Buttercream in Bloom: A Glimpse at Korean Cupcakes

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Buttercream in Bloom: A Glimpse at Korean Cupcakes

The era of cupcakes has come again, but this time they’re more about artistry than sugar and fat.

Korean buttercream cupcakes enjoy a cult-like following throughout Asia, the Middle East and parts of South America, with masters of this waxy floral decorating style attaining rock star status among followers, some commanding thousands of dollars for two- and three-day workshops in the craft.

So what’s so special about it? Well, preparing to sink your teeth into one of these gorgeous works of art makes a gal — or even the manliest of men — feel like a princess. Also known as “glossy” and “translucent” buttercream, a Korean buttercream cupcake sits in the hand like a tiny, impossibly beautiful bouquet, and it’s taken baking bloggers and Pinterest by storm, with megabytes devoted to the style, showcasing some absolutely jaw-dropping examples of the intricate confections.

We asked Joo Hee Kang of Seoul’s G.G.CAKRAFT to tell us about the style’s origins: “The history of Korean buttercream flower cake is not long. Until early 2010, most flower cakes in Korea were Western style, and most of the time, there was not much investment in the aesthetics.”

The change came when artists and teachers such as Kang, decide to take things up a notch. “At that time, only a few teachers, including myself, were teaching flower cakes in Korea. I made the flower cake more delicate and beautiful by not only depicting the shapes of flowers, but also flower buds and berries, very realistically.”

Soon, cake decorating fans, professionals, students and home bakers from all over Korea came to Kang to learn the technique. “Over time, people started to come from abroad, thanks in part to the Korean Wave.”

“In addition,” explains Kang, “color was expressed more naturally, not artificially.” Kang also devised and patented a recipe for buttercream that’s super-glossy and structurally stable, allowing ever thinner, more delicate, detailed and life-like petals to be piped.

What Kang doesn’t mention is baek ahng geum — sweetened white bean paste, a staple of Japanese and Korean desserts — which is the key to piping the most translucent blooms imaginable. Another important but not vital ingredient is Korean butter. In North America butter is yellowish — more or less, depending on the cow’s diet — more grass produces a yellower butter.

To identify true Korean buttercream cupcakes, look for over-the-top clusters of flora, every nook and cranny filled with leaf, petal or bud and soft pastels—harsh colors don’t suit this style very well, though it can work in moderation. The idea is to elegantly mimic nature as closely as possible. True to life flora: succulents, ranunculus, roses, chrysanthemums, hollyhocks, peony, hydrangeas, tiny lilac flowers, cherry blossoms and berries, orchids, pine cones, clematises; tightly closed little buds and wide open blooms. The petals are fantastically thin and almost translucent.