There are colorful layer cakes and dainty mousse-like affairs, mouthwateringly displayed in a pristine, climate-controlled case.
Nothing is over-the-top or flashy. Nothing screams cutting-edge.
Yet, each forkful reveals that owner-chef Park Yena’s desserts are far from run-of-the-mill.
“I wanted to create desserts that encapsulated my own visions,” said the former designer.
Park started her career in fashion design, first working in menswear, then in unisex accessories before quitting her job.
While taking a break from work, she started to bake at home. Then she started to take dessert classes. Soon she was blogging about her confections.
|Vanilla Cloud -- a dessert boutique -- in Cheongdam-dong, Seoul (Yoon Byung-chan/The Korea Herald)|
Blogging and baking as a hobby became a profession when Park opened Vanilla Cloud in Cheongan, South Chungcheong Province in 2013.
After two years there, Park decided to move her shop to Seoul in 2015.
“We opened here in November 2015,” said Park, 34, gesturing to the small 11-seater space done up in muted colors of dove grey and cool ivory.
A small baking studio is located at the back of the shop, where Park holds dessert classes. In the front of the store, Park sells around 12 varieties of cake daily.
“I aim to create desserts that you want to give to people as gifts,” said Park, adding that she wanted to bake cakes that are pretty, tasty and unique.
To that end, Park rarely does anything by the book, instead, she takes a design-centric approach to cakes, starting with a basic idea and then building around it to construct a complete work.
For instance, the idea of pairing pistachios with cinnamon served as the impetus for her variation on carrot cake, prompting her to replace the usual crown of cream cheese frosting with one made from pistachios and to create a cake base that is delicate yet redolent of spices.
|Vanilla Cloud’s “Jasmine” mousse cake (left) fuses jasmine flower tea with white chocolate and matcha, while the “Banana Bliss” cake features sweet chunks of banana, a blend of custard and fresh cream with a genoise base. (Yoon Byung-chan/The Korea Herald)|
Presented in tasteful shades of burnt orange, toasted walnut and jade green, Park’s carrot cake is visually alluring as well as toothsome.
Moist with a well-balanced hint of salt, Park proves she knows how to be bold without going over the top, packing in enough cinnamon, salt and sweetness to create a cake that unfurls in layers of flavors that range from nutty to fragrant to umami.
For yet another cake, Park landed on the idea of taking jasmine flower tea and pairing it with matcha and white chocolate for a mousse-based cake with a delicate floral nose, decadent mouthfeel and bitter endnote.
Then there is one of her most surprising creations, a bouffant chiffon cake that she christened “Cheongyu.”
Rice and bean flour are used to create a nutty cake that tastes like puffed brown rice. Mugwort is used to create celadon-hued frosting that is at once silky, bitter and sweet.
Candied nuts add a sweet crunch to the cake, while a side garnish of jujube paste acts as a sugary foil to the bitterness of the mugwort.
The harmony of bitter, nutty and sweet is surprisingly delicious and the textures of creamy, fluffy and crunchy equally appealing.
Not all cakes at Vanilla Cloud are as genre-bending as Park’s “Cheongyu,” but most are just as good.
|The small 11-seat spot serves around 12 varieties of cake daily. (Yoon Byung-chan/The Korea Herald)|
Take her Banana Bliss for instance, a very subtle variation on the classic banana pudding.
“I wanted to stick to the foundations of the flavors,” Park said, explaining how she focused on getting the basics right. She pairs well-ripened sweet bananas with a balanced blend of custard and fresh cream as well as a well-executed genoise, to create a dessert that is best eaten spooned out of its little cylindrical casing, one creamy and banana chunk-embedded bite at a time.
42-1 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Open Tuesdays through Saturday, noon to 8 p.m., Sundays, noon to 5 p.m., closed Mondays
Cakes cost 6,500 won to 8,500 won per slice, coffee-based drinks and ades cost 4,000 won to 6,000 won
By Jean Oh (email@example.com)