Year of the Snake brings tasty weekend bakes to Berkeley

Baker Patty Lu’s focaccia was inspired by a trip to Korea. Credit: Year of the Snake/Instagram

year of the snake
at Morell’s Bread on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
2701 Eighth St. #114 (near Carleton St.), Berkeley

On Sundays, the usually bustling corner of Carleton and Eighth Street in West Berkeley is quiet and slow-paced. Standard Fare, the neighborhood’s popular lunch destination, is closed, and Le Noisette, the beloved bakery, is also closed, its team busy with regional farmers’ markets. Only Third Culture Bakery does its usual business, with a long line for mochi donuts and matcha drinks. And now there’s a new sign on the block, announcing a weekly option beckoning. It’s inviting pastry lovers to discover Year of the Snake.

Operating Sundays in the commercial kitchen of Morell’s Bread, Year of the Snake is a new pop-up from baker Patty Lu. It’s not a recent pandemic-inspired venture; In 2016, Lu, who is now based in Emeryville, was a baker at the large pastry company Tartine, even helping to open the chain’s iconic site in South Korea. Lu’s resume also includes a stint at another San Francisco institution, Outerlands, and another as a part-time baker at From Roy, a limited-edition luxury panettone operation.

During the pandemic, Outerlands shut down completely for over a year. So Lu, like many people in the hospitality industry, became something of an entrepreneur, selling her home-baked pastries at Oakland’s Magnolia Mini Mart. Then she appeared in Palo Alto, in partnership with another baker, Nariya Charoensupay. Year of the Snake, from 2022, is his most intentional take on solo cooking. The idea behind the business, Lu, 32, said, “is an Asian American bakery concept and representative of my generation. I try to make it as creative as possible.

Creative is an understatement. Joining a burgeoning trend of Asian-American bakery offerings in the Bay, from the cult-favorite grand opening to East Bay’s own Sunday Bakeshop and Bake Sum, Lu somehow manages to reinvent the wheel. On its menu every Sunday is a fun pretzel cone with a jalapeno cream cheese filling; a delicious kimchi-potato focaccia; boiled eggs marinated in tea and spices — sold unpeeled and still warm; and Chinese sausage, garlic and chive cookies.

For food-loving customers, Lu makes Portuguese egg tarts, which are hard to find in the Bay Area – people sometimes get their heads around after buying one and shout, “That was the best egg tart in all the time ! says Lu. “Egg tarts are very laborious, sturdy yet flaky,” she explained — the dough technique goes way beyond rolling out frozen puff pastry. There’s also a black sesame bostock – a sweet bun-like thing, and Silhouettes – thin, crispy sandwich cookies with a chocolate and tahini filling. The newest addition is a Japanese cheesecake, spongy and creamy.

“I just want to offer unique flavors,” Lu said. “If someone else was cooking the same thing, I’d probably stop doing it.” Admittedly not a big fan of sweets, Lu certainly appreciates a good savory pastry, and his selection represents that. For ideas, she looks at cookbooks, thinks back to the Japanese and Chinese snacks she used to eat as a child, and thinks about different shapes and textures. A trip to Korea inspired her focaccia and underscores that Year of the Snake is not a purely Chinese bakery.

“I learned so much working at Tartine,” Lu said when asked about her past experience. Her responsibility was sourdough, which Lu no longer makes, but, she says, “watching the pastry chefs who have worked so hard to make a variety of pastries in one shift, it’s a good experience to learn how to make larger-scale pastries”.

A selection of treats from the Year of the Snake. Credit: Year of the Snake/Instagram

Currently, in Berkeley, Year of the Snake is a much more intimate operation. There’s just Lu and her mother, who come to help with retail, and a neat counter with the pastries proudly displayed. A stark contrast to the iridescent Third Culture mochi offerings around the corner, Lu’s designs are minimalistic and not Instagram bait at first glance. You have to taste them to tap into the magic.

While the pop-up is still fairly new, Lu is slowly getting noticed. She’s been invited to donate her pastries at weekend wine tastings at Broc Cellars – Lu had worked with them over the summer, helping to make wine – and another pop-up venue is in the works.

“I’ve always wanted to have a coffee, but right now I’m only having it one day at a time,” Lu said. Meanwhile, those who come across Lu’s business around the corner can enjoy its unique treats every Sunday, one at a time or in dozens.

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