Written by Rae – warning, most of the pictures are taken with a smart phone!
One of the things I love about Korea are the huge food courts and groceries stores in the basements of the luxury department stores. I love how the items are displayed to look their optimal, and how everything looks fresh. It’s like a window shoppers dream, regarding food. Today we went to Sinsegae in Myeongdong to look at the cakes. I had briefly passed by them the other day while on my way to work, and I wanted to come back and look at them with Benoit, since we’re both interested in patstry.
The displays are so cute! They are simple and elegant, and everything looks so good. I feel like when I first arrived in 2010, there weren’t many places to buy sweets like we’re used to in western countries because Koreans have a very different notion of what desserts, or sweets are. Traditionally a sweet might be something made with sweet red bean paste, or a rice cake filled with sugar and sesame oil. Honey was used in traditional snacks and crackers. Fruit or a sweet tea might also be considered a dessert. But frosting, cakes, cookies, and the like are relatively new to Korea – and boy did that trend explode in the last few years!
It’s kind of a relief in some ways to be able to find American or even European style desserts, but not everything that can be found is good. It bothers me when I taste industrial cakes, and different kinds of cookies made with palm oil, or cheap ingredients which albeit look legit, but don’t taste good at all. Moreover, some of these products are sold at premium prices, but still taste disappointing (like the red velvet at Lady M).
However, I would say at Sinsegae they had a large variety of really quality stuff (for industrial goods) – re-markedly better than what could be found a few years ago. Everything looked so delicious, and we ended up buying a few things to try.
One of the things we bought was the gateau a la broche, otherwise known as the baumkuchen. Benoit and I first saw this cake, which is made by pouring batter over a hot spit on top of a fire, on a french TV show. The display for this cake was absolutely darling and was under a Japanese brand. It was 14,000 for a small round piece of cake, and it tasted like a white cake. It’s pretty dense and would go well with coffee or tea. Since t’s turned and cooked on a spit, there are different colored white and golden layers in the cake which resemble tree rings, hense the cute display.
We also had a chance to try a piece of cake for Billy Angel. They offer a lot of home-style American cakes at Billy Angel like carrot cake, red velvet, and chiffon. I really like these style of vintage (can I say that?) cakes because it’s more like my style of cooking. All of the cakes looked perfect, but there was one cake that stood out to me, inviting me to try it. That cake was the caramel cake. The caramel cake is smothered in actual caramel (not a caramel flavored frosting). It has a light whipped caramel cream cheese frosting in between 3 layers, and a caramel flavored cake base. For me the cake was too sweet and one dimensional. It did deliver on the caramel flavor, so I was not disappointed by that, but it was just a little too caramel-y. Each element tasted like the other, only differing in texture, so there was nothing to making the caramel pop or giving the cake a more complex or multidimensional flavor. I think it would have been better to use salted caramel, or even accent the cake with nuts, chocolate, praline, or something else. A white or even a mocha cake base would have made the caramel pop more. Benoit thought the cake part was too dry, but I wasn’t that bothered it. I just wish there had been something accenting the caramel. It was disappointing compared to the look and way too sweet. Neither of us wanted to finish it.
We didn’t try their other cakes because we were already jacked up on sugar, but I wouldn’t be deterred to because of the caramel cake. Each slice of cake was a little under 7,000 won and was pretty large.
By the way, we also bought bunches of baby asparagus for only 4,000 won and some shiso leaves for around 2,000 won. The fresh herbs there are very affordable, and they have a large selection, too.
Most importantly, I came away with some inspiration for some of our future projects in pastry.
Here are some other pictures we took at the food court and grocery store: