Food News

At Boulangerie, a Tedious Process Yields the City's Best Baguette

Greenville Avenue was still sleepy when Ashlie Taylor pulled up for work at Boulangerie's back door one recent morning. A late-night cleaning crew worked the floors at the pizza place next door, and a nearby 7-Eleven had a few stray customers, but the only other activity at 5 a.m. was the occasional passing car. Taylor gets to work before most of us make that first reach for the snooze bar, and because of her work, and the work of countless other employees, those late sleepers have access to hand-crafted croissants, tarts and other oven-warm baked goods as soon as they can drag themselves from bed.

Boulangerie is the new neighborhood bakery from Clint and Kim Cooper, the couple behind Village Baking Co., located further up Greenville Avenue on University Boulevard. The Coopers have made a name for themselves by closely adhering to the classical French baking canon, offering a pain au levain so tart it can cramp your salivary glands, the most authentic baguettes in Dallas, flaky croissants, obscure sweets and more.

All that was missing was a proper storefront. Their first location has a small counter that spills over with baked goods in the morning. The room is hot most days, as it shares a wall with a commercial baking operation, and if more than a few customers come through the door at once, they hardly have room to move.The new Boulangerie solves all of these problems with a dose of made-for-Pinterest charm. A large, open space allows customers to sit down and sip coffee while pulling apart a croissant. The counter and display case has enough room for pastries, sweets, breads, sandwiches and other newly added items to the menu. Some seating is out front on the sidewalk, where many times during the day the scent of fresh baked goods pours out from vents attached to the bakery's massive deck oven.

Taylor warms up the oven as soon as she walks though the door each day. She's in charge of pastries, mostly, but has a hand in most of the morning jobs at the bakery, and starts by wheeling racks of raw goods out of the walk-in so they can come up to temperature. A grumpy faced Juan Varela walks through the door shortly after. He's in charge of all of the baking.

While Taylor scores the croissants before painting them with egg wash, Valera moves the remaining racks into the baking room, preparing to unleash an onslaught of baking aromas so intense they flavor the air more than a block away. Each baking sheet is twice the size of the sheet pans used at home, and the triple deck oven can hold 12 of them.

The first baking run features spinach, almond, chocolate, ham, blueberry and regular croissants, a pan of scones, focaccia, financiers (almond flour cakes) the size of quarters and cinnamon buns that heave from their pans minutes after the oven doors close. The commingling butter, egg wash, bread and cinnamon loosely evoke memories of baking French toast (if Mom had cooked for hundreds), and with the twist of a venting knob the perfume is pumped out to unsuspecting pedestrians who have started to appear on the street.

When a shrill alarm goes off and the oven doors open, the scent intensifies as Varela carefully moves the baked goods to a new rack to cool. He tosses cinnamon buns, now glistening with fat, in a tub of cinnamon and sugar and moves them to a new rack, too. Then he starts baking the day's breads, unleashing a new olfactory layer of savory into the bakery and out onto the sidewalk.

Baking everything start to finish at the existing bakery and shipping the finished goods to the new Boulangerie would have been easier, but then this bright storefront, with walls lapped in creamy white, would lose most of its charm. Customers couldn't stare through a large window while they nibble on a scone, watching as Valera weighs baguette dough 12 ounces at a time, sends up clouds of bench flour and forms loaves with perfectly tapered tips. They wouldn't see how the loaves are slid into the oven using a large conveyor belt, or hear the swoosh of steam that promotes a glossy, crunchy crust. The results are baguettes you can't find anywhere else in Dallas.

The Coopers are hoping customers notice the difference and permanently cast off the soft, spongy loaves offered at most grocery stores. Authentic baguettes emerge from the oven with papery sounding crusts that crackle and pop like a bowl of Rice Krispies as they cool. They're tough and chewy — a real workout for your jaw — and have a bready, buttery flavor. Authentic baguettes are best eaten within hours from the oven, which is why the Coopers hope their customers will start to pick theirs up daily on the way home from work, just as Parisian customers do. The fact makes Boulangerie a bit of a cultural experiment, testing if Dallas customers will embrace artisanal bread-baking like they have a carefully crafted cup of coffee.

To that end, they're inviting customers at all hours — in the morning for a croissant and coffee, and in the afternoon for sandwiches made on bread baked moments before. On the weekends, Boulangerie stays open until 11 p.m. for customers who might prefer a chocolate croissant and coffee to a nightcap of whiskey, and a crepe cart is in the works.

It's never a bad time for a halved baguette slathered with cold butter and stuffed with ham and provolone. The jambon beurre is a simple sandwich you'll find pre-made at cafes all over France and its simplicity only works when the baguette is spot on. If you're holding one now, it got its start the afternoon before, when dough was mixed, kneaded and proofed at the facility up the street. After a ride down Greenville Avenue in gray dough bins, the dough rested in a cold, dark walk-in, slowly proofing, gaining tangy flavors and waiting for a pastry cook to flick the light switch on, starting the process over again.