Snapshots from Korea: Smashing Pastry at Schneeballen in Seoul
A late spring stroll through the hip Hondae district of Seoul yielded a strange and surprising sight: a window full of colorful, giant "snowballs." Upon closer inspection, I was delighted to see that these were actually powdered sugar-covered pastries called Schneeballen at a bakery/café that's appropriately named Schneeballen. While there are sandwiches, bagels, cinnamon rolls, and more, it's the schneeballen that capture the imagination.
Schneeballen are made from shortcrust pastry and originate in Rothenburg, where they were originally served on special occasions such as weddings. The dough is rolled out, cut into thin strips, and fashioned into the shape of a ball. A dusting of confectioner's sugar gives schneeballen its name, which means "snowball" in English.
They're not all sweet. During my stop at Schneeballen, Garlic and Onion varieties were on display. But as much as I like savory snacks, the sweet ones, dipped in creamy chocolate and other flavors, seduced me. Cinnamon and Coconut Chocolate, for example, looked good, while the brightly colored Strawberry or Pink Chocolate would have matched both the exterior and interior of the nearby Hello Kitty Cafe. But being in Asia, I ultimately selected a Green Tea Coconut schneeballen.
The clerk placed my schneeballen in a bag and motioned me to the Cracking Zone. Prominently placed by the front window to draw the attention of passers-by, the Cracking Zone is a table with a board and mallet. While others watched with wonder, I smashed the bag several times to break the ball into bite-sized pieces, perfect for eating. Part of the little English in Schneeballen's brochure reads "First taste of crisp, aftertaste of soft." Actually, this is an apt description of the texture of the pastry. And while a little on the sweet side, both the green tea and coconut flavors came through. This would be a good treat to accompany coffee or tea, though the brochure also suggests beer, cocktails, or wine.
Seoul is full of fads, so it will be interesting to see how long schneeballen remain popular. The concept is playful, and the interactive element is fun. Schneeballen sells mallets so you can smash the balls at home, but it's better to take out some casual aggression in the store and start snacking right on the street.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.