Illy Nam has worked in kitchens all around Auckland, including Amano and The Engine Room – but she says her speciality wasn’t sweets until she created her Instagram bakery Luxe.

The chef launched Luxe in May this year as a way to keep working and developing her cooking skills during recovery from illness. Having moved here in 2016 from Incheon, South Korea, Nam currently focuses on two traditional Korean desserts that she’s loved all her life but aren’t commonly found in New Zealand: gaeseong juak, a kind of fried doughnut made from rice flour that originated in the Gaeseong region of North Korea (also known as Kaesong), and a honey biscuit called yakgwa (the latter is more readily available here in Korean grocery stores).

“Korean food and Korean food culture – because that’s where I was born – is in my blood,” she says, citing her mother as her inspiration when it comes to cooking.

The process of making her juak starts several days before they’re actually cooked; Nam makes her own milky rice wine, called makgeolli, with sticky rice and nuruk, an active yeast-like starter. They sit mixed together for up to 10 days before being strained and added to the dry mix that includes glutinous rice flour and a little plain flour.

After being shallow-fried, the puffy round treats are coated in Nam’s homemade ginger-infused jocheong (syrup), and some are topped with black sesame and toasted soybean powder, or mugwort (an aromatic herb) with red bean paste. They’re syrupy and crunchy on the outside, chewy and moist on the inside.

Her other treat is the yakgwa, one of South Korea’s most popular biscuits. It’s made with flour, sesame oil and honey, and the layered pastry is soaked with syrup. “Almost like a biscuitty baklava?” I ask, and Nam agrees.

“In Korea, they make twists on the yakgwa such as macarons with cream in between biscuits,” she says. “Koreans like to have fun with their food; they’re not scared to mix it up, develop or twist it.”

She’ll be adding another Korean dessert in about a month, and more juak flavours.

Nam is encouraged by how Auckland’s Korean food scene has developed even in the last five years. “You can have almost any dish you can think of when it comes to Korean cuisine – but in terms of desserts, people don’t necessarily know what’s actually in Korea so it’s very important for me to introduce them.”

Luxe Korean desserts come in a small or large box; the large has six pieces of each treat for $35, and the small contains two juak and four yakgwa for $16.50.