summertime favorite. The introduction of wheat flour and Western baking techniques gave rise to distinctly Korean breads and cakes. Perhaps the best known is the so-called Gyeongju bread, a pastry made from eggs and wheat flour and filled with red-bean paste that accounts for 70 percent of the cake. The bread is usually imprinted with a chrysanthemum motif on the top. Gyeongju bread was invented by a bakery in Gyeongju’s Hwangnam-dong district in 1939. Today, there are countless shops in Gyeongju specializing in the delicacy, which is incredibly popular with tourists, who typically buy the sweet by the box. Another local specialty is Cheonan’s famous walnut cakes, or hodugwaja. These little balls of goodness are made by baking a mixture of dough, red-bean paste and ground walnuts. Invented in 1934, the cakes are now available everywhere, especially trains, where they have been sold as a snack or gift for decades.
Modernization and globalization Like elsewhere, Western-style cakes and pastries are very popular in Korea. Korean bread and pastries tend to be sweeter and chewier than their Western counterparts, and some toppings - such as sausage - may be a bit unfamiliar to Western diners. Bakery cafés are now found throughout Korea, led by the franchise giant Paris Croissant and its sister brand, Paris Baguette. The company runs over 3,175 shops across Korea with an additional 70 shops in the United States. It also has shops in Southeast Asia. With more and more Koreans traveling overseas and increasing numbers of bakers learning their craft in Europe and North America, tastes are refining and many people take their cakes and pastries very seriously. Korea boasts one of the world’s finest pastry scenes. Go to any of Seoul’s trendier neighborhoods, and you’ll find plenty of high-end dessert shops turning out tasty, visually
appealing delicacies. In case evidence of this was needed, a Korean team of bakers won the 2016 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, the world’s most prestigious baking competition. While Western desserts are certainly enjoying a golden age, Korean traditional desserts are keeping up with the times, too. Typical of this trend is the tteok café, a space where you can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea with a dish of Korean rice cakes. One such place is Jilsiru, run by the Traditional Korean Food Research Institute, which also operates a museum in Seoul dedicated to rice cakes. Tteok cafés are even opening up overseas in cities such as Los Angeles. It’s a trend Chung of the Institute of Royal Korean Dessert embraces. “Even in Korea, the tteok industry is quite paltry compared to the bread industry,” she says. “So it’s a good approach to place traditional beverages, tteok and hangwa in a café with a good atmosphere where people can relax and have fun.” One chef leading the charge to bring Korean traditional desserts into the modern era is Shin Yong-il of the Korean traditional confectionary shop Haap in Seoul’s trendy Cheongdam-dong district. Shin learned the art of tteok making in, of all places, France, where he sought to marry French dessertmaking techniques with Korean rice cake-making. By using ovens and other traditionally Western baking tools, he can finely control the cooking environment to produce desserts such as castella injeolmi and honey-coated tteok ginger donuts. Shin thinks there’s a natural need to modernize rice cakes and other traditional desserts. “To develop rice cakes, the thing we need most is to develop the ingredients and modernize the tools,” he says. “Countless chefs are working day and night worldwide to develop breads and cakes, but tteok will disappear if Koreans don’t work to keep it going. As a person who researches and makes rice cakes, I will work even harder with a sense of mission, and I hope to see even more people researching and developing rice cakes.”