If you take yourself down to a bakery in South Korea be prepared for your breath to be taken away. There you will find shelf after shelf lined with exquisite desserts that can rival any bakery in France. But what is most impressive to many are the cakes. Some are simplistically beautiful while others are towering works of art. As for the variety, there are so many different flavours and kinds that you can choose whatever your heart desires. So let us delve into the wonderful world of Korean cakes and why they are so popular.
The Birthday Cake
While a lot of countries give birthday cakes, Korea has taken it to a different level. In Korea, your age is different than what most people would understand. You do not age from your day of birth but by the year in which you were born. In fact, you are a year old on the day you are born. So if you, in fact, were born on say December 31, 2001, and it was January 1st, 2002, even though by most countries' standards you would only be two days old, in Korea you would be two years old. Birthdays are quite easy to celebrate as everyone has the same birthday, but they do sometimes also celebrate the day of their birth, (how lucky can you get, two birthday cakes!) The times when you almost always celebrate is in Korea is after the first year of birth, 16th birthday and 60th birthday.
Rice Cakes or Tteok
There are several types of this food that can be savoury or sweet. As rice throughout Korean history has been a readily available ingredient, it is used in many different ways and recipes. The most recognizable dessert rice cake is Songpyeon, a small rice cake traditionally eaten during the autumnal festival Chuseok. A few of the varieties include ggul tteok (rice cake stuffed with honey), bupyeon (glutinous rice flour filled with a sweet filling, usually powdered beans), hwajeon (small sweet pancakes shaped into flower petals), and bukkumi (pan-fried sweet rice cake with various fillings) that are crescent-shaped.
Korean Sweet Potato Cake
One of the favourite snacks of Koreans is their sweet potato. Do not confuse it with a western sweet potato. The inside has a light coloured flesh and a subtle, sweet flavour. Often just eaten as a snack roasted, it is no surprise that it has been incorporated into other dishes. The sweet potato cake is made up of layers of light sponge cake and fresh cream mixed with the sweet potato. See here for the recipe for this delicious cake.
Korean Fresh Cream or Saeng Cake
Another adapted western recipe is the light, refreshing Korean Saeng Cake. This is made with a chiffon base and covered in whipped cream and fresh fruits.
Ice Cream Cakes
Going into any bakery or even a Baskin Robbins in South Korea is a different experience. You will find cakes that are beautifully decorated with lifelike flowers or characters from a cartoon, popular culture, and other media. One of the most fun cakes is the character-driven ice cream cakes you can find. These are fun cakes to give for what I would call the any-occasion-cake: new job, promotions, new love, friendship or just for fun.
One theme you will find in most Korean desserts is that they are not overly sweet or heavy. If you visit Korea make sure to try some desserts; enjoy the new experience and immerse yourself in some fabulous food.