Baking diary – log 3 – 28/04/2012
Yesterday, I did a long and pretty informative research about Bánh mì and how we make it originally in Vietnam. Today, as promised, I will describe how I make Bánh mì in my own way, which suitable for home bakers everywhere, who share the same dream of conquering this challenge to successfully recreate the mysterious Bánh mì baguette.
I am a huge fan of Bánh mì and in Finland, at the moment, there is no bread that could come close to my heart and stomach as Bánh mì does; therefore, I have tried to recreate Bánh mì for a very long time, for at least 1 year continuously if I recall correctly, with various techniques and recipes found on the Internet, without any stable successes. Ask for a person who eats Bánh mì for breakfast almost everyday for the last 15 years (the first 5 years, my teeth was growing or so, lol), how can I suppose to suppress my longing for Bánh mì? Help!
“I have to make it!”
“I HAVE TO MAKE IT!”
That thought kept me trying and trying some more. Finally, my effort paid off. Last January when I returned to Vietnam to celebrate 2012 Lunar New Year with my family, I had a chance to be a free apprentice at a Vietnamese bakery nearby. It was such an eye opening experience. All the myths about Bánh mì became clearer. More information about how Bánh mì is originally made in Vietnam, kindly refer to my previous post of the Adventure to the Mysterious Bánh mì land – Episode 1/2.
Thanks to the bakery owner/ baker in chief that I have worked for a short while ago, I have created a Bánh mì recipe that is suitable to be produced successfully at home baking level, where no industrial heavy machine or special ingredients required. This recipe gives the most stable result among all recipes I tried or created (at the very least, to my home oven in Finland). I, however, cannot guarantee 100% success to all of other’s kitchens due to the highly risky nature of home baking, where the baking environment and result cannot be correctly measured and maintained. I hope my post will act as guidance, or as an encouragement to those out there who share the same interest as mine, that Bánh mì is not a mystery.
Below is how I make Bánh mì baguette. (6 loaves, 75g per loaf)
- An electric mixer with dough hook attachment (recommended)
- Clean bowls
- A digital scale
- A baguette perforated baking tray (If you don’t have any, follow this to make one yourself)
- A spray bottle
- A double razor slashing lame (make one yourself like in this photo, I made mine that way, too)
- 160ml lukewarm water (around 35 degree Celsius)
- 6g fresh yeast
- 230g bread flour
- 20g finely grounded rye flour
- 20g sugar
- 4g salt
- 20g odorless oil such as sunflower or canola (or a mixture of 10g melted butter – 10g oil)
- ½ vitamin C tablet (100mg acid ascorbic per tablet)
Step 1: Dissolve fresh yeast into the measured warm water (Remember: warm water is needed to activate the yeast, do not use too cool or hot-to-touch water). Let sit for 5 minutes or so until there is bubble on the surface. This is a necessary step to check if your yeast is still alive and active. If the mixture does not bubble up after 5 minutes, discard it, and make a new one, maybe this time with a different yeast source, or pay attention to the water temperature.
The fresh yeast is usually packed in form of cubes (or cake as people call it). Here is a picture from the yeast cake I use in Finland, 50 gram per cube, able to leaving 400ml of liquid in dough recipe. You can buy it in almost every market here; it should be in the fridge near to milk products, labeled “Toure hiiva” – Finnish for fresh yeast.
Personally, fresh yeast is what I am always to use in making my Bánh mì. I have tried making it with different brands of dry yeast without stable success, so I just drop that and stick with fresh yeast. Surprisingly enough, my Bánh mì dough, when being made with fresh yeast, comes out a bit firmer and cohesive than when being made with dry yeast (and Bánh mì or other baking products baked with fresh one has less yeasty smell. It has been claimed that bread baked with fresh yeast have superior flavor, too.) So just some more reasons why I stick with my precious little fresh yeast cubes in my bread baking. However, if fresh yeast is not available, or you are not familiar with it, try sticking with your normal dry yeast because technically, they should react the same way and produce the same result. Here is a table to convert fresh yeast, to dry yeast, to instant yeast:
The math is simple. So for this recipe, if you wish to use dry yeast, use 3g of dry yeast. If you wish to use instant yeast, use 2g of instant yeast. Just make sure that you activate the yeast correctly according the manufacturer instruction. (Normally, it should be 42-degree warm water for dry yeast while instant yeast can be sprinkle directly in the dough mixture.)
Step 2: Mix all the dry ingredients in to a large mixing bowl. I use a combination of bread flour and rye flour (8% of total flour weight) because as I researched and experimented, rye flour does add some advantages to my Bánh mì dough.
- Firstly, a small amount of rye – 5-10% of the total flour by weight – has a definite effect on the flavor of the bread. The distinctive flavor of the rye itself may not be noticed, yet the bread’s overall flavor seems better. This may be due to the action of the amylases in rye releasing more sugars. This is necessary for this bread because originally, Bánh mì has quite plain taste.
- Secondly, Rye contains a group of important complex sugars called “pentose’s. They compete with the proteins that make gluten for water, and water is the substance that leads the proteins to combine to form gluten. This means that dough with rye flour added often require a bit higher proportion of water than pure wheat dough. Therefore, even though this dough is 64% hydration, by adding 20g rye flour, the dough is less sticky and easier to handle. Also, rye added dough requires gentler and, usually, briefer mixing than wheat dough, also another plus.
- Thirdly, rye has more free sugars than wheat, so rye added dough ferments faster than pure wheat dough. You can cut down the fermenting time by adding bit rye flour into the dough.
- Fourthly, this point does not have scientific background though, by adding a small amount of rye flour, I noticed that the bread crust is crispier than pure wheat loaves’. It’s almost like hard flakes, which resembling original Bánh mì’s crust a lot.
If you don’t have rye flour in hand, simply just leave it and add the same amount of bread flour, meaning 250g in total. I used to use only pure bread flour with many successes too. Here are the kinds of flour I use in making Bánh mì.
NOTE: The bread flour I use is semi-coursed 13% protein bread flour (which is normal and usable, because wheat produced in Europe tends to have higher protein percentage than in other regions). The rye flour I use is finely grounded rye flour.
I also add sugar in the recipe to increase the complexity in flavor for this bread since this is not long fermented bread, the flavor can be cut back quite deeply, and have to be support by outside substances. About salt, I use regular table salt, nothing fancy about that.
Step 3: Add oil or oil-melted butter mix into the dry ingredients bowl. Usually, there is no oil in baguette recipe. But please do, in this recipe. Oil will make the crumb moist and soft, resembling original Bánh mì. In Vietnam, bakers use bread improver to increase the moisture in the crumb, but I do not support any kind of addictive added to homemade breads, so I recommend to stick with the oil. A mixture of melted butter and oil can create the buttery smell of the finish products, so, use this mix if you like your bread to smell like a bit more like heaven when it’s being baked and done.
Step 4: Crust ½ tablet of vitamin C into fine powder and sprinkle into the mixing bowl, together with other ingredients. In France, bread bakers were allowed to use ascorbic acid, in small amounts, in their bread baking, mostly baguettes, tabards, etc. Acid ascorbic creates an acidic environment for the yeast that helps it work better. It also acts as a preservative & deters mold and bacterial growth. With just a touch of ascorbic acid, your breads, the yeast will work longer and faster. By adding this amount of Vitamin C as an improver, my bread dough strength improves significantly; the loaves are also lighter, airier, which make it a lot lot like Bánh mì in Vietnam. However, it gets destroyed during baking, so no health benefits! Here is my Vitamin C bottle.
I do not recommend using orange/lemon flavor fizzy tablets or Vitamin C candy (even though they contain acid ascorbic), as they do not react the same way as pure acid ascorbic. Vitamin C tablets can easily be found in pharmacy shops and one small bottle of them can be use like forever, so if you want to conquer Bánh mì, the addition of acid ascorbic is a must.
Step 5: After your water-yeast mixture has bubbled up, add it in to the dry-oil-vitamin C mixture in the same mixing bowl.
Step 6: Start combining all your ingredients first by starting the mixer at low speed until you achieve a mass like this. If your mass looks wetter, simply add more flour at 10g each addition. If you mass look dryer, simply add more water at 5g each addition. This can happen due to different flour type that you use, or because of the environment differences such as humidity.
Use the dough hook if you have a stand mixer like me. Some hand mixers also have a duo of dough hooks, which can also be used. Or if you make bread by hand, just create a well in the center of the mixing bowl, add water gradually when using your hand to in a circular motion to help the flour absorb the water, until you achieve a mass like above.
Step 7: increase the speed to medium high speed if using electric mixers. Stop at 5 minutes interval to check the level of gluten development in the dough (a.k.a the strength of the dough). Here is my dough at medium gluten development level after 7 minutes of mixing.
Here is my dough at 13 minutes of mixing, fully developed gluten. You can see that my dough can be stretched out in to very thin, almost see-through sheet. Stop when your dough reaches this stage.
If you are mixing by hand, fear not. Simply follow this slap and fold (or French method) technique demonstrated in this video by Sourdough Companion.
You can achieve the same result by applying this technique for 25 to 30 minutes. I must say it is not an easy exercise but many of you may not know, kneading and mixing dough by hand is claimed to be the cheapest and one of the most effective stress relieving therapies in the world. Just imagine the dough as the face of someone or something that bothers your right now, and BAM! BAM! BAM! … Phew, good for you. You know what I mean, ahaha. Believe me, very effective. Been there, done that!
Step 8: Shape your dough into a ball and let it rest in a lightly oil container for 1 hour or until double in size. This is the bulk fermentation stage, which let the dough rest for further gluten and flavor development. My apartment is always a bit cold, around 20-22 degree Celsius inside, so my solution is that I cover my container with a warm damp towel, put it inside my oven, which light turned on but no heat applied, like this.
The dough before bulk fermentation
And after. Now you may have an idea about double in size.
Step 9: After the 1 hour bulk fermentation. Flip the dough out onto your working surface, which already oiled lightly also. It should come out very easily since the containing bowl was oiled. It will deflate a bit and that’s alright.
Step 10: divide the dough into 6 equal parts, 75g each. Then gently shape them into short cylinders, like this. The them bench rest for 10 minutes, covered with plastic wrap, like this.
Step 11: After 10 minutes rest; turn 1 ball on to the lightly oiled surface. (As I explain the previous post here, Bánh mì baguette shaped on a lightly oiled working bench, not by using excess flour). Stretch it into very thin sheet, like this. But not too thin that makes it tear apart. Pay attention to the edge of the dough sheet because it tends to be thicker than the inner part, keep the edge very thin. (Otherwise, you will end up with a bone-like shaped baguette)
Roll the sheet very very tightly into a firm torpedo. You should feel the tightness of the torpedo, or else, it will not spring properly when baked. Continue with the remaining balls. When finished, you have a tray like this.
Step 12: Mist the loaves with a spraying bottle a couple of time to create the needed humidity for the proofing. Let the tray go through the final proofing stage in a homemade proof box like this, in room temperature, for 1 more hour. Basically, it’s a big size black plastic bag I found somewhere in my apartment, clean thoroughly and let dry.
After 45 minutes of final fermentation, preheat your oven to it’s maximum temperature, in my case is 300 degree Celsius.
After 1 hour of final fermentation, your dough should reach this volume shown this the picture.
How to know that your loaves have proofed properly? Try the finger poke test. After a while proofing, the finger-poke test behaves as below:
- Hole stays entirely dented in: over-proofed (maybe recoverable by baking right away, maybe not recoverable and reshaping is required)
- Hole dent slowly pops halfway back out and leave a mark of dent: proofing is just right
- Hole pops back without any mark of dent: under-proofed, need more time.
Step 13: At this stage, your oven should be preheated properly to 300 degree Celsius. Your loaves have been proofed to the right stage. You have to make sure that your loaves have a smooth, not totally dried-out but not wet surface. If they are still wet outside, or stick to your finger, you should consider leaving it out in room environment for like 5 minutes to create a “skin” to your baguette.
Now it’s time for some slashing. I used to have countless troubles with slashing my baguettes. But after viewing these wonderful videos and posts, I open up my eyes.
- Proper scoring/ slashing the baguette by Bread Hitz
- By King Arthur Flour
- By Mitch Stamm
- This post by Wild Yeast
- This scoring tutorial by The Fresh Loaf
Here is how I perform my slashing:
- Stand vertically from the loaf, not horizontally; you are facing the loaf length-wise not height-wise.
- Hold the lame like holding a key to open a door.
- The lame should be hold not perpendicularly with the loaf but at a slight angles of about 30 – 45 degree. The cuts should not enter deeply into the loaf, but rather making a lift right under
- Slashing motion is done with the entire arm, not just the hand.
- Imagine dividing the dough into 3 equal strips length-wise. Your cuts should all fall into the center trips but not across the whole loaf.
- Your cuts should be around 0.8cm deep, 5 cm long, with around 1.5cm overlapping with the previous cut.
- After cutting the loaf, I pipe a small line of shortening/margarine into the cut. When baking, the shortening or margarine melts leave the inner part of the cut moister and more fragile than the outer crust, therefore, if the loaves spring while baking, it will choice the weakest point to rise up, which is the moistest part of the loaves.
Here is a picture of how my lashes look like.
These following steps are critical in the making of Bánh mì. So read the instruction first, and then follow them exactly.
Step 14: Prepare your oven properly now. Check carefully if there is any air vents in the oven, if there is, cover the exit tightly with a cool damp towel. Mine have one but I did not notice for such a long time, so you’d better check, for the best.
Prepare 200ml of hot water. Boiling is best.
Step 15: Right after slashing your Bánh mì loaves, mist them generously with water from spray bottle.
Step 16: Open the oven’s door, splash the prepared hot water onto the oven floor, and put your prepared baguette tray onto the center rack, close the door immediately. This is how I create steam for my oven.
There are more ways to create steam for your oven. Check these out:
- The Fresh Loaf basic steaming lesson
- Sylvia’s brilliant Towel steaming system
- SteveB of Bread Cetera’s
Feel free to explore all the possibilities. But whatever techniques you use, please remember, steam is fatally important for crispy crust bread baking like baguettes.
Step 17: Turn down the heat to 275 degree Celsius. Bake with steam for the first 7 minutes.
Wondering why steam is so important? Wondering how professional bakers get those beautifully loaves a bread with glossy, crispy brown crusts? One of their secrets is steam.
In the first few minutes of baking, loaves of bread will rise rapidly as the gases trapped inside expand and the yeast has a final burst of activity / oven spring. Steaming within this time helps keep the crust soft. This allows the bread to continue expanding freely.
The steam that has settled on the surface of the bread also dissolves sugars in the dough. As the bread stops expanding and the steam begin to evaporate, the sugars are left behind to caramelize and create a glossy crust.
However, steaming is really only useful during the first 5-10 minutes of baking while the yeast is still active and the internal structure hasn’t set. After this time, the crust needs its own time to set, dry out, and harden up. That’s what you need to do next.
Step 18: Open your oven’s air vent (that previously covered by a damp towel), ajar your oven door for 1 minute by a wooden spoon to let the steam evaporate completely. Then close the door, reduce the heat to 250 degree Celsius and bake for 8 more minutes.
Turn your tray inside out if needed for even browning. If your baguettes brown too quickly or too slowly, simply adjust the baking time or the heat accordingly.
Step 19: Turn off the heat, ajar the oven door, and let the tray sit in the oven for 2 more minutes. Then take them out and let cool off for 5 to 10 minutes.
Here is picture of my finish products.
Here is the close up of my slashes. I always sit right next to my oven to watch these gorgeous open up.
Step 20: Enjoy. You can see in this picture below that the bread has almost little white moist crumb. Perfect for adding layers of your favorite fillings in and eat them up. Nom Nom…
Wow, this is officially a super long post. On Word, it is now 8 pages full of letters only. If only I can write my bachelor thesis with this speed, then my 50-page thesis will be done in less than A WEEK!
Well, that’s my little secret prayer every night.
3 years ago when I first arrive in Finland, I would never thought this time of graduation could come so fast. 3 whole years flashed by like a second in time.
Only memories in my heart stay.
Updated: I just submitted this post to YeastSpotting, a weekly showcase of yeasted baked goods and dishes with bread as a main ingredient. Here is the link to this wonderful page.