It goes without saying that most bread in this town is a massive let down. The most disappointing loaves can be found at grocery stores where blonde baguettes with a soft, almost waxy crust fill the bread baskets next to the even more terrible loaves branded simply as French or Italian.
A baguette should be crusty, with a thin, dark skin that shatters into an infinite scattering of well-toasted shards when you tear off a hunk. It should be chewy. If you're half way through a considerable length of baguette and you don't feel a dull ache in your jaw or perhaps your temples, you should be looking for another source for your bread.
Village Baking Co., which took over the Whole Foods Baking location on University Boulevard, bakes this sort of bread. The impossibly hot baking floor is flanked on both sides by deck ovens turning out baguettes, and revolving convection ovens turning out rolls for restaurants all over Dallas.
Julie Brown, who's been working at the bakery since February, says high quality ingredients like custom milled flour from Red Rose in Colorado and time and effort account for their superior products. "You can't rush good bread," she says, which is exactly the problem with most mass-produced loaves.
Commercial bakeries use inferior ingredients to lower production costs. They use excessive yeast to speed up the proofing time so they can turn out more bread more quickly. Bread produced this way loses its romance. It loses the nuanced characteristics like crustiness, and that subtle tang from lactic acid which only build when bread ferments slowly. It's also the type of bread most of us grew up on, which creates a problem when you're trying to make things the way they should be.
Brown told the story of a sandwich shop she refused to name. Recently, the owner came to the bakery wanting to embrace local products. The experiment lasted just two weeks, according to Brown, who says the sandwich shop owner was pressed by his customers. "They like the soft bread better," he told her. And sure, we're all inclined to like whatever we were raised on. If your daily lunch-box meals were sandwiched between two slices of Wonder Bread, even changing to whole wheat can be tough.
Yet the craft beer movement has taught us that palates can be trained. An army of Budweiser swillers has been taught to embrace the big bold flavors of local beer made in the Old World ways. The comparison is amazingly accurate, right down to the ingredients (water, grain, yeast) so it's a wonder why craft bakeries aren't springing up in droves like craft breweries are.
You could wait for the revolution, or you could just visit Village Baking Co. The storefront is small and minimalist but very nice if only because it's filled with the wonderful aromas of freshly baked bread. Watch as customers walk through the door and it hits them. Each set of eyes widens a touch as their owners realize they've obviously stumbled upon something special.
When you pick up your baguette feel free to ask for a customized loaf. When techniques and recipes aren't homogenized by ever-scaling bakeries, irregularities persist. It's perfectly acceptable to request a baguette that's a little extra toasted or "not too cooked" as an older French woman who visits regularly often requests, Brown says.
And if you really want to kick it old school, I'd suggest the pain au levain. The massive loaf is everything discussed in this article times three. The crust is tough and very chewy and the innards boast a tang that could cause you to pucker. This is a bread that eats like a steak. You will not find anything like it in a grocery store bakery.
If like me, all this quality and craftsmanship caused you to wonder why Village Baking Co. couldn't devote some time to develop rounds for a bagel-starved Dallas, you should table your hopes. "We are a boulangerie," said Brown, as her eyes trained downward to a baguette on the table. "This is what we do."
Village Baking Co., 5531 E. University Blvd, 214-951-9077