Over the past year, a Japanese-American bakery running out of an Italian restaurant in Cleveland Park has awakened customers with unusually crispy, flaky pastries filled with unorthodox fillings. From the yuzu flower croissant to the cardamom rose bun and a lemon meringue pie “cruffin”, each of baker Yuri Oberbillig’s creations at SakuSaku Flakerie is filled with delicate, seasonal flavors.
Despite trying the opening conditions in the midst of a pandemic, the small patisserie that ran out of Trattoria Al Volo built up a loyal fan base of croissant lovers. The regular menu includes a za’atar Gruyere croissant ($ 5.50), where the rich, nutty cheese complements the herb-and-sumac seaweed in the spice blend in the Middle East. Another croissant pairs a pistachio filling with two bars of dark chocolate. The bakery recently partnered with Lost Sock Roasters on coffee. It takes custom pie and cake orders for special occasions.
The idea of making a twice-baked peanut butter and gelécroissant-filled with a layer of thin peanut butter, roasted peanuts and a topping of raspberry jelly-came from Oberbillig and observed his father-in-law’s lunch routine. “I thought I could turn this into a croissant!” she says with a laugh.
SakuSaku Flakerie (3417 Connecticut Ave NW) also offers traditional shokupan, a milk bread typically found in any good conbini (Japanese grocery stores). Oberbillig is from Kobe, Japan. She started working in the restaurant business 10 years ago and taught herself to bake from videos of chefs whose techniques she admired. While her Japanese hometown is world-renowned for its beef, baked goods are a lesser-known specialty.
“Kobe has the most bakeries in all of Japan,” says Oberbillig. “Because of its very ancient history and its huge port, it attracted different cultures. That’s why we have a lot of European-style bakeries and cake shops there. ”
The 32-year-old confectioner has cultivated his talent internationally, first by moving to Vancouver, Canada. She came to the United States in late 2017 after a few years working at bakeries back in Japan. Her attention to detail and precision stems from an early desire to become a fashion designer. “Just like in fashion, the shapes and designs are very important to me when I bake,” she says.
Oberbillig’s husband, Jason, helps her in the store and says she is “obsessed” with practicing techniques. After a long day in the store, she often takes her work home and tries new recipes until she is happy with the results. Every morning, she monitors the weather forecast, humidity level and kitchen temperature to adjust her oven settings to maximum flatness.
In the fall, the chef went apple picking at Homestead Farm in Maryland. Salted caramel apples and classic apple pies look like limited offerings on SakuSaku during the season.
Oberbillig previously worked at several DC bakeries, including A Baked Joint and the French chain Maison Kayser. When Firehook Bakery closed next to Trattoria Al Volo in the summer of 2020, the owners of the pasta place seized the opportunity to expand. Partner Rolando Frias approached Oberbillig and gave her carte blanche to choose a name and develop a menu. “When I tasted her croissants, I was surprised,” Frias says.
Like the cakes, the bakery borrows its name from different cultures. “SakuSaku” is a Japanese word that describes the typical crackling sound when eating a freshly made, flaky pastry. Jason Oberbillig came up with the “Flakerie” brand as a portmanteau of flaky, bakery and patisserie.