Earlier this week, I’d invited the English department to come to my apartment Friday afternoon for a small housewarming party. I’d recently discovered that I have an oven, so I really wanted to make them something special from Quebec: a sugar pie. The recipe seemed simple enough, and it’s absolutely delicious!
The problem with baking in Korea, though, is that no one bakes. Like ever. First of all, it’s really rare to have an oven in Korea, unless you have a toaster oven or live in a full-scale house. But even with the right equipment (good luck finding a pie pan), sourcing the ingredients can be nearly impossible, and if not, painfully priced. I had a vague conception of this already, and had read other bloggers’ recommendations to pack vanilla, baking powder and cream of tartar from home, but at the time I thought to myself, “PFFFFFT like I’m even going to have an oven, or bake!”
As you may or may not know, I have a horrendous track record with baking. If it’s savoury and on the stovetop, I’m an iron chef. And if it’s chicken or potatoes in the oven, I’m golden (eh? eh?). But, somehow when it comes to flour, sugar, and eggs, everything goes awry. The chemistry in baking is so nitpicky! One grain too much of baking soda and the whole dough erupts. Too much butter and it burns to goo. Some of you may remember these disastrous cookies I made:
These cookies took 3 batches and 2 days before they become edible. That means two small bags of flour, two small bags of sugar, two bricks of butter, two bags of chocolate chips. And a whole lot of serious smoke in the kitchen. It’s a miracle I didn’t burn the place down!
I’d just like to mention the fact that all stoves and ovens here in Korea run on natural gas. I’ve never used a gas range in my life.
So anyway, I’d developed the hare-brained idea that “I AM GOING TO BAKE THEM A SUGAR PIE!” even though I’ve never made a sugar pie before, or made my own dough. (No frozen pastry shells in Korea!) Whatever, the recipe looks easy. It’s just three ingredients and it’s so simple you can mix it with your fingers.
The first problem I ran into was the ingredients. I found flour and brown sugar easily enough, but I still needed butter. If a recipe calls for unsalted butter, forget it. They have one kind of butter here and it’s expensive as HELL. Made with milk from the emperor’s teat, apparently. One brick of butter cost be roughly $8. Augh, it hurt to pay!
Next problem: where the hell do I find a pie pan? You know how in Canada, there are those disposable aluminum pans on every aisle of the grocery store? There are none of those here. Nor is there a baking section where they sell cookies sheets and muffin tins or stand mixers. When you look for cookware, you’re going to find a lot of stove pots and pans, and that’s it. Finally after much searching, a found a deep-dish cake pan and figured that was the closest I was going to get.
Next: heavy cream. This was actually the easiest thing to find! I don’t know why, but Koreans LOVE milk. LOVE LOVE LOVE it. Whole milk, skim milk, chocolate milk, banana milk. They have whole fridges of milk and yogurt products, and a lot of their milk cartons are sold in two packs! I even found lactose-free milk at the Lotte Mart. Unfortunately, I went home with regular milk because the milk counter lady made me. She was pointing out the good sale on the 4L bottle and put it in my cart. I attempted to inform her that it was too big since I’m only one person (how do you mime “lactose intolerant?”), but she was very adamant and honestly a little scary and put it in my cart. Then she huffed away. Perfect, I thought, I’ll just put it back in the fridge once she turns the corner. She disappeared, I put the milk back, and just as I was about to make my escape, she came running down the aisle shouting at me! I panicked and acted like, “Oh, I was just switching for the smaller bottle…haha…” She said something to the effect of, “The sale’s but as good on that one. But fine.” Then she WATCHED ME as I left the dairy aisle. She was hovering around the fridge the whole time so I couldn’t bring it back either.
With all the ingredients settled, I went home to bake. Of course, by the time I rounded up all the last-minute things, it was nigh 7 pm, and the dough needed to sit in the fridge for 4 hours. Welp, guess that’s not happening! Here’s a brief retelling of the cooking process:
So the recipe says I need 2 cups chilled and diced butter…but there are no measurement lines on the butter. Shit. Guess I’ll just divy up this random amount by eye!
Alright, mix flour and salt, then cut in butter…what does cut in mean? Ah, I’ll just mash it up with this whisky thing until it gets crumbly like it says it should.
Ok refrigerate for four hours…ain’t nobody got time for that! 2 hours it is!
No roll out the dough. Don’t have a rolling pin. This plastic can will have to do. Oh shit, it’s leaving weird marks in the dough.
Alright, the dough is rolled out! But the butter chunks look weird…looks like a countertop.
Make the filling…pour it in the pie…looks amazing!
All I have left to do is put it in the oven…Oh shit, there’s no temperature dial. There’s front fire, back fire, and ALL THE FIRE. Why are there pictures of fish and chickens everywhere? Stop telling me to make chicken! Wait…
FUCK THIS IS A ROASTER.
At this point it was past midnight and I had work the next morning. Into the roaster it went! Full flame was a little too flamey and singed the edge of the pie, but with some dutiful rotation between front fire and back fire, it turned out pretty alright!
I put the pie in the fridge to cool and promptly passed out. The next day, everyone was pretty excited to come over for the housewarming 🙂 We finished up at school, locked up the English department, and walked over to my apartment two minutes away.
I had put the pie on the table in the morning, and as soon as they walked in they saw it shining in the afternoon light. “Is this the pie?” they asked, with excitement and some confusion. I don’t think they’ve ever seen a sugar pie before, and were probably expecting it to look like an apple pie. I told them it’s a tradition from our province and sliced it up. The knife went in and
The crust was super hard! “Haha…it’s supposed to be like that.” At this point I was super nervous, because I had no idea what the pie was actually going to taste like. I put the slices out on the variously sized plates I had, and put a little spoon with each. I was holding my breath, waiting for the communal first bite, when suddenly HY said, “It’s delicious!”
“Thank you!” I said, trying to play it off as simply flattered, when in my head my whole sense of reality was being warped and reshaped into a world where something I baked actually turned out WELL. As soon as the first tasting was announced, everyone was digging in. And it WAS delicious!
The crust was crispy and buttery, the filling smooth and sweet, but not too sweet. And when you chewed it all up the texture was the perfect mix of crunchy and chewy. Hurray!
NH had brought a nice bottle of red wine and a wine opener. Unfortunately, the wine opener had a corkscrew but to leveraging mechanism, so we had to pull the cork out by brute force. The 15 minute struggle was totally worth it!
All in all, a pretty successful party 😀