Much Korean bread, the kind epitomized by the ubiquitous Paris Baguette, comes by way of Japan: soft and chewy, filled with red bean and topped with hot dogs.
In recent years, however, Korean bakers trained in France and Germany have opened a succession of small bakeries. In doing so, they’ve stated the European case for bread.
Seoulites get to reap the benefits: massive loaves of bread with crisp crusts and airy interiors, buttery croissants, sourdough, baguettes and lines of pastries are now plentiful in the city.
You can satisfy your craving for fresh bread at any of the places below.
1. Paul & Paulina
This tiny bakery is dangerous for those on a diet.
The chefs at Paul & Paulina have nothing to hide.
Behind a modest display counter, men and women wearing immaculate white uniforms go about their business: they weigh out flour, beat eggs in large stainless steel bowls and roll out dough on the pristine countertops. The silence and precision recall a laboratory more than a bustling kitchen.
What emerges from the kitchen, though, is simply magical.
The pain au chocolat looks like a chocolate snail; buttery layers of dough roll in around a dark chocolate center. The dough is so flaky that it shatters when you bite into it.
The peasant bread has a crackling crust and excellent crumb structure: perfect pockets of air give the bread lightness.
The long line that snakes outside of Paul & Paulina’s actually works in your favor. While there is the agonizing wait, the constant turnover ensures that the breads and pastries that you buy will be fresh out of the oven.
Paul & Paulina’s also now offers customers the option of calling an hour or two to reserve items.
Pain au chocolat, ₩3,500; Loaf of peasant bread ₩7,000 (half loaf ₩3,500)
Monday-Saturday, noon-7 p.m., closed on Sundays and first Monday of each month
344-6 Seogyo-dong Mapo-gu (마포구 서교동 344-6);+82 02 333 0185
2. Le Alaska
One Alaska that is definitely not cold.
Do you ever wonder where the well-heeled citizens of Apgujeong go to get their pastries? Do you wonder if they even eat pastries?
They do, and to get them they come in droves to Le Alaska, a bakery situated on the apt “Rodeo Street” (yes, named after Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills).
Caramelized elephant ears at Le Alaska.But don’t let the luxurious surroundings fool you — these pastries are affordably priced and delicious.
Though kitchen produces savory loaves dotted with a variety of seeds, nuts and herbs, the pastries are the real specialty.
The wide selection begins with the “Praline,” a muffin-shaped puff pastry filled with chopped, roasted hazelnuts and chocolate.
There’s also the “Tornado,” a flat, crispy elephant ear of caramelized cinnamon sugar that is the perfect accompaniment to coffee.
In addition to the breads and pastries, Le Alaska’s Apgujeong location offers a variety of sandwiches and drinks. The sandwiches include a steak sandwich on their house-baked ciabatta and a ham and Gruyere cheese croissant.
Praline pastry ₩3,000; Tornado pastry ₩2,800; Steak ciabatta ₩8,500
Daily, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
653-9 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 신사동 653-9);+82 02 516 5871
A selection of Publique’s “intimate” offerings.Chef Jang Eun-chul’s 28 years belies his experience. Jang has studied or worked as a baker for more than a decade (the last four in France), and he brings all of that experience into a thoughtful, French-style boulangerie and patisserie called Publique. It’s located on a residential alley in Hongdae.
“Bread is a very intimate and everyday thing in France,” says Jang. “That’s why the café is called ‘Publique,’ because it is a café for the public or the people.”
Jang’s favorite bread is a humble pain de seigle, a French rye bread. Publique offers a variety of breads, ranging from toasted sesame bread to ciabatta to cheese bread baked with Emmental cheese.
Publique has an array of fruit tarts such as apple, pear and apricot, but the chocolate tart, with a milk chocolate base and a dark chocolate layer on top, is the most memorable.
Publique also makes scrumptious little Cannelés bordelais, éclairs and meringues.
Customers can take a seat at one of the al fresco tables or sit inside with a cup of organic Colombian drip coffee.
Seigle de Publique half loaf ₩12,000; tarts ₩3,800; coffee ₩2,000
Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m., closed on Sundays
311-1 Sangsu-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 상수동 311-1); +82 02 333 6919; blog.naver.com/publiquepain
4. Pain de Papa
The rusk, Pain de Papa’s version of a healthy donut.The tagline for Pain de Papa reads, “The bread your father made for you.”
That’s exactly what Lee Ho-Young, the owner and head baker of this small bakery on a side street off of the famed Garosu shopping road, wants to say with his bread.
Lee makes delicious and nutritious organic breads and pastries along with homemade spreads from figs, peaches, red onions and strawberries.
Pain de Papa also bakes bread made entirely from wild yeast, meaning Lee uses the natural yeast present in raisins to leaven the bread. Leavening the bread using dried fruits can take up to five times longer than traditional methods, but the result is a moist, springy bread with a hint of sourdough flavor.
Pain de Papa makes a variety croissants and brioches.
The most inventive pastry, however, is their take on rusk, a twice-baked bread. Lee bakes spheres of dough with chunks of sweet potato and dried fruits, and then fires them up in the oven a second time with butter to give the exterior a delicious crunch.
The finished product is dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Think of it as a kind of a healthy doughnut.
Rusk, ₩1,700; natural yeast raisin bread ₩6,000; homemade jam ₩6,000 to ₩10,000
Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m., closed on Sundays
548-5 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 산사동 548-5);+ 82 02 543 5232
5. Retro Oven
Flakiness worth traveling for.If you’re one of the moms who send her kids to Hakdong Elementary School, then you probably already know — and love — Retro Oven.
For those of us living in other parts of Seoul, coming out to find this neighborhood bakery near the district offices of Gangnam is well worth the trek.
The bakery offers a familiar spread of croissants, pain au chocolat, plain and herb ciabatta.
But the most surprising item is the Laugen croissant, or laugencroissant as it is known in southern Germany.
The Laugen croissant is the result of a perfect union between a pretzel and a croissant. it has all of the butteriness of a croissant with the slight pungency of a pretzel and distinguishing salt on top.
Retro Oven also offers loaves of “Retro Oven” bread, a soft, simple sandwich bread made with wheat and some rye that is ideal toasted with a spread of butter and jam for breakfast or as the base of a turkey club.
Laugen croissant ₩2,800; whole loaf of Retro Oven ₩10,000
Tuesday-Saturday, 12:30-7 p.m., closed on Sundays and Mondays
254-22 Nonhyun-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 논현동 254-22) tel. + 82 02 544 9045
Come quickly. These will be sold out soon.
Jung Woong, owner of Maybell, used to be an everyday office worker, or “salaryman” as Koreans like to say, before he decided to quit his job and become a baker.
Maybell came to its location in Itaewon four years ago after a previous four-year stint in the northwest satellite city of Ilsan.
The hearty and crusty loaves did not fit the palates of the Koreans living there, so Jung Woong decided to relocate to Itaewon where he hoped there would be a greater appreciation for his sourdough rye, rosemary rye and baguettes.
The sourdough takes a week to make and comes in sizeable 600 gram loaves.
Maybell opens at noon and closes at 6 p.m. — or until supplies last.
The latter is an important detail to keep in mind, because the bakery often runs out of bread by four or five in the afternoon.
Baguettes ₩3,000; sourdough loaf ₩5,000 Monday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m., closed on Sundays
737-2 Hannam 2-dong, Yongsan-gu (용산구 한남2동 737-2);+82 02 792 5561
7. Brown Bread
Brown Bread’s mini-bretzels draw a hungry university crowd.
In its display window, Brown Bread posts its baking schedule: pain de campagne (country bread) at 11 a.m., bretzels at noon, rye baguettes at 2:40 p.m., another round of pain de campagne at 3 p.m., and so on.
The baking intervals and schedule allow customers to get the freshest loaves.
The pain de campagne (country bread) from Brown Bread.Located near the front gate of Ewha Women’s University, Brown Bread makes the best bread in the area.
Its brezel, a soft pretzel that undergoes an extended fermentation, is probably its best item. Brezels come in different shapes and sizes — from long like baguettes, to small and round. All are topped with salt crystals.
At ₩1,000, the soft and chewy mini-bretzels make an excellent snack.
Bretzel ₩2,500, Mini-bretzel ₩1,000
Monday-Saturday, noon-7 p.m., closed on Sundays
27-46 Daehyun-dong, Seodaemun-gu (서대문구 대현동 27-46);+82 070 8658 1236