5 best cupcake shops in Seoul
Even as little as a year or two ago, you could ask for a cupcake in a bakery in Korea and be given a grain muffin. Or a blank stare.
However, following the recent dessert boom in trendy areas such as Garosugil and Samchong-dong in Seoul, tiny cupcake eateries have been cropping up all over the city -- on the streets and in department stores. Here is a roundup of the best five.
1. Life is Just a Cup of Cake -- Lee Saem
This quaint and dainty shop, hidden in a small alley in Itaewon, is actually quite large by Seoul cupcake shop standards, as it is one of the few with tables large enough to seat more than two people.
If you need a place to study, or if you are craving a cupcake but hoping to avoid a sea of couples, this is where to go.
Life is Just a Cup of Cake (Lee Saem in Korean) imports all its chocolate from France or Ghana, and for the traditionally heavier cakes like red velvet, the bakers use rice flour to ensure that the cakes are “well-being” (Konglish for "healthy").
The standout is the Earl Grey cupcake –- while the flavor is trendy and can be found in most cupcake shops, nowhere else seems to offer such a full-flavored version. Each bite makes you feel like you’re sitting in an English tea house.
738-16 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu; +82 2 794 2908; www.cupcake.co.kr; ₩4,500-₩4,800
2. Sweet Pea
When you enter Sweet Pea, you almost feel like you're intruding into the owner's personal home -- except it's so inviting, you can't help but want to stay.
While the space is small and the interior slightly cluttered, Sweet Pea offers an appealing respite from the chaos of the Hongdae area. The owner comes in every working day to bake up batches of her cupcakes, and her superior baking skills are a sight to behold.
Here, the treats taste more like dense, moist muffins thanks to all the fresh ingredients; the shop prides itself on using real fruit all year round. Almost all the cupcakes are topped with smooth cream cheese frosting of different complementary flavors.
93-28 SangSu-dong, Mapo-gu; +82 10 7112 6770; ₩ 4,000
3. The Cupcake Factory
This Hongdae shop completely embraces the stereotypically feminine nature of the cupcake. The theme is sweet and pink and looks like the perfect place for a Care Bear to have a small tea party.
Thankfully though, the cupcakes are not as saccharine as the shop's interior. Made daily on site, the more popular flavors such as red velvet and mousse chocolate sell out before the end of the day, so stop by early. The cakes are full and packed with flavor while still retaining lightness. One of the most popular cupcakes, the midori no ume, is infused with lemon and topped with citrus butter cream. Yum.
364-11 Seogyo-Dong Mapo-Gu; +82 2 337 4585; www.thecupcakefactory.com; ₩4,000 – 4,500
4. Cloud9 Cupcake
Though it caters to a diverse crowd, Cloud9 offers cupcakes that taste the most “Korean,” as if the chefs once worked at a generic Korean bakery and decided they suddenly wanted to do something more fun.
Try the vanilla cupcake with yogurt "ssaeng" cream frosting. Whipped to admirable stiffness, the frosting tastes more like Greek yogurt –- slightly sour and thick -– than being sinfully sweet. The cake is topped with white chocolate bits and yogurt frosting, and is finished off with a smattering of dried fruit.
If you have the time to wait around for a fresh batch, be sure to do so. Cloud9 cupcakes, which tend to be slightly crispy around the edges, are best when they’re slightly warm.
330-0 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu; +82 337 3342; www.cloud9cupcake.co.kr; ₩3,500-3,800
Quite possibly the most masculine cupcake shop in Seoul (or at least as masculine as a cupcake shop can be, anyway), Goodovening has sleek black walls and a no-frills atmosphere that extends to the shop's cupcakes.
The cakes are dense and heavy and are topped with either butter cream or whipped cream that immediately evokes the nostalgic memory of the cupcakes you got to eat every time someone had a birthday in elementary school -– the good, homemade kind, that is, not the sad store-bought variety.
Be sure to try any selection that comes with dark chocolate frosting. It will fill your sugar quota for the day in the best possible way.
533-14 Shinsa-dong Gangnam-gu; +82 2 549 7778; www.goodovening.com; ₩4,500-5,000