seeds
1tablespoonsugaradjust to your taste
In a small sauce pan, boil 2 to 3 slices (about 1/4-inch thick) in 1 cup of water until the water is reduced to about a half.
Sift the rice powder into a bowl. Add 4 tablespoons of hot beet water, quickly stirring it in with a spoon. Add more beet water if the dough is too dry, 1 teaspoon at a time.
Knead, pressing and stretching with the heel of the hand. Fold and rotate the dough. Repeat the kneading process for 2 to 3 minutes. (If the dough sticks to your hands or the bowl after some kneading, it's too wet. Add a little more rice powder. If the dough breaks easily or is too stiff, it's too dry. Add more beet water, 1 teaspoon at a time.)
Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
Roughly grind the sesame seeds in a grinder or blender. Add the sugar, honey, and pinch of salt. Mix well until the honey is evenly distributed.
To assemble, tear off a small piece of the dough enough to make a roughly 1-inch ball. Roll tightly between your palms to shape a ball.
Make a well in the ball by pressing into it with your thumb, and press outwards, with both of your thumbs, on the inside walls of the well to slightly expand the opening. Place 1/2 teaspoon of the filling in the well and press it down. Seal tightly by squeezing the edges together.
Squeeze the whole rice cake lightly in your palm to firm it up and roll gently between your palms to smooth it out.
Shape it to resemble a half moon. Repeat until all the dough/filling is used.
Boil water in a steamer. Place a thin layer of pine needles or a damp kitchen cloth on the steamer insert. Boil the water over high heat. When it starts to steam, place the rice cakes on the steamer insert without the pieces touching one another. Cover with a thin layer of pine needles, if available. Cover and steam for 20 minutes.
Prepare a big bowl of cold water. Remove the rice cakes from the steamer, and drop them in the cold water for a quick rinse. Transfer the rice cakes to a colander to drain. Lightly coat your hands with the sesame oil and rub the oil on the rice cakes in batches.
A 2-pound bag yields a little more than 6 cups, which is sufficient for 3 batches. The frozen rice powder for rice cakes is usually pre-salted. Be aware that the moisture content of the powder varies depending on the brand.For more vibrant red color, you can roast a small beet in the oven (about 45 minutes at 400 °F), and purée in a blender as fine as possible. You'll need about 1/3 cup. Heat the beet purée until hot in the microwave and add to the rice powder, quickly stirring it in with a spoon. Add a little hot water as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time.
This recipe was originally posted in September 2015. I’ve updated it here with new photos and improvements to the recipe.