It has already been ten years since I went to France to learn French baking at a culinary school. That was the beginning of the love-hate relationship that I have with flour and sugar even today. During the three years of working at a bakery upon graduation, I discovered breads - a new world beyond my studies in baking. The sound of the golden crust of a fresh baguette breaking, and the warm and flavorful aromas of freshly-baked goods in the morning were awe-inspiring. After realizing such joys of baking, I started visiting different bakeries whenever I had the time, trying different breads and shared information on social media, eventually creating an extensive, delicious online community.
Before tasting all the breads and desserts Seoul has to offer, there are some places in particular I would like to recommend others. As bread and dessert culture became injected into Korea, there are a handful of masters who have consistently made bread - those who have established the standard for "classic" in Korea. I would like to introduce five bakeries and their most popular items.
Back in the day, I used to try interesting snacks and ice-cream from the mom and pop stores, but the Monaka ice cream that I used to eat with my parents at the fancy bakeries was also a big part of my childhood. The Monaka isn't your average saccharine fruit-flavored ice-cream - the milky, crackly ice cream sandwiched between two crispy biscuits...mhmm! Maybe that's the reason why I still find myself going back to reminisce while biting into a Monaka ice-cream from Taegeukdang. Known to be one of the oldest bakeries in Seoul, once you step into the Taegeukdang at the Jangchoongdong location, you'll notice the interior design and typography reminiscent of 1946 when it all began. The magic of leaving a bakery filled with kitschy yet nostalgic breads and ice-cream to return to 2015!
Besides the ice-cream, the whole red bean bread at Napoleon is another popular nostalgic item that is enjoyed by all walks of life. Started in 1968, the ever-thriving Napoleon's whole red bean bread is made from a long, halved hot dog bun, filled with moist whole red bean mash that is freshly-made every day. A whole red bean bread with a tall glass of milk is the perfect pairing. The sweetness of the whole red bean mash is evenly spread out, and considering the fact that there is an auntie who only makes the red bean mash fresh every day, its taste and reputation is guaranteed.
There are patisseries that have traditional offerings, and also make their own creations to attract younger crowds. A mainstay in Yeonhui-dong since 1978, Peter Pan Bakery's The Bread Stolen by Jean Valjean is one such example. The bread, eponymous with the character from Les Miserables, is a French sourdough, made from a mixture of flour and whole wheat, folded in with walnuts, hazelnuts, cherries, raisins, papaya and orange, then rolled out into a long, stick form. The toasty earthiness of the nuts and the sweet-and-sour twist of the dried fruits is well-liked by the ever-fickle younger customers.
This is a classic bakery where the past and the present coexist, and tradition is carried on by the second generation. Korea's master baker Kwon Sang-beom birthed the original location of Richmond Patisserie in Seongsan-dong in 1979. Following the footsteps of his teacher and father whose motto was "Food is culture", son and apprentice Kwon Hyeong-jun is currently building his own. If the beloved cream puff is Richmond's tradition created by the father, the present and future of Richmond is the peanut dacquoise, a creation that has an attentive and relentless edge, to the likes of the son. Slathered with Korean peanut butter cream and a hint of hazelnut, the peanut dacquoise hits you with a savory persuasion from the Himalayan pink salt, a pairing unrivaled if without the knowledge and flair for taste.
It takes a certain kind of confidence to add your name to your shop's, a declaration of both pride and responsibility. Kim Young Mo Patisserie is certainly no exception. Unnamed sources have declared it one of Korea's top five bakeries (okay, maybe that's just us), but there's an irresistable charm in the sort of family owned corner shop so dear to us before the franchise mega chains took over. Mr. Kim Young Mo is a legend in his own right, Korea's most successful rags to riches baking story, a designated master craftsman by the government, and the basis of a popular 2010 K-drama, "Bread, Love, and Dreams." For over 30 years, his breads and pastries have been beloved by the fickle tastes of the denizens of Dogok and Seocho, no small feat. Made from natural yeast and organic flour, his breads, cakes, cookies and even macarons are all of the highest quality and very well received. His best-selling item is the Mont Blanc pastry, a mountain of chestnut cream on a buttery crust. And if you're looking for a quick lunch on the go, the baguette sandwich with its fresh ham and vegetables is a great choice.