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March 06, 2016

QUEST FOR THE PERFECT VIETNAMESE BAGUETTE ( BANH MI )

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The Vietnamese Baguette or Banh Mi with its light and airy interior and crispy and flaky crust is a bread that is hard to replicate in a home kitchen. Here is my attempt to recreate it in my kitchen. Pretty good, I must say.

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I'm Vietnamese. My blood is part soy sauce. It's one of my favorite condiments and flavoring agent. When it comes to eating crusty bread, I enjoy it smothered with butter like everyone else, but I also love it with just healthy sprinkling of soy sauce. Never tried it? You should! I have been craving it more lately and have bought more baguettes then usual.

My favorite kind of bread is the Vietnamese baguette or banh mi. Its thin, crispy crust and incredibly airy, soft interior is one of the hardest bread to replicate in a home kitchen. Finding an authentic recipe that yields the same result as a Vietnamese sub shop is elusive. In my research, I discovered that people in Vietnam don't typically make their own bread: they rely on professional bakers to supply the baguettes. Those bakers keep the recipe close to their chests. 


According to Andrea Nguyen, who is a teacher, consultant, and an author of a number of books on Asian and Vietnamese cooking, professional bakers add a dough conditioner to the baguettes to make them light and airy. Unfortunately, this dough conditioner is not available to home cooks. As a result, professional quality Vietnamese baguettes are very difficult to make at home.



So why go through the trouble of making it? First of all, I have a blog to update weekly-ish and I like the challenge. Secondly, the closest Vietnamese sub shop or bakery is an hour away. Jumping in the car and fighting city traffic whenever I want a Vietnamese baguette or a banh mi sandwich is not realistic. And since I don't bake a lot of yeast bread, it feels rewarding to make one from scratch every now and then. I compare it to learning how to ride a bike as a child. Remember how it was so fun when mom, dad, brother, or sister held onto the bike to balance and guide you? Now remember how you felt when you were finally able to peddle and steer on your own? Pure delight of accomplishment! I love having store bought bread, but it is always exhilarating when I make them from scratch.

I studied a number of recipes and tutorials. Ultimately, I combined recipes from Baking with Paws and Danang Cuisine to make the baguettes. The result is a  a light and tender interior and crusty exterior. I won't lie—these baguettes are very good but not an exact replica of the ones from Vietnamese sub shops. The crust is crispy, but it is not incredibly flaky like the professionally baked ones. They do however provide the crispiness and the light interior that I am after. 

Making these baguettes may seem like a lot of work, but most of it is resting time. The dough goes through four proofing and resting periods, ranging from 10 minutes to 2-3 hours. After making four batches in five days, here are some of helpful tips that I have learned:
  • Let dough rise covered in a sunny area or in an oven with the light on
  • Slapping the dough on the countertop when you form the baguettes helps with rising
  • Use a sharp knife or razor to make slits at least 1/4" deep into the dough prior to baking 
  • Spritz the baguettes before and during baking
  • Use a steam bath during baking 
I will continue to work on my Vietnamese Baguette or Banh Mi skills. When I get closer to getting the real deal, I will update you with another post. Wish me luck! I'll need it!



 


VIETNAMESE BAGUETTE ( BANH MI )
SLIGHTLY ADAPTED FROM BAKING WITH PAWS AND DANANG CUISINE

 


INGREDIENTS:

2 cups bread flour
1 ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup luke warm water
½ vitamin C 500 mg (Optional, to help with rise. I didn't notice any difference.)




INSTRUCTIONS:

In a mixing bowl of stand mixer, combine the yeast, sugar and water. Stir to blend and to dissolve sugar. Allow to stand for 5 minutes. Water should be cloudy and slightly foamy. 

Add half of the flour and stir well to create a thick mixture with consistency of pancake batter. Cover  with a towel and leave it in a warm place (such as the in oven with light on) for 2-3 hours. Mixture will double and become foamy.

Add the remaining flour, salt and vitamin C (optional) into the starter dough. Knead at level 6 for 10 minutes. The dough should pull away from the sides, come together, and wrap itself around the hook.  It should be smooth, like the texture of pizza dough. If the dough is too wet, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time. 

Scoop out the dough, spray bowl with oil, and return dough. Cover with a plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm place (such as in oven with light on) for 1 hour or until it doubles in size.

Transfer the dough onto the working surface. Use greased hands if dough is too sticky. Try not to deflate the gas inside. With a scrapper or a knife, divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Roll each into a ball. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with the greased plastic wrap and let them rest for 10 minutes.

To shape the dough, hold onto one side and slap dough a couple times firmly on work surface without letting go. Dough should flatten slightly and elongate. Press dough with hands into a rectangle, roughly 8" x 4". Put more pressure on edges to make them thinner than the middle. Roll dough into a log. Roll the log into a torpedo shape by putting more pressure on the ends. 

Place the shaped dough back onto the parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap, then a towel. Let dough rest for another 1 hour until it rises double in size.

Preheat oven and the baking tray at 400°F for at least 15 minutes before baking. Place a tray of hot water at the bottom of the oven.

Slash the baguette using a sharp knife or a razor blade. Hold the knife or razor it at 45° angle, and make a quick and determined slash  at least 1/4" deep across the dough lengthwise. Bake immediately after slashing.

Spray water on both sides of the oven and on the dough.

Bake for 20-25 minutes at on the middle of the oven rack. At the  first 8 minutes mark, spray water one more time on the baguette. This helps with developing a crispy crust. Rotate the baguette pan at this time for even baking. I find my oven browns the bread early and cover the top rack with foil at the 10 minute mark to prevent over-browning.

Allow to cool on a cooling rack.

Makes 3 baguettes.




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24 comments:

  1. Hahaha! Totally almost laughed so hard at your "My blood is part soy sauce" comment that I almost shot coffee out my nose! Thanks for that. ;) Love this Vietnamese Baguette, Thao! Thank you so much for taking on the challenge of making your own authentic Banh Mi, because these look perfect! And no way would I have taken on that challenge! Thank the lord for food blogging friends! ;) Can't wait to make these carb-a-licious beauties, my dear! Cheers to a wonderful day! <3

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  2. Chey, if being a comedian is my day job, I would starve to death. So I'm super charged that I made you laugh that hard! I'm laughing as I picture you spew coffee out of your nose! I'll consider my baguettes a complete success when my lap is completely in thin, lightly and flaky after eating just one. These are a really good start. Happy thoughts right back at you , my friend. :)

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  3. Banh Mi is one of my favorite sandwiches and I'm always getting them in Boston. I've always wanted to make my own at home but never have because didn't think I could make the bread. Thanks so much for this recipe so I can now make them at home! Yay! :)

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    1. I'm bumming that Chinatown seems to get smaller and smaller. One of our favorite places to visit, the Coffee House, has recently closed. :( You can totally make your own bread (and banh mi sandwich) at home and feel like you're in Chinatown without making a special trip!

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  4. I have never had Vietnamese baguette before, but this one looks so good, Thao. Can't wait to try!

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    1. It's up there on my list of favorite foods and things that make me happy. I hope you'll get to try it someday, Anu!

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  5. I am Romanian and keep saying that my blood must smell of garlic (to keep the vampires away) :). I love the baguettes and the idea of eating bread with soy sauce, I have to try that, it never occured to me before.

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    1. Haha! I you haven't seen any vampires yet, the garlic must be working! Try the bread and soy sauce out and decide for yourself.I hope you like it!

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  6. Your blood is part soy sauce - I love that! Mine must be part olive oil :) Your Vietnamese Baguette looks delicious - I love baking bread and this would definitely be a new one for me. I've never tried dipping bread in soy sauce - I'll save it for the day I make this bread :)

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    1. Olive oil is better to have in you blood than soy sauce, I have to admit. You must have soft, glowy skin all the time! ;) Do try the soy sauce and bread thing, Amanda...use enough soy sauce to taste the saltiness.

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  7. Oh my goodness! This bread looks so good. I am going to have to try it!
    Hope you have a wonderful weekend. :)

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    1. There is quite a bit of waiting for the dough to rest, but it is worth the wait, Christin. You have a great weekend too!

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  8. Your baguettes look SO good! I remember making a bahn mi and wishing I had access to a Vietnamese bread---I'm certain your homemade version was much better than what I used!

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    1. Banh mi in any shape or form is always a good thing..I would never refuse one. On the other hand, there is nothing like eating it on a Vietnamese baguette.

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  9. This post really made my mouth water! I've never tried soy sauce on bread, but I'd give it a try.

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    1. Thank you Beth! I hope you'll like the bread and soy sauce combo!

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  10. In college, we started eating soy sauce on popcorn, which is amazing and a lot lower calorie than butter! Alas my blood pressure is on the edge now and I have to be a lot more careful.

    You bread looks great. I do wheat and rye breads regularly but have never done a bread with a crisper crust. May have to try this!

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    1. I have never tried popcorn and soy sauce. You know I'll have to try it!! Thanks for the idea, Inger. I'll continue to perfect this bread to make it even lighter and crispier!

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  11. Your baguettes look perfect, Thao! We love banh mi sandwiches but I've never tried making my own baguettes! I can just imagine how amazing that must be!

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    1. Thank you, Kelly! It's just so good to know that I can make my own.

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  12. Yes, yes yes! I can't tell you how excited I am about this post! I also LOVE banh mi, but finding the bread is challenging, so thank you so much for this awesome recipe! I can't wait to try this!

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    1. Hello my banh mi loving friend! I know you appreciate a good Vietnamese baguette. I hope you will be as satisfied with the result as I am!

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  13. When my husband served in the Cu Chi area in 69-70, he used to get a bagette from a lady who made them in that region. They did not have the slice on the top, were smaller in diameter, and he said they were very chewy and absolutely delicious. I would love to find a recipe to make them for him. any ideas. jesturgill@yahoo.com

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    1. I completely relate to your husband's love for the baguette. I too would love to get my hands on a recipe that exactly replicates them. So sorry that I don't have one to recommend to you at this time!

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