- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In health-conscious circles, it’s nutritionally correct to turn down a big, gooey piece of cake. With a tiny, two-bite concoction, though, one can rationalize all the way through dessert.

Silva’s Patisserie turns out minipastries worth ruining that diet. Mother-and-son proprietors Silva and Harry Sarkee opened the tiny shop in Vienna 15 months ago and have developed a following as a place to get beautiful and delicious little creations. On any given day, there are about three dozen varieties: Eclairs, Linzer tortes, fruit tarts, carrot cake and Key lime pie are among the staples. Rich squares of flourless chocolate cake, spoon-size cupcakes and creme brulees the volume of a shot glass also are big sellers.

“When we opened up the shop, Harry said, ‘Let’s do minis,’” Ms. Sarkee says. “Everyone is health-conscious. We’re used to rich flavor, so these are small portions, but they still have that flavor. You can make something that looks like a million bucks, but then if it doesn’t taste good, what’s the point?”

The Sarkees say first-rate ingredients and Old World techniques are the keys to their recipes. They use the best-quality butter, and their breads (those are full-sized) contain organic flour.

Baking has been a family tradition for the Sarkees for four generations. Ms. Sarkee learned by watching her grandfathers back in Armenia. Mr. Sarkee learned by watching his grandfather and, of course, his mother, here in the United States.

“I was three years old, and my grandfather gave me an apron,” says Mr. Sarkee, 30. “That’s really my first memory, making bread. Baking has to be something in you. There are a lot of bakeries out there, but not a lot of bakers who know how to manipulate the flavor to make it taste great. You have to have the passion.”

Mother and son opened their first bakery, in Falls Church, 11 years ago. Mr. Sarkee later spent a few years as a pastry chef at the Kennedy Center. The family also briefly owned a California bakery.

Now they are back in Virginia, where Mr. Sarkee and most of the bakers arrive before dawn to start the day’s baking. He goes through 200 pounds of butter and 100 pounds of sugar in a typical week. What ends up in the case out in front is made fresh daily, and the rotation changes seasonally to use fresh ingredients.

In addition to the minipastries, Silva’s also makes muffins, tea breads, breads and tubs of hummus and other Middle Eastern sides and salads. The minis are mostly priced at $1.49 each.

Ms. Sarkee primarily attends to the small, beautiful details, such as handcrafting bright-colored marzipan fruits and putting the finishing flourishes on petits fours. She is the person to see for special orders such as wedding cakes and custom fondant designs. Her proudest work - a hand-folded replica of Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress made completely from sugar - hangs in the bakery, inspiring both bakers and customers as to what sugar and imagination can do.