It almost is an obsession: waiting around for workers to fire up the doughnut machine at Pal Do World, a Korean grocery store in Lakewood. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone pouring batter into the molds that turn out hot doughnuts filled with sweetened bean paste and walnuts. Most likely, you’ll just find the doughnuts in plastic clamshells stacked on the table. I know from experience – it’s worth the wait for hot, fresh walnut doughnuts.
The sign calls the doughnuts “mini walnut bread.” In Korea, they’re street food called “hodo gwaja,” or walnut cookies. They’re one of the few Korean sweets you’ll find sold on South Tacoma Way. This is my final installment on Korean dining in Lakewood, and I could think of no better ending to this series than to talk about the sweet finish of Korean dining.
While Korean meals might traditionally end with sweetened barley tea or a ginger-cinnamon drink called soojong gwa, baked treats have become common in recent years. Why? “There is no oven cooking in Korean tradition. Only until very recently will you even see an oven in a modern Korean home,” explained food writer Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee, author of “Eating Korean.”
Think of Korean desserts as imports from other countries – Korean approximations of European baked goods. “They usually make flavorless breads filled with red bean, chestnut paste, or butter cream. Also there may be corn breads, peanut breads, etc.,” explained Lee.
In the Lakewood neighborhood that is a rich concentration of Korean restaurants and cafes, two bakeries and a doughnut cubby turn out sweet Korean treats.
Mini Walnut Bread Cubby
Where: Inside Pal Do World, 9601 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood
Think of Korean walnut doughnuts, hodo gwaja, as something like the flavor of a waffle captured in doughnut form. Baking the doughnuts in hot metal molds creates a crispy exterior, which breaks to a sweetened bean paste center that has a melty texture something like hot Nutella. In the center, you’ll bite into a warmed walnut. They cost $3 for an 18-pack. Find them on the table in front of the doughnut cubby next to the food court.
Where: Inside the front doors of Pal Do World, 9601 South Tacoma Way, 253-682-3488
Boulangerie is a bakery that falls squarely into the category of “huh?” It’s a French bakery. Inside a Korean grocery store. In Lakewood. About half the desserts are traditional French and are some of the finest European-style pastries you’ll find in the region. The cream puffs are elegant, the mini-fruit-tarts are elaborately presented, and this is one of few South Sound bakeries serving those pretty little Parisian cookies, macarons.
For Korean desserts, you’ll find buns and breads filled with sweetened bean paste, chestnut paste and cream fillings. My favorite baked item here is the red bean doughnut with walnut ($1.19). While red bean doughnuts at other bakeries are thick and sludgy – more paste than doughnut – the doughnuts here are sugary crisp on the outside with a thin layer of sweetened bean paste that creates a more palatable ratio of sludgy interior to sweet dough.
Also try: Lightly sweetened sesame balls (30 cents each), chestnut balls ($1.39), doughnuts stuffed with sweetened chestnut paste, and sweet-potato pie ($1.99), a hand-crimped pastry pie.
The Olive Bakery
Where: 8600 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood, 253-582-4884
UPDATE May 2013: Note, this bakery has moved to HMart, 8720 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood.
This little bakery always has the smell of yeast wafting out the front door. You’ll find layer cakes in the display case and shelves laden with breads and buns. My favorite pastries – sesame balls – are in the display case that also holds layer cakes. If you get one thing, make it the sesame-coated rice balls (3 for $1).
A little bigger than a golf ball, they’re made with a chewy, sweet rice dough and filled with sweetened bean paste. The crispy-creamy texture is addictive, as is the sweet, nutty sesame flavor.
Also try: Sweet-potato-filled buns ($2.20) which taste something like a Southern-style sweet-potato pie only in a Korean style pastry. Also, the chestnut doughnuts with walnuts ($2.20).
Our pledge to readers: Sue Kidd dines anonymously and all meals are paid for by The News Tribune.
This is the fourth installment in a dining series on Korean cuisine along and around South Tacoma Way in Lakewood. The schedule:
April 27: Korean barbecue, a guide for first-timers
May 4: Soup shops of South Tacoma Way
May 11: Sticky, delicious chicken and ingredient expeditions
May 18: The sweeter side of Korean dining