Olivia Uses the Oven for the First Time & Alex’s First Birthday in Korea

The title makes it sound like Alex is turning one, haha. But I just didn’t want to give away Alex’s age, because that would mean you could probably figure out my age! 🙂

Anyway, we celebrated Alex’s birthday on Saturday by having members of his GSG group over, along with some other people we’ve met here in Korea. I promised that I was going to make cake and dessert, which wouldn’t have been a big deal in our old home in the States, but I underestimated how difficult it would be to use our mini microwave/convection oven. But more on that later.

First, I had to go to the “baking market,” which is an area near Dongdaemun that has a ton of small shops selling all sorts of baking supplies (including cute little boxes and containers for holding desserts). There, I purchased confectioners sugar (I know I can grind up granulated sugar and add corn starch but it was just easier to buy a big bag), lots of cream cheese (Philadelphia brand, who knew that cream cheese could such a luxury item?), and nice butter (again, luxury item). I should have bought some chocolate chips or baking chocolate because I think I’ll be making the trek to this market again pretty soon.

Since this was my first time using the oven, I made sure to read the Korean to English translations that our neighbor posted very carefully. Turn one knob 9 clicks counterclockwise to oven (오븐). Select button. Turn other knob to set temperature. Select button. Turn 2nd knob to set time. Select button. Start button… Repeat.

We shipped a single box of red velvet cake mix to Korea. I was super excited about the cake- so excited that I baked the cake late Friday night. The result was disastrous: the top of the cake on the top rack was burnt and the bottom of the bottom rack cake was burnt! The top rack cake really stuck to the pan (even though it was greased) so that I could not get the cake out without breaking the cake into four pieces. And the bottom and edges of the bottom rack cake were bone dry. I was so upset that I drowned my sorrows in a glass of wine…

Luckily my two baking guru high school friends (thanks Jen and Hong!) were online and gave me a from-scratch cake recipe that was super easy to follow (I had never made a cake from scratch). I also did some research on convection ovens… Who knew that you didn’t need to preheat and that you need to either lower the time by 25% from a conventional oven recipe, or reduce the temperature by 15C (25F)? So I tried again on Saturday morning, putting our new Kitchenaid mixer to good use, and success! The cake was really good, even though I had to use regular flour (the word “flour” was the only thing written in English on the bag). I then proceeded to make the cream cheese frosting, which tasted DELICIOUS to me, but only “not bad” to Alex. Apparently I never knew or remembered (after 7 years of knowing him) that he does not really like cream cheese frosting. Cream cheese yes. Cream cheese frosting no. 😦

Alex's birthday cake

Alex’s birthday cake

I cut down the bottom and edges of the salvageable red velvet and used that as the top tier of the cake. I then used the yellow cake as the bottom tier. It was my first time piping cream cheese frosting, so the trim looked a bit messy, but overall the cake looked pretty good!

Linzer cookies

Linzer cookies

I also made a bunch of linzer cookies with strawberry jam. They took forever to bake because the oven is so small. I think I had to go through the turn the knob, select button, etc. process ten times!!

Some of the cutout shapes came out warped.

Some of the cutout shapes came out warped.

Essentially I spent the whole day baking but it was totally worth it! We had around forty guests show up, and they all enjoyed the cookies and the cake. Everyone enjoyed the view from our apartment and I think Alex had a really good time. Some friends knew how to play the piano and were dazzling us with Chopin waltzes and pop songs so we all sang along. I even had Doritos (the U.S. kind) that someone managed to find- so good!

After midnight, some of us went out to a karaoke place (노래방) near our apartment. Alex and his Columbia bestie/look alike Zach sang Tears for Fears. We then went in search of food. Apparently it’s a

Korean tradition to have some hot soup and rice after a night of drinking. It’s supposed to “cure” hangovers. But Alex and I just burnt our tongues. We finally went to bed around five in the morning.

On Sunday, Alex’s real birthday, I made long life noodles (not the cat) for lunch. We then went to Seoul Plaza to the Multicutural Festival, where a bunch of teenage girls were screaming after some K-pop stars. It really brought me back to the good old days of screaming at an ‘NSync concert. 🙂 We then had Korean BBQ for dinner with some friends who live in our building. And came back and ate crumbled red velvet cake. With cream cheese frosting.

K-pop concert

K-pop concert

Modern art.

Modern art.


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One response to “Olivia Uses the Oven for the First Time & Alex’s First Birthday in Korea”

  1. Merbao says :

    Dear Yanbao and Songbao,
    What a great birthday you had… i am so happy for your guys. Ybb, I still remember your crazy “N’Sync” days… ha ha
    love you so much.
    see you guys soon in Chengdu!!

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