18 Jul 2023
Classic madeleines flavored with rich and salty soy sauce or a traditional Korean hwagwaja cake with crunchy walnut praline. Korean chefs around the world are now combining the flavors and ingredients of their homeland with time-honored French patisserie techniques. These Korean-French crossover creations are served from pastry shops in Seoul to Michelin-star restaurants in Paris. Get inspired by this exciting boundary-blurring fusion patisserie.
“The South Korean Chefs Redefining the Art of Pastry” The New York Times headlined when they highlighted several of those trailblazing Korean patissiers this spring. The newspaper featured pastry chefs such as Yona Son, who basically had to invent the modern Korean dessert herself when she started working at Jungsik, Korea’s first fine dining restaurant located in Seoul. “I had to create everything from the base since I had no examples,” Son says. She opted for desserts that leaned heavily on the French tradition, both for the menu at Jungsik as for her own bakery called Armoni.
Her example was quickly followed by other South Korean pastry chefs – such as Narae Kim (Park Hyatt in Paris), Erica Abe (Benu in San Francisco) and Eunji Lee (Lysée in New York) – who often were trained at European culinary schools such as Le Cordon Bleu and the Institut National de la Boulangerie Pâtisserie.
These high-end patissiers and pastry chefs draw inspiration from both their native cuisine and their new skills in French patisserie, leading to creations such as burdock millefeuille and madeleines with soy sauce, which can be found at Patisserie Jaein in Seoul. But also financiers with sweet potato and sand cookies with ganache from stir-fried soybean paste and caramel, which are a classic at Patisserie Armoni.
Even the large Korean bakery chain Tous Les Jours offers some interesting east-west crossovers such as the kimchi croquette and donuts in typical Korean flavors such as sesame, sweet rice and red bean. But while Korean chefs in Europe and North America are applauded for their creative spin on the international cuisines, pastry chefs – like Son from Jungsik and Jae In Lee from Patisserie Jaein – notice customers are often having a hard time adjusting to their unconventional sweets. Traditional Korean ingredients, techniques and desserts come with certain cultural expectations, which these pastries don’t always meet. For Son, it’s been challenging to seduce passersby of her Seoul bakery to come pick out a treat. Jae In Lee also reports she regularly faces negative feedback. So if you’re keen on dipping your toes in this new trend, you might have more success outside Asia.
These are the classic South Korean flavors to experiment with:
Green tea or matcha
Mugwort – a lightly bitter and very aromatic plant
Soybean – in the form of soy sauce, miso paste or (fermented) soybean puree
Yuzu – a tart citrus that tastes like a mix of lemon, lime, grapefruits and some mandarin
Jujube – Asian red dates
Shiso or perilla – a herb which taste lies somewhere between that of basil and mint
Jae In Lee, the pastry chef of Jaein, experiments with Korean flavors in her French pastries, but remains very traditional otherwise: she refuses to sell coffee at her café in Seoul. There you can find madeleine with black sesame, millefeuille with burdock – an earthy, sweet and slightly bitter root – and brownies with soybean paste.
This Michelin star restaurant with outlets in both Seoul and New York makes macarons flavored with black soybean and perilla. The favorite dessert of their New York Pastry chef Eunji Lee is the ‘NY-Seoul Ver. 2’. Her own take on the Paris Brest with the nutty, creamy flavors of Korean brown rice cream, pecan & vanilla.
Le Soleil has specialized itself in madeleines. They come up with the most innovative and unorthodox flavors, such as red tea, sweet corn, jujube and shiso.
This high-end French dessert and bakery cafe in Seoul serves a decadent one person black sesame pound cake.
The patisserie from Dessertist draws heavily on Japanese influences too in its flavor and looks, this matcha yuzu opera and cherry blossom mont blanc prove.
Besides working as a pastry chef for Jungsik, Eunji Lee has her own patisserie – or as they call it: pastry gallery and boutique – as well. Lysée, located in the flatiron building, offers luxurious treats flavored with for instance green tea and corn. Their signature creation is made with Korean brown rice mousse, pecan and caramel. The flavors are nutty with a creamy but crunchy texture.
This contemporary French patisserie named itself after the quintessentially French painting ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’ by Georges Seurat. Among their reinventions of french classics are pitch black and deep green madeleines, flavored with sesame and matcha.
“I don’t think about creating something with a Korean touch,” says Narea Kim. “It comes naturally.” The pastry chef of the Michelin star restaurant draws inspiration from for instance the nashi pears she grew up eating, which she combines with williams pear. The result is a dessert consisting of pears marinated in either jasmine tea or bergamot oil, together with quenelles of pear-and-cassava sorbet and finished with pearls of nashi pear liqueur.