When pastry chef Jina Kim first collaborated with Daeho Kalbijjim & Beef Soup earlier this year to create a croissant version of the restaurant’s runaway hit kalbijjim short rib stew, she’d hoped that the pastries would be a success. After all, Daeho’s spicy-sweet, delightfully cheesy version of the Korean classic had become one of the most sought after dishes in San Francisco. What Kim didn’t necessarily anticipate, however, was that a half year after their debut, the kalbijjim croissants would have a dedicated following all their own—that customers would line up for an hour at Kim’s Japantown bakery, Jina Bakes, and, in some cases, snatch up a dozen of the meaty pastries in one fell swoop.
Make no mistake: The kalbijjim croissants are poised to become the next big thing in the Bay Area pastry world. And now, Kim is ready to introduce local pastry lovers to her whole lineup of other creative Korean- and Japanese-inflected treats.
After a year of pandemic takeout boxes, construction delays and occasional in-person pop-ups, Jina Bakes finally opened its Japan Center storefront in late August. The bakery has been in “soft opening” mode on weekends only for the past two weeks, limiting both its hours of operation and the number of pastries that customers can purchase at one time. Starting next week, the shop will be open on Fridays as well, with the goal, Kim says, of eventually opening five days a week.
Customers who have been buying Jina Bakes’ pastries since the early days of the pandemic already know the bakery has a lot more to offer beyond its signature item. Prior to starting her business, Kim’s background had primarily been in French and Japanese pastry, but the wild, unexpected success of the kalbijjim croissant emboldened her to create other pastries that reflect her own heritage. “I started wanting to do more Korean things,” Kim says.
For now, she’s added one additional Korean item inspired by injeolmi, a kind of sweet Korean sweet rice cake that was always Kim’s favorite special occasion treat. At Jina Bakes, she makes the rice cakes in-house, cuts them into squares and bakes them on top of square croissants, dusting the injeolmi afterwards with powdered sugar and roasted soybean powder. The best thing about these injeolmi croissants, Kim says, is that the rice cakes are wonderfully stretchy when they’re warm, so you get that gooey “cheese pull” effect that many Koreans and Korean Americans admire. (It’s part of the kalbijjim croissant’s appeal as well—and one of the reasons the bakery has a dedicated oven for reheating pastries.)
Other staples on the opening menu include a more traditionally French croissant, chocolate croissant and kouign-amann, plus a variety of cream puffs that feature Japanese flavors like matcha, hojicha and black sesame. It’s a pastry-heavy lineup for now, but Kim says she eventually wants to do more cakes and desserts, including individual-portion cakes—pound cakes, cheesecake slices and more.