The Adventure to the Mysterious Bánh mì land – episode 1/2 – Traditional Vietnamese Baguette

Baking diary – log 2 – 27/04/2012

—- Update: Here is link to my Banh Mi Recipe, totally suitable for homemade  —-

This is it, the post that is definitely worth waiting: a 2-day continuum about Bánh Mì – the mysterious Vietnamese baguette.

Homemade Banh Mi – Vietnamese Baguette

Firstly what is Bánh mì anyway? Before I answer that question, let’s first see why Bánh mì is soooo gooood by watching Anthony Bourdain of Travel Channel’s trip to Vietnam, a food destination like none other in the world, where he samples our local Bánh mì, loaded with ham, cucumbers, dressing, and topped off with a fried egg.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUSWsR9h4qY

Bánh Mì or Bánh Mỳ (English pronunciation: /ˈbʌn ˌmiː/, Vietnamese pronunciation: [ɓǎɲ mî]) is a Vietnamese term for all kinds of bread. Bread was introduced into Vietnam by the French during its colonial period. The Bánh Mì that I want to discuss about today is specifically the Vietnamese baguette Bánh Mì but not any other type of bread. Bánh Mì baguette is the most commonly found bread in Vietnam. It is a single serving size baguette that resembles a torpedo, and usually more airy than its western cousins, so as a result, has a thinner, crispier crust.

Although the term ” Bánh Mì ” itself only refers to the Vietnamese baguette without any fillings, the term is widely used also to describe to a type of heavenly meat-filled sandwiches made from Bánh Mì. The sandwiches made from Bánh Mì include various wonderful kinds of meat fillings such as steamed, pan-roasted or oven-roasted seasoned pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, grilled pork, grilled pork patties, spreadable pork liver pâté, pork floss, grilled chicken, chicken floss, canned sardines in tomato sauce, soft pork meatballs in tomato sauce, head cheese, fried eggs (vegetarian version is tofu or seitan filling); accompanied by vegetables such as fresh cucumber slices, cilantro and pickled shredded carrots and daikon.  Spicy chili sauce, freshly sliced chilly, Vietnamese mayonnaise, and soy sauce is normally used in Bánh Mì sold by street vendors in Vietnam.

Bánh Mì is a very versatile dish that can be consumed almost any time, every day.  We Vietnamese eat Bánh Mì for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner in perfect one-person portion. Well, not necessarily all of the 3 meals in the same day. Ask for me? I can, and I did eat Bánh Mì for 3 meals in the same day. I am in love with Bánh Mì, a life-lasting relationship since I was born a Vietnamese.  You almost can never get tired of Bánh Mì; every time is like a new adventure of flavors.  One bite and you need more; one serving is finished in no time without even realizing it.

Wow! I just have the best fantasy about Bánh Mì just by describing it to you guys. (Drooling… literally, LOL)

Banh Mi baguette and Layers of Wonderful Fillings
(Source: http://www.quangtruong.net)

So, what makes the difference between Vietnamese Bánh Mì baguette and its western cousins? Today I will describe the process of how we Vietnamese make them in Vietnam originally, from own experiences since I have been a short-time apprentice last January in one of those Vietnamese bakeries where they make about 1000 Bánh Mì loaves per day and distribute them to retail street Bánh Mì vendors.  That sure sounds hell a lot of Bánh Mì, but in reality, this is just a small bakery, comparing with those big ones who produce more than 5000 loaves per day thanks to automatic production. The good thing when you have the access to one of those small bakeries is that you can actually see how they hand-make Bánh Mì in a traditional way, with little help of technology.

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In Vietnam, bakeries use very unique techniques of making Bánh Mì. Here is the list and the proportion of ingredients that are used by most Vietnamese Bánh Mì bakeries: (according to where I worked)

  • Flour: 5 kg
  • Salt: 55 g
  • Water: 3.5 kg
  • Fresh yeast: 50 g
  • Acid Ascorbic: 5 tablet of 100mg Vitamin C
  • Bread improver: 10 g

Process of how we make Bánh Mì in Vietnam:

Mixing – is the most important stage in the whole Bánh Mì making process. In the past, back in the 40’s, before any presentation of technology, Bánh Mì bakers mixed dough by hand in big wooden bucket, which involves a lot of effort and time. Nowadays, with the help of electric industrial mixer, this task has been simplified quite a lot.

The traditional way of making Bánh Mì was to use old dough method, saving a small amount of the prior dough batch and using them as levain for the next one. Each bakery held the secret for their starters (yeasts Candida milleri or Saccharomyces exiguous, live in symbiosis with bacteria Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis), which create the bakery fame for its unique taste.  Sadly, this method is extinct today, due to the faster pace of living and the race for higher profitability. These days, most Bánh Mì bakeries use commercial fresh yeast (yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae) because of it fast rising power and convenience.

When dough is being mixed, the protein molecules in the flour are stretched and hydrated, the gluten development starts. Those protein molecules will connect with others by –SH link, with hydro –H provided by the acid ascorbic (vitamin C). The level of connection between protein molecules will determine the texture of the dough and the loaf spring.  Well, this is as far as I know about the chemistry in bread baking, any correction would be really appreciated.

Usually, flour used in bread baking should have the natural protein percentage around 11% to 12% (does not include artificial protein added by the manufacturer). Flour with more than 12% protein is strong flour and will create too strong protein connection, hence too strong dough with little spring power. In other hand, flour with less than 11% protein is considered weak flour that created insufficient protein connection to capture the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast in baking process, hence collapsed loaves.

However, at the moment, almost all Bánh Mì bakeries in Vietnam are using flour with low and unstable protein percentage flour, round 10%. Therefore, the quality of the bread highly depends on the use of bread improver with substances to support and create the protein connection, help create a strong gluten structure to capture the air inside.

The mixing time relates to the mixing speed, or the Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) of the mixer.  Simple rule: The higher the RPM, the shorter the mixing time. However, the mixing speed should not be too high or too slow, otherwise, the chemical reaction will be unbalanced, lead to unstable baking result.

The bakery that I used to work for a short time usually uses a mixture of different flours rather than just one kind of flour.  Due to my observation, this is a mixture of all purpose flour, bread flour and pastry flour. (The detail of proportion is unclear since the owner explains that it really depends on the weather and humidity of each day) The owner is quite young, about 35 or some, but he has worked in his family bakery for more than 10 years before decided to open his own one in last November. The proportion of the flour mixture has been in his family for years of experience, so it is definitely not an easy lesson for a novice like me.  One thing for sure that they do not use rice flour as many foreigners think or do.  So, no rice flours in Vietnamese baguette, at the very least, my bakery does not, and they produce one of the most airy loaves with little white chewy crumb and thin, crispy crust I have every tasted.

The second thing I noticed is that he mixed first water, salt, vitamin C, and bread improver, let them sit for 5 minutes or so. Then, he added the flour (no yeast yet), and mixed the dough at first low speed (around 40 RPM) until everything is combined, about 3 minutes. After that, he increased to medium high speed (around 150 RPM) until obtained smooth dough texture, about 10 minutes.  Then he crumbled the yeast into the dough, mix at high speed for about 5 more minutes, until hearing the hollow sound of the dough slapping against the bowl’s wall.

Shaping – is the stage to create the different shapes of bread, and in this case, the unique torpedo-like shape of the Bánh Mì baguette. Vietnamese bakeries have omitted a very important stage of bread baking process: primary (or bulk) fermentation – leaving the dough to rest and ferment, about 2 hours, or until it has risen double in size. This stage helps bread dough to become more cohesive and manageable as the gluten structure develops further during this stage. Fermentation also helps creating the complex flavor of the final product.

Due to the lack of the bulk fermentation stage, the dough after being mixed is first let rest for only very short period of 10 to 15 minutes, then divided in to equal balls of around 75g per each, and then let bench rest for 10 another minutes. After that is the final shaping of the baguette. Vietnamese bakers have unique techniques of shaping Bánh Mì as you can see here in this video below from 12:15 to 14:10. They speak in Vietnamese so just keep the video mute and enjoy this special technique.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fV4YP_w0Sk

My bakery owner also works with the same technique. In usual baguette shaping, I usually come across with terms such as gently shaping, no punching, keep the gas, etc. I used to believe that is the way of making it, too, until I observe the owner perform his skill. There are 2 differences noticed in Bánh Mì baguette shaping stage:

1)   Vietnamese bakers use oil as prevent-from-sticking substance, rather than using excess flour to keep the dough from sticking to the bench. Before putting the dough on the bench, he lightly oils the surface with a brush. Any normal, non – odor oil should work, like sunflower or canola oil. As the dough absorb the oil bit by bit, more oil should be applied on the surface, but very lightly.

2)   There is no such thing as gentle handling in Bánh Mì shaping, the dough ball is slapped against the bench surface many time until it stretch out thinly and evenly, then being rolled in very tightly (remember, tightly) to achieve very tight and firm to the touch torpedoes.

Final fermentation – (or final proofing) is the time for yeast to work and produce carbon dioxide, create thousands of holes in the loaves, make them light and airy. The final fermentation of  Bánh Mì usually take 3 to 3 and a half hours depend on the amount of yeast used. The ideal environment for Bánh Mì final proofing is about 30 degree Celsius and 85% humidity. They are usually proofed in iron boxes in room temperature in Vietnam, since our weather is already hot and humid.

Slashing and Baking – after 3 hours of final proofing, the baguettes are slashed and baked. The slashing method of Bánh Mì is not much different than slashing a normal baguette. Vietnamese bakers use no fancy slashing lame rather than a sharp piece of razor double-edged lame, stick on a bamboo skew. Further information about slashing will be on my next post, the making of Bánh Mì.

Bánh Mì baking usually requires temperature from 200 to 275 degree Celsius, for 15 to 20 minutes, with steaming in the first 3 to 5 minutes. In my bakery, the owner bakes his Bánh Mì at 275 degree Celsius for 15 minutes, with automatic steaming system by the oven in the first 5 minutes. The steaming system works like this: in the first 15 second of baking, water is sprayed constantly onto the baguettes, and then steam is kept inside the oven for 5 minutes, and after that released through steam vent. By baking Bánh Mì at such high temperature, the loaves have the crispiest, cracking crust and airiest, moistest crumb.

After baking, Bánh Mì loaves will be let cool for 5 to 10 minutes then distributed to retail street vendors where fillings are added and sandwiches are sold to consumers.

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Well, that’s how we make Bánh Mì in Vietnam. Wow, look at that, more than 20000 words I have written today, so proud of myself, ahaha, lol. Too scientific, right? Too long, right? But if you really like the post, finished it from start to end, you can call yourself a true fan of Bánh Mì. Welcome to the club!

Stay tuned for tomorrow post – How I make my Bánh Mì baguette, recipes and instruction included.

Sneak peek: no special flour needed, no complicated equipment, suitable for home ovens, with detail and pictures of every step, from my own experiences of successfully conquering it (when I say successful, believe me, I am a Vietnamese, remember?), including my personal notes, techniques and tips for home bakers.

Another one: here is a picture of Bánh Mì I made.

Vietnamese Baguette – Banh Mi

Interested? Another one.

Banh Mi Homemade (Crumb shot)

Keep in touch. ;)

For now, Ngủ ngon!

Rose,

References

Cách làm bánh mì ở Việt Nam, 23-08-2008 – H&b Co., http://xcafe.com.vn/webapp/event_detail.php?event_id=31
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10 thoughts on “The Adventure to the Mysterious Bánh mì land – episode 1/2 – Traditional Vietnamese Baguette

  1. Rose, do you have a traditional recipe for the marinades that go into the pork belly, or pork patties? Also for the to die for liver pate!!
    You’re amazing! Thank you for these posts!

    • Hi Tiffanie,

      Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. Please do get back to me with the results.

      As for marinade, I don’t have a favorite one, I usually use a random (based on my taste at the time) combination of shallot, garlic, lemongrass, oyster sauce, pepper, chilli powder, 5-spice powder, fish/soy sauce, salt, sugar. Vietnamese cooking is actually quite flexible so you can experiment as much as you want with these key ingredients.

      For the legend-wait for it-dary liver pate, I usually do a 500g liver (pork or chicken, I prefer chicken), 400g grounded pork, 3 normal-sized white bread slices, 2 eggs, 250ml milk/cream plus more to soak bread and detoxicate liver, 1 large onion, pepper+salt+sugar to taste, and 50g melted butter/mayonnaise to top the surface. First soak the bread in enough milk to cover, soak the sliced liver in milk as well for 30 mins then discard the milk. Mince the onion. stir fry the onion then add liver slices, then grounded meat and seasoning until they are cooked. Add all to the food processor: liver mixture, milk, eggs, bread, more seasoning if needed, and process to your preferred consistency (I like it still a bit chunky, not completely smooth). Then pour into a greased pan, bake covered with foil in 175 degree C (or steam for softer result) about 30 mins until clear fluid come out when skewed. Get out of oven/pan, pour melted butter or spread mayonnaise on top. Stuff in the fridge for 4-8h, done and enjoy! :)

      Hope this helps. Sorry for the super wordy reply, it’s kind of my signature blogging style now. ;)

      Keep me updated!

      Rose,

    • Hi Tiffanie,

      Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. Please do get back to me with the results.

      As for marinade, I don’t have a favorite one, I usually use a random (based on my taste at the time) combination of shallot, garlic, lemongrass, oyster sauce, pepper, chilli powder, 5-spice powder, fish/soy sauce, salt, sugar. Vietnamese cooking is actually quite flexible so you can experiment as much as you want with these key ingredients.

      For the legend-wait for it-dary liver pate, I usually do a 500g liver (pork or chicken, I prefer chicken), 400g grounded pork, 3 normal-sized white bread slices, 2 eggs, 250ml milk/cream plus more to soak bread and detoxicate liver, 1 large onion, pepper+salt+sugar to taste, and 50g melted butter/mayonnaise to top the surface. First soak the bread in enough milk to cover, soak the sliced liver in milk as well for 30 mins then discard the milk. Mince the onion. stir fry the onion then add liver slices, then grounded meat and seasoning until they are cooked. Add all to the food processor: liver mixture, milk, eggs, bread, more seasoning if needed, and process to your preferred consistency (I like it still a bit chunky, not completely smooth). Then pour into a greased pan, bake covered with foil in 175 degree C (or steam for softer result) about 30 mins until clear fluid come out when skewed. Get out of oven/pan, pour melted butter or spread mayonnaise on top. Stuff in the fridge for 4-8h, done and enjoy! :)

      Hope this helps. Sorry for the super wordy reply, it’s kind of my signature blogging style now. ;)

      Keep me updated!

      Rose,

  2. You have no idea how grateful I am for this post! You are a banh mi angel, seriously…I’m not vietnamese but i’m still a south east asianer and my love for banh mi’s are of another dimension. I am in Singapore so the good thing is we’ve got the heat and humidity down pat, am going to try this TODAY!

  3. Dear chi Rose,
    Can you recommend me any typical flour that you used in Finland? It’s really hard to find a proper flour in Finland to make “banh mi”.

  4. Great job, Rose!
    Wish I could make one for myself. I miss that crunchy flavour in Banh mi which I haven’t found any here in Finland :(

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