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Best pastries in Seoul
Moist cakes, flaky pies and tangy tarts: Addictive desserts in the city
Cakes and pies don’t have much in common, and yet the fact that both come in wedge form have made them the center of vigorous debates as to which is better. Cake versus pie is the new Godzilla versus Mothra.
But rather than choosing sides, can’t we all just get along? The bottom line for each is simple: cakes must be moist, and pies must be flaky. And yet finding such confections is bizarrely difficult.
Many of the cake and pie shops from this list draw from French, American, and Japanese influences, but still cater to Korean taste buds, which translates into slices that are light on sugar, but still big on flavor. Here’s a list of our favorite cakes, pies and tarts in Seoul.
1. Best cake: Carrot Cake and Green Tea Tiramisu Cake at Michaya
In some ways Michaya doesn’t want you to like it. The workers are listless, if not downright unfriendly. You can only eat a piece of cake in the café if you also order a drink. Their coupon system is bizarre and idiosyncratic: you only get a gold sticker (yes, a gold sticker) if you buy a cake –- to go. Once you do amass nine to-go cakes, your reward is a hot Americano. To go.
Yes, loving Michaya is like loving that man or woman who totally ignores you and couldn’t care less -- a frustrating, one-sided affair, but you’ll keep going back because the cake is just so good.
Their best is a carrot layer cake. The cake has an intoxicating blend of nutmeg and cinnamon and cream cheese frosting on the outside and inside layer of the cake. Walnuts dot the moist interior, giving the cake texture. To balance the sweetness of the cake and the tanginess of the frosting, Michaya tops the cake with slivers of orange zest for that subtle spritz of freshness.
Try also their green tea tiramisu cake. A light and fluffy concoction of matcha and mascarapone, the five-layer cake is beautifully white on the outside and sinfully scrumptious.
Carrot cake: ₩6,300, Green tea tiramisu cake: ₩6,300
Monday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday: 2 p.m.-11 p.m.; 446-59 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 서교동 446-59); +82 2 3143 3579
2. Best pies you wish your mom baked you: Chocolate Caramel Hazelnut Cake at Bewitch
Shin Ji-Min used to be a fashion designer before making a mid-life career change into cooking. She packed her bags, moved to New York and took classes at the Institute of Culinary Education. She returned a few years ago to open Bewitch, a small bistro that sells comfort food: pasta, sandwiches, and of course, pastries.
The lineup of sweets arranged on the countertop can change on any given day. On Saturday, she bakes a special confection for that day only. The last time around it was a lemon-blackberry Italian meringue pie. While her berry pies are outstanding, the most delicious dessert was the lemon pound cake served with a tart and creamy lemon curd.
As for the chocolate caramel tart, Shin warns, “You’ll become an addict.” The bottom layer is gooey caramel with chopped roasted hazelnuts and the top is Belgian chocolate. It is sweet, but not too sweet, nutty, with a slight saltiness from the caramel. You’ve been forewarned: it’s addictive.
Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.,5 p.m.-10 p.m.; 533-8 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 신사동 533-8); +82 2 3445 0529
More on CNNGO: 5 best cupcake shops in Seoul
3. Best cheesecake: Fromage Cake at Pomponette
Two sisters, Lee Jong-ah and Lee Yoo-eun opened Pomponnette in 2004. Jong-ah who studied patisserie at Tsuji, a bakery school in Osaka, Japan, keeps to the kitchen while Yoo-eun manages the register.
True to Jong-ah’s schooling, the cakes have a strong Japanese sensibility: light, airy, with a hint of sweet. Most of the cakes are mousses on a sliver of cookie or cake, including the cheesecakes, of which there are two kinds: the rare cheese and the fromage.
The rare cheesecake has a layer of raspberry jam made in house along with a cheese mousse. The fromage cake has two layers of cheese, one baked, and the other a mousse. It has a richer, mustier flavor owed to their use of Pauly cream cheese.
Fromage cake and rare cheese cake: ₩4,500
Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; 342-4 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 서교동 342-4); +82 2 337 9006
4. Best pie-tart-cake hybrid: Caramel Tiramisu at Deux Crèmes
The pastries at Deux Crèmes on Garosu are feats of structural engineering: depending on the type, they have multiple and alternating layers of fruit, cake, cream and jam.
This brings us to what, exactly these are. While at first glance they look like pies, a look at the crust reveals a thick, crisp crust used in tarts. These are tarts on steroids with heavy crusts to support what is commonly a traditional pie filling (like banana cream) or cake (like tiramisu). Whatever you want to call them, they’re good.
The best of these hybrids is the caramel tiramisu. There are six layers starting from the top: a layer of freshly whipped cream, caramel mascarpone, another layer of whipped cream, coffee cream, cake and chocolate. What is astounding is that each flavor comes through in every forkful.
Tarts range from ₩6,500 to ₩8,000
Daily, 10 a.m.-midnight; 533-11 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 신사동 533-11); +82 2 545 7931
5. Best tart: Chocolate Macadamia Tart at La Bonne Tarte
You can taste the love baked into the tarts at La Bonne Tarte, in a quiet part near the East Gate of Yonsei University, far away from the collegiate debauchery.
La Bonne Tarte’s claim that it bakes with “the heart of a mother” is more than just a marketing ploy. The owner, Kim Hee Yun has two kids of her own. “I wanted to create tarts that I would give to my children,” she says. “So we bake tarts using healthy, organic ingredients and avoid trans fats, margarine and shortening.”
The service matches the care and quality of the ingredients. There is a warmth and loveliness that emanates from the kitchen -– accompanied by the heady aroma of baked goods.
As for the tarts, the chocolate macadamia tart is simply wonderful. The flavors in the chocolate macadamia tart shine through: the butteriness of the macadamia nuts melds with the caramel, which in turn is overlaid on a chocolate ganache.
Chocolate macadamia nut tart: ₩5,000
Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; 90-1 Daesin-dong, Seodaemun-gu (서대문구 대신동 90-1); +82 2 393 1117; www.labonnetarte.com
6. Best “Korean-style” cake and tart: Kabocha Tart at Peony
Koreans often make cakes entirely out of “saeng cream” or fresh cream. While to the Western palate these may taste like diet cake, if done well, they can pack flavor while still having a delicate consistency.
Peony’s secret lies in the cake itself. Peony makes a génoise cake, a traditional Italian sponge cake that incorporates air into the batter to give the cake volume, and layers these with freshly whipped cream studded with strawberries. The chocolate version is complemented with bananas.
In a nod to autumn, Peony also bakes a tart made from a kabocha squash mousse that is sweet and slightly savory. The cream collapses nicely into the cake and the buttery crust for a bite full of texture and flavor.
Strawberry cream cake: ₩4,000
Daily, noon-10 p.m.; 403-15 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 서교동 403-15); +82 2 333 5325
More on CNNGo: Seoul's 7 best French bakeries