At a glance, the bakeries of Koreatown look much like the bakeries of Anytown, USA. The gleaming glass cases display cakes, doughnuts, pastries, and other familiar treats. But a closer look reveals hints of otherness. There might be green tea in that cake, mochi in that doughnut, red bean or bacon in that pastry. And like many Asian bakeries, the Korean ones dial down the sweetness. "If one is used to American/French bakeries, you're probably going to find the stuff a bit strange," Miss Needle cautions, "even if you're eating things like chocolate croissants. It's different."
K-town's newest bakery is four-month-old Paris Baguette, and it's become a fast favorite despite being an outpost of an international chain. Chowhounds have fallen for its pumpkin mochi doughnut and blueberry chiffon cake, among other things. But Koryodang, the homegrown minichain bakery across 32nd Street, has its devotees, too. ossauiraty loves its mocha cream cake ("amazing!"), distinguished by a deft, light hand with sugar that's hard to find in American desserts.
For newcomers to the Korean bakery scene, seasoned hounds have some pointers. Most Korean baked goods are lighter than Western ones, they observe, but a few fall at the other end of the scale. Among uwsister's recurrent cravings are sturdy sweet-potato cakes and chewy, sweet breads filled with red bean or chestnuts. On the lighter side, soft white milk bread is delicious alone or in sweet sandwiches made with fillings like Nutella. uwsister's also a sucker for custard buns, subtly sweet green tea chiffon cake, and "anything that says 'tapioca.'"
Even Miss Needle, not a big fan of Asian bakeries ("I'd rather eat a croissant from La Bergamote than Paris Baguette"), has a soft spot for Korean-style mochi doughnuts, chewy and agreeably greasy, and savory croquettes, tastier and porkier than their Chinese counterparts. And she notes that Korean bakery-cafés (like Ele) will be cranking out cooling, refreshing pat bing soo—shaved ice topped with fruit, beans, and condensed milk—when the weather turns warm. Yes, it's still January and the mercury's hovering just above zero. But we can dream, can't we?
Paris Baguette [Koreatown]
6 W. 32nd Street (between Fifth Avenue and Broadway), Manhattan
31 W. 32nd Street (between Fifth Avenue and Broadway), Manhattan
43 W. 32nd Street (between Fifth Avenue and Broadway), Manhattan
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