The air constantly chatters outside of the Village Baking Co. There's an almost-constant warning bell from a nearby DART station and every single car on University Drive and nearby Central Expressway are in a really big hurry to get somewhere. And then there's Greenville Avenue just a 100 yards up the road -- it's all just the usual rumpus of the city.
But once you walk inside the door of the small retail bakery, the first thing that hits you is the smell. Your senses instantly mellow. Then, after you ascend the four steps and your eyes sweep over the mounds of fresh pastries and breads, all that rigmarole outside completely disappears.
Clint Cooper has provided bread to many local restaurants, hotels and grocery outlets for close to a decade. His previous bakery in the Design District didn't have the right set-up for retail sales, so he focused on wholesale accounts and peddled his baked goods at local farmers' markets on the weekends. But even then the bread wasn't straight from the ovens.
That's all changed now. This summer Village Baking Co. packed up the oven mitts and moved into a new spot where customers buy fresh warm bread.
Recently, I chatted with Cooper about his baking background and the most amazing pastry I've ever eaten, the kouign amman.
How are things? Well, I broke my ankle a week ago playing basketball. So, that's making things a little challenging, just when I opened this retail spot and I'm doing all these other things (he laughs). It's fine; I just have to hobble around.
You have a big family to take care of also, right? Yep, we have four kids, all under the age of 7. (He laughs more.)
When did you first get into cooking and baking bread? My mom always cooked, and my grandmother is French, and I just picked it up from them. Then, I worked at a great little artisan bakery in Amarillo, of all places. I was going to actually buy it at one point. Then, I went to culinary school just for baking and pastry at the San Francisco Baking Institute. After that, I traveled around in Europe a bit -- in particular France -- and I did some apprenticeships there.
Why did you chose baking in particular? It's not a romantic story. I was a consultant for five years; I got a finance degree in college. I just wanted to do something in the culinary world, but I knew I didn't want to be a chef because of the hours, although now we run 24 hours a day, so that didn't really work out. But, I'm more of a morning person and thought it fit my lifestyle better. Then, once I started really studying it and getting into it, it fit my analytical side. Baking is all about procedures and formulas.
And with this new spot you were able to open a small retail shop in front. How's that going? We originally had retail in Colleyville, then after we moved to Dallas, we started doing farmers markets. That was sort of our fun side, a chance to get out there and sort of 'brand' ourselves, if you will. We were thinking about opening another true retail storefront for a few years, and when we moved to this new spot, we decided to try it. So far, we've had a great response.
As you should. The kouign amann alone should earn a line around the building. I try not to play favorites, but that's the most amazing pastry I've ever had. The kouign amann is a unique item. It's from Britain and France, particularly the Brittany area originally. I don't know anyone else who's doing it; a friend of mine in San Francisco is. We decided to try it out about a year ago and now it's our number one selling item since we opened our retail.
How is the kouign amann made? It's super simple. It's salted butter and sugar baked real slow so it caramelizes real nice in the dough, then you have all the textures that go with it, the crunchiness the chewiness that make it a great product.
Is the process laborious? It's very delicate and a lot goes into it. It's like all of our products -- it's all pretty simple, but it's all about the process. For instance, the croissants and the kouign amann take three days to make.
Do you bake throughout the day? We're doing three or four bakes a day and so we're putting fresh stuff out all day.
And you have a special later in the day, right? When I was in the shop a few weeks ago, you had a 3 p.m. special... No, we switched that up. People were coming in earlier and wanted the bread right then and they didn't want to have to come back later in the afternoon. So, the pain au levain is ready at 8:30 in the morning now.
What's your favorite bread? A baguette, because it's the true test of a baker. There are very simple ingredients that go into it and you can't hide any imperfections.
What should a person look for in a baguette? The color tells a lot. The darker the color, the better the flour because it goes through a longer fermentation so the sugars caramelizes really well on the outside. Once you get inside the baguette, it should have a nice moist interior and an open crumb. There are a couple of different kinds. We do a sweet baguette here, which just means its not soured -- it doesn't have any sourdough in it. And it should have a nutty, wheaty flavor. The color should not be white whatsoever, in my opinion; it should have a nice creamy color to it.
What's the ideal way to enjoy your bread? With a nice high-fat butter and sea salt. That's how we eat it. My son will eat a whole baguette.
How many baguettes do your kids go through in one day? I'll bring three our four home and they're all gone by the end of the day.
Your kids are going to be fussy eaters in the lunchroom. They might be launching bad bread across cafeteria rooms when they go to school. (He laughs.)
So, have you refined your technique over the years? Or do you stick to a particular process all the time? I'm always learning from bread. A couple days ago, because things have been so crazy, I forgot to bake the pain au levain and we left it in the cooler for 24 hours on accident. And so I cooked it anyway to see what it would turn out like, and sure enough, it came out twice as good because of the fermentation that happened while it sat in there for 24 hours.
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It's taken years to learn some of these breads. And we're always changing to get a little bit of an edge or a different texture or pull out a different flavor in the bread.
You mentioned earlier you're teaching a class? I teach a class at the Art Institute. They've been trying to get me to do it for a while, and I finally decided to.
The Village Baking Co. is open Thursday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and their products can also be found at several area farmers' markets. They regularly update their Facebook page with specific locations and days.
The storefront is located at 5531 E. University Blvd.