Mr. Holmes Bakehouse: the Doughnut Landscape of Seoul
Can’t they be more beautiful? That was the first impression I had when I looked at their baked goods in the showcase. I can’t say they are ugly, but they are not refined and appetizing at the first sight, either. I have heard that they use very high quality European ingredients, even in US, with Isigny butter and everything. Then the appearance doesn’t really match with the intention embedded in the quality ingredients. At first, I suspect the reality of Korean culinary scene is the reason for this ‘rustic’ appearance. In Korea, the middle tier workforce, a paid employee who is capable of overlook and supervise the kitchen, sous chef or chef de partie at least, lacks and it affects the quality of food.
Why are they rare? Because most places can’t afford to pay them enough with a lot of money tied to the monthly rent. It seems that some even take advantage of this situation, getting their kitchen filled up with cheap culinary school students and freshly graduates, churning out very bad food as a result. Anyway, it seem that refinement isn’t their virtue in US either, based on images I found. Still, they were more off than ‘just slightly’, compared to those in US…
I had few doughnuts and a cruffin, which looked better than others they offer(can you tell the difference from the image above?)and the doughs were OK. For doughnut, it was not the lightest kind but I understand they could be heavier than as was based on the characteristic. As advertised, they are brioche based doughs which can be very heavy and greasy. To be honest, they tasted better than they looked. The cruffin isn’t bad either, but I wonder what kind of merit they could have when baked in muffin tin (or even fried, for that matter), other than just being able to claim it to be different than regular croissant. For me, it was slightly overbaked with excessively flaky outer layer. However, that seemed to be the outcome of loyal emulation of the original concept, not the oversight in execution. Overall, the quality of dough is better than the appearance.
And the filling: it is interesting that the cream seems to have two, almost separates layer of flavor. A basic custard act as a base, and a specific flavor (for example, green grape for the cruffin I had) is added, maybe some form of syrup(or an essence). And those two really don’t blend well, and as a result you can taste very distinctive layers of flavor. I like the former, the custard, in general. Considering the poor quality of Korean egg, which I believe nobody can import like butter, there is nothing left to be desired in terms of texture. Meanwhile, the latter is cloying overall, and some of them taste like cheap imitation of sorts. The green grape one in the cruffin, which I already mentioned, is the clear example, with the taste of melted candy of same flavor, or soda.
While they are not attractive enough to lure me for the next visit just yet, I wonder how it would affect the pastry landscape in Korea. I believe pastry is the most diverse and fast-growing culinary department in Korea, but surprisingly, doughnut doesn’t seemed to have been benefited by the growth. More expensive brand such as Doughnut Plant didn’t really took off, and not many independent bakeries make them. Can we read this as the evidence of preconception: the doughnut as cheap pastry? However, even affordable ones like Mister Doughnut has been disappearing. Then is this the sign of the perpetual dominance of Dunkin? It is highly likely.
Anyway, considering the doughnut can be really divine when made well with quality ingredients(I haven’t visited Fritz Coffee in Mapo for a while, but I heard that they no longer make the doughnuts, which is the best match with their coffee), now it is the time to Seoul have one finally. I don’t think this will be that one, with possibility of scaring some away with hefty price tag(doughnut 3,800 / cruffin 6,000 KRW), but I wouldn’t mind it functioning as a vanguard to find its niche, with a just bit more refinement that justifies the ingredients, and the price eventually.
*P.S: please somebody tell them to change the font of the tag right now.