Sunday, November 27, 2016

birthday cake

My buddy Jang-woong missed out. He had originally invited me over to his place on November 19, but his wife reminded him, at the last minute, that he had things to do that day, so an evening visit—plus a birthday celebration—wouldn't be possible. So JW lamely texted that we should "meet sometime before the end of the year." I had already bought JW a birthday cake from Hans, a high-end bakery up the street from where I work. It was a beautiful chocolate-ganache cake that I'd been staring at longingly every time I passed the bakery on my way to get lunch, so when I finally had an excuse to buy a cake, I went into the bakery and immediately pointed at that cake. The friendly lady boxed it up for me and advised me to store it in the fridge.

The cake has sat in my fridge since the 19th—more than a week. I was beginning to worry that it might be going bad inside its dainty box, so I took it out today and carved myself a slice.

My buddy Charles, upon hearing about my lovely cake, voiced some skepticism. Like me, he's aware that Korean bakery items often fall short of Western standards: Korean cakes, in particular, tend to lack the crucial ingredients that make cakes so enjoyable: eggs, butter, and sugar. Korean cakes are, as a result, generally dry as sawdust (so-called "roll cakes" are an infamous example, but pretty much any puffy Korean cake will illustrate this point quite well) and bereft of flavor.* My feeling, though, was that a cake from Hans would have to be better than the usual Korean fare: visually speaking, Hans's cakes have always been far more striking than their dowdier cousins at lower-end bakeries.

As it turned out, the chocolate ganache that coated the cake was superb. The cake itself—perhaps because it had sat for eight days in my fridge—was dry, crumbly, and fairly tasteless, which is highly disappointing. I'm at the office now, and I've left the cake out on a table to warm up, so perhaps it'll taste and feel different once I'm home. If not, then the only way to finish off the rest of the cake will be with cake-eating aids like ice cream.

Here's a before/after shot:

I'm not hopeful that the cake will be any better when I get home tonight. What I'd really love to do is peel off the ganache and just eat that, but that would be gauche.

*I can think of two major exceptions: (1) the Korean saeng-cream cake, when done well, is most excellent; this vanilla cake features a fresh-cream icing and is usually topped with a beautifully arranged assortment of thinly sliced fruits (strawberries, kiwis, etc.) and scattered berries, all covered in a clear jelly glaze (see here). (2) The Korean version of the cheesecake (which Charles has noted comes from Japan) is also excellent. In fact, I like this cheesecake far better than the too-heavy American version: Korean cheesecakes are light and a bit fluffy, but recognizably cheesecake-ish. Both of these types of cake are addictive, and bakeries that do them right get full marks, in my opinion.


Charles said...

Who cares if it's gauche—no one's going to judge you. I say just peel off the ganache and go to town.

I've had similar experiences with chocolate cakes here; lackluster cake enrobed in an excellent ganache seems to be a common theme. It always makes me sad.

Unknown said...

Hans is the shit.

The good shit.

Their cheesecakes are amazing. Their cakes (when fresh) live up to that expectation you'd been cultivating each time you passed by.

Kevin Kim said...

I ended up giving the remaining 2/3 of the cake to my boss, my immediate coworker, and some coworkers down the hall from me in the hongbo-shil. Not a trace of the cake was left. When I saw the empty plastic container, which had been washed and left to dry on a rack in the office's kitchenette, I joked with the hongbo-shil guys and gals that they had slaughtered (haksal-hada) the cake. They laughed.