Vietnamese Baguettes

attempts 2, 3, & 4

Note: This is step 3 of the multistep Momofuku bánh mi recipe

The last, and arguably, most important part of making bánh mi is the Vietnamese Baguettes.

Vietnamese baguettes are light airy loaves of bread that have a paper-thin crackley crust that will flake into a million pieces and cover you in crumbs the moment you pick one up. They’re almost not like bread at all. Eating a Vietnamese baguette is like biting into an impossibly soft, fluffy chunk of air surrounded by a crisp thin crust.

If you’ve never eaten a Vietnamese baguette, you’re missing out. Find yourself a Vietnamese sub shop and buy yourself a loaf right now. It’ll probably set you back about 50¢ and if you’re really lucky, it’ll be hot and fresh out of the oven. Even if it’s not, it’ll still be one of the most delectable loaves of bread you’ve ever eaten in your life.

flour, rice flour, salt, yeast, baking powder, sugar

Chang doesn’t have a recipe for making Vietnamese baguettes for his bánh mi and I probably know why:

1) he probably couldn’t find a solid recipe or;
2) it’s ridiculously hard to make Vietnamese baguettes.

I did some extensive googling to find a recipe and all I could come up with were the same two that float around: Andrea Nguyen’s recipe and myfoodaffair’s recipe.

dough

Although many people have reported trying Andrea Nguyen’s recipe for baguettes with successful results, I didn’t because it doesn’t contain rice flour. According to reports, Ms. Nguyen’s recipe makes a baguette with a crumb that is “soft and chewy, but not light and airy like the super cheap [baguettes] that quickly go stale.”

I wanted to make those light and airy super cheap baguettes. Those are the ones I salivate over at Vietnamese bánh mi shops. Its true they do go stale quickly, but the point is, you eat them before they ever get a chance to go stale.

dough before rise

With dreams of a crisp, light baguette in mind, I tackled the second most common recipe on the internet, from myfoodaffair. I followed the recipe to the letter, but my loaves came out heavy, dense, thick-skinned and ugly. They were so bad, Mike refused to take photos of them. Even so, as ugly as they were, they still had to be tasted:

Mike: YUM!
Me: Oh, shut up.
Mike: No really, they’re good. [CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH CHEW CHEW]
Me:  They’re not supposed to sound like that!

Needless to say, I abandoned that recipe and went in search for yet another.

dough doubled

According to Mike, Vietnamese baguette recipes are highly obscure and hard to find because most Vietnamese people don’t bake their own baguettes; why spend hours baking when you can buy a perfect baguette for 50¢? Still, I wanted, no, needed to bake my own Vietnamese baguettes so Mike humoured me by searching the internet in Vietnamese (who knew Google works in vietnamese?). Although Mike is fluent in Vietnamese, the recipe he eventually found had strange technical terms that neither he, nor Google translate, could make out.

We ended up asking his dad for some linguistic help. I’m pretty sure that my father-in-law now thinks I’m crazy for wanting to bake Vietnamese baguettes, and I have a feeling that during his next visit, he’ll have a dozen fresh store-bought baguettes with him. Still, he translated the recipe and I was as good as gold. Eagerly, I gave it a try. And then another. And then another, for a total of three times.

attempts

Interestingly enough, the “authentic” Vietnamese recipe doesn’t contain rice flour. There were, however, a lot of notations about the correct temperature to let the dough rise (22º-25ºc) and differences in rising time in the Winter and Summer (30min and 1hr respectively).

I was really excited to give the Vietnamese recipe a go, but the first loaves ended up too brown and the slashes I made didn’t expand. They also didn’t rise much and so were pretty dense. The bottoms were all burnt, and generally, I’d call try #1 a complete and utter failure.

For try #2, the second time around, I made the slashes deeper and let the dough rise longer. This time the slashes I made expanded a bit more. Instead of using parchment paper (as the recipe suggested) I used a higher temperature rated silpat and stacked a second baking sheet underneath to reduce the temperature on the bottom of the loaf. I also switched to making(ruining?) only one loaf at a time. No burning on the bottom! But the loaf was still way too dense for my taste.

For try #3, I switched to bread flour and changed the way I was shaping the loaves. On the previous two loaves I shaped the baguettes the traditional French way. This time, I got smarter (and hungrier) and bought a store bought loaf. Close inspection showed that I should be rolling the loaf instead of pinching it. Success! Sort of. The slashes expanded and the loaves doubled in volume, but they still didn’t have the crackley paper skin or the soft, moist, fluffy insides of a store-bought loaf.

how a vietnamese baguette should look

At the same time, the store-bought loaves showed me just how far off I was from the real thing. And also, just how good the real thing can be. Two recipes, four variations and many, many, dense loaves of bread later, I’m ready to admit defeat, for now. But it’s not over yet, Vietnamese Baguettes. I’ll figure you out! In the meantime, I’ll have to hope my father-in-law shows up with those baguettes or I’m not going to be eating any Momofuku bánh mi anytime soon!

33 Comments add yours

  1. This is the best thing the French left when leaving vietman. I love the as the bun for a Bahn Mi sandwich.

    Ed,
    I love Vietnamese baguettes too. One day I’ll figure them out…

    steph on February 20th, 2010 at 10:58 pm
  2. bravo, bravo bravo!! Kudo for your deligence and perseverence…the techniques is out there for sure..recipes may be harder to find. In Vietnam we would always stop by the lo banh mi where they mass produced it but didn’t bother to ask for the recipes…will definitely have to make it a mission next time. btw, just discovered your blog..fanstatic!

    @raenouscouple,
    Thanks! Getting Vietnamese baguettes right is tough and there are so many stores where you can buy them by the bag-full! Let me know if you ever give it a try, maybe you’ll have better luck than me!

    steph on February 22nd, 2010 at 1:11 am
  3. I applaud you for your persistence, well done!

    Nick,
    Thanks! Hopefully my persistence will pay off soon!

    steph on February 22nd, 2010 at 1:12 am
  4. Man, baguettes are difficult even for me. Did you steam the oven when you put them in? That’s something that never really occurred to me until this year. Plus there’s a misconception that you have to punch the dough down. With any French breads, you gently knead out the air, or just handle the bread lightly while you shape the baguettes. Try again, you’ll probably be surprised.

    Daniel,
    I did use a spray bottle to try to create some steam, but I don’t think it did much. I’ll have to try again without punching the dough down. I didn’t know that! Thanks for the tips!

    steph on March 2nd, 2010 at 1:17 pm
  5. I knew I had a recipe for banh mi baguettes somewhere in my collection of cookbooks and just finally remembered where – Home Baking by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid. Their recipe (titled Vietnamese minibaguettes) uses rice flour and pastry or cake flour. They also call for wheat malt syrup which they say contributes to the loft. I haven’t tried the recipe but it certainly looks promising. The first page of it is available on google books http://books.google.com/books?id=Ak_1RcpCN6EC&lpg=PA226&ots=UZezA-G7KO&dq=vietnamese%20minibaguettes%20duguid&pg=PA226#v=onepage&q=&f=false

    Jess,
    I should look into this wheat malt syrup. Let me know when you try it!

    steph on March 13th, 2010 at 10:15 am
  6. Hola,

    I’ve had good luck with crust using the ‘artisan bread in 5 minutes a day’ method. It uses a VERY wet dough with minimal kneading. This is different than the Jim Lahey no-knead bread.

    Gluten is developed by an overnight rise. I had my doubts, but it works quite well. With the extremely wet dough I get a really good crust out of the oven that you can here crackling-snapping-popping for the first 20 minutes after you remove it. If you browse around their website you can find the ‘basic method’ which works provided you shape it into a baguette.

    Worth a try: : http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/?p=1616#more-1616

    Thanks for the tip. Is it a very light bread? Vietnamese baguettes are usually insanely light and airy.

    steph on April 27th, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    (sigh, so should be working)

    I find it pretty light. It’s pretty painless to whip of a half batch from the recipe in that link to give it a try. Shaping the baguettes with the very wet dough is a little bit tricky (I’m sure they have another video on it somewhere on the website).

    Worst case scenario you’re down 3 cups of flour and a very minimal amount of time.

    just remember: all purpose flour

    mat on April 27th, 2010 at 3:20 pm
    mat on April 27th, 2010 at 12:34 pm
  7. Hi. I admire your persistence and enjoy your blog. I am Vietnamese so baguettes are in my blood. I know how to make the exact type of baguettes you’re looking for. Here is a recipe for reference in case you’re still looking

    http://bepnha.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/banh-mi-hinh-%E1%BA%A3nh-t%E1%BB%ABng-cong-do%E1%BA%A1n/

    Thanks for the recipe, hopefully when I try it my loaves will turn out as good as yours!

    Can you translate the recipe to english? The crust on the bread looks perfect, as does the inside. I’ve been searching for this for quite some time :)

    Curtis on November 14th, 2010 at 7:17 pm
    steph on September 1st, 2010 at 11:18 am

    I too would love if you could provide a translation!

    My brother wants to make his own banh mi, but can’t find an authentic recipe in English, so he sends me the link to the “bepnha.wordpress” post that’s referenced here and and asks me to translate it. He thinks that a lot of people would appreciate a translation, so here is my translation of that entire post, including the photo captions. I’ve also posted this translation in the comment section of the “bepnha.wordpress” post. Enjoy and good luck!

    Baguette (photos for each stage)

    Making baguettes is “difficult but easy” :) because really it’s only intimidating for the newbie, because once successful it’s like “eating candy” :)

    The satisfactory baguette must be soft and chewy inside.

    Ingredients:

    - 1 cup warm water (100F-110F)

    - 2 tsp sugar

    - 2.5 tsp active dry yeast

    - 2-3/4 cups to 3 cups bread flour

    - 1 tbsp melted butter + 2 tbsp vegetable oil

    - 1/2 tsp salt

    - Bit of diluted salt water for glazing the surface

    Directions:

    - Add warm water + sugar + yeast into a bowl (large enough to hold contents; see next step); stir to dissolve; let yeast rise about 10 minutes.

    - Add 2-3/4 cups flour + vegetable oil + salt into yeast bowl (as described in step above); stir evenly; knead dough; while kneading, if dough is still sticky soft, then add remaining flour little by little until enough (this is the purpose of the extra 1/4 cup flour; the flour is added bit by bit so that the stickiness of the dough can be gauged); continue to knead the dough until it is smooth, satiny, and elastic enough. Transfer the dough ball into a container already greased with a thin layer of vegetable oil; turn the dough in the container to ensure that the entire ball is covered with a layer of oil (so the dough won’t dry out while rising); cover completely and put in a warm place for 1 hour for the dough to double in size.

    - Use a fist to lightly punch the dough down, then knead the dough about 3-5 minutes; cover again to let the dough rest for 15 minutes (disregard this stage if there’s not much time, but the dough still needs to be punched down before removing it).

    - Remove the dough ball; squeeze and divide into 3 parts; roll the dough into small balls and let them rest 5-10 more minutes.

    - Remove the dough; thinly roll it flat then fold/roll gently into long rolls; eyeball the shape and adjust as desired => put dough onto tray and cover with dishtowel or plastic wrap; let rise for another 45 minutes.

    - Preheat oven to 460F; place on the bottom rack 1 empty tray (and prepare 3/4 cup of boiling water).

    - When oven is almost ready, use a knife to cut slits on top of the dough => brush a thin layer of salt water on top of the dough => put tray with dough on the middle rack of the oven, then quickly pour 1 cup of boiling water into the empty tray already sitting on the bottom rack; close oven door immediately so that the steam can’t escape (by this time, the oven temperature should be as preset).

    - Bake for about 18 minutes; when the surface turns golden then it’s ready. Remove the bread; immediately brush on top 1 layer of melted butter (don’t brush on too much or the bread will pucker & it won’t be crispy).

    Photo 1 caption: Dough after it is kneaded smooth and elastic.

    Photo 2 caption: After resting/rising for 1 hour; dough ball will rise to double its size (resting/rising time depends on the surrounding temperature).

    Photo 3 caption: After dividing the dough into 3 lengths

    Photo 4 caption: Dough grows larger after resting/rising (in this photo I let the dough rest/rise a bit longer than should be) :) Take care to let dough rise just enough – doubling its size is enough, because if it rises bigger, slitting the dough will cause it to deflate & the slits won’t be pretty).

    Photo 5 caption: Slit several lines on the dough’s surface.

    Photo 6 caption: Brush salt water on top of dough (take care to not let the water drip down between tray and dough).

    Photo 7 caption: Put dough in oven; inside oven has 1 tray of boiling water creating steam.

    Photo 8 caption: You see, because resting/rising went beyond allotted time, the slits turned out not pretty. But the taste is still #1 quality there hehe :)

    My-Phuong on February 18th, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    My-Phuong’s translation is very accurate. I was the person who posted the link but didn’t think about translating the recipe into English. Sorry about that. Good luck with the bread making. P.S. Remember to perform the windowpane test.

    anon on February 21st, 2011 at 3:42 pm
    Melissa on February 16th, 2011 at 7:00 am
  8. Hi :)) I am also trying to find a accurate recipe. I came across this one http://www.hoibanhhn.com/banh-m%E1%BB%B3-baguette but even with google translate it’s not translating it into english. Would anyone care to translate it?

    Cheers!

  9. In my search for making Vietnamese baguette, I appreciated everyone effort for trying to seek out the true recipe. Like many of you, I have tried several recipe with different degrees of success and failure. I ran into this video, which seems to be the real deal. It is in Vietnamese, so I will write out the recipe.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_Mft9aehXA

    1 kg flour (He used bread flour, but I think all-purpose will work…guess what, no rice flour)
    10g yeast
    6g salt (He did say about half the yeast amount)
    3 cups water (But you have to adjust the water to get the right consistency. He did mentioned that when he makes it with his commercial mixer, the dough comes together and that is when he knows it has the right consistency. Uyen was using a mixing attachment instead of a dough hook. It was obvious she didn’t know what she was doing. You never turn a stand mixer on high when mixing dough.)

    rest dough for 10-15 mins
    divide dough into 100g each and rest 5 mins

    form into loaf (see video, he showed you how to make two version. for the long and thin loaf, he forms the short version and let the dough rest for 5 mins before elongating)

    let formed dough rise for 45-60mins at ambient room temperature. longer for cold climate and shorter if you have a proof oven.

    300 degrees for 20-25mins or until golden brown. they mentioned that a convection oven is what is used at the bakery. in term of water mist, he said to use it if the formed dough looks dry or you can mist it during the baking. I guess it is not that important to the recipe. Because they didn’t mist the dough. Anyway, hope this helps. I will leave you guys with another video I found.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4S7UU6ZtV_w
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzqHc1vznvg

    I tried and the 300 degree temperature is WAY wrong. After 20 minutes, the dough was still white and the crust completely dried out. I cranked the oven up to 425 and that didn’t work either: they were ruined.

    Could you please update what the actual temperature should be. I am guessing (in a regular oven, it should be at least 400 degrees)

    Thanks.

    Jeff on March 6th, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    I watched the video again and the he said 300 degrees in a convection oven. Which usually translates to 325 in a conventional oven. The problem with most oven is that they are widely inaccurate. My advice is to determine how off you oven is by using a temperature probe. First you need to test the probe. Boil water and see how far off you are from 212F. Then see how far off your oven temperature is off from the probe reading.

    Anyway, I have tried this recipe with varying degree of success. I have come close a few times but other times have failed. Technique has a lot to do with my success and failures. I have not quite perfected it yet, but have come pretty close.

    In general, I have used 325 in my convection oven (350 conventional). It take about 25-30mins to cook for me. My second advice is to test bake a few batches. Start off at 350 in your oven, see if it browns in 20-25 mins. if so, you are at the right temperature. if not, increase 25 degrees and bake a different batch.

    trial and error with your equipments. what you have to get out of this is the general technique and recipe. i draw parallels to me making microfoam on my espresso machine. it took me weeks before I was able to make microfoam on my espresso machine. A lot of practice and wasted milk. I have wasted a lot of flour and yeast also. practice and experiment. good luck.

    just curious does his oven method use steaMing too/ water bath? thinking of attempting this recipe tonight. 300 degrees celcius or farenheit? thanks in advance

    Rebecca on December 20th, 2012 at 2:39 am
    vu on March 15th, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    Vu, I watched Uyen make the tomato sauce with the meatballs. I would like to try making the tomato sauce with the meatballs. Do you have a similar or better meatball recipe you have tried and are willing to share? Also, can you help translate this recipe to me? Here is the video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhZ88del3GY&feature=related

    Many thanks!

    Gracie,

    Here the rough translation of the video.

    2-2.5 lbs lean ground meat. even though she doesn’t mention pork or beef, I am pretty sure it is pork.

    1/2 of a large onion diced

    about the same amount of jicama diced as the onion

    half tablespoon black pepper

    so she used the soup spoon for measurement. 1-2 soup spoon of sugar. I believe about 1-2 tablespoon.
    (she said it depends on taste)

    she used a metal spoon for the salt. about 1-2 teaspoon salt (depends on taste)

    about 1 metal spoon of flour. I think about 1.5 teaspoons.

    2 soup spoons white cooking wine ( I assume you can use a chardonny or some other kind of white wine)

    hand mix like the video

    she split the meat in half to make two version. chinese and vietnamese. obviously you can make everything one version.

    chinese version:
    she added peas or edemame. but she said you can also add carrots or mushrooms or both. all preference.

    forms into ball, placed in bowl. she placed a sliced chinese sausage on top.

    she also comments that you can add more coursely ground pepper into the mixture if you like to little more spicy.

    she makes 6 meatballs out of the pound of meat mixture.

    she now starts on the Vietnamese version. smaller balls. she said some place add shrimps to the mixture.

    steam the meatballs.

    tomato sauce for the Vietnamese version

    1-2 spoons tomato paste

    2 fresh tomatoes diced

    1-2 teaspoon garlic

    chicken broil (she didn’t say how much)

    half bowl of water with two soup spoons of flour mixed well

    heat up sauce pan with oil
    satay garlic to until aromatic
    add fresh tomatoes
    add tomato paste
    add chicken broil and cook until tomatoes break down. leave it a little chunky for texture.

    thicken with water and flour mixture until the desire thickeness. don’t make it too thick.

    add salt and sugar to taste

    turn heat to low and let simmer.

    she takes out the meatballs from steamer and adds to the tomato sauce. she adds the meat juice to the sauce.

    as for the chinese version, she adds fresh pepper, cilentro and a pinch of black pepper.

    she prepares the bread for the Vietnamese meatball. adds meatball to bread, black pepper, fresh pepper and cilantro.

    anyway, hope that helps. I don’t really like Vietnamese meatballs, I don’t have a recipe. You can search for other recipe on the internet. I found one very similar.

    http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2009/01/vietnamese-meatball-xiu-mai-sandwich-.html

    good luck

    vu on July 11th, 2012 at 6:40 pm
    Gracie on June 27th, 2012 at 10:32 pm
  10. I have a pretty intense wheat allergy so when I got a chance to go to Vietnam again this past month, I asked my grandmother about the types of flours because of my new found allergy. My grandmother, who was living in Vietnam during the French occupation and the Vietnam War, said there is no wheat flour in Vietnam (to locals)-it’s too expensive for locals who already don’t have access to “specialty” flours like we do in the U.S. to make the bread themselves, and the bread they buy from vendors would be too expensive if made with Wheat flour. She said they use a mixture of rice flour and kassava flour aka tapioca, egg yolk makes the bread yellow. Whenever you talk to anyone in Vietnam about the recipe-they say they make it with “bop mi” which translates to us as “flour of bread,” except our bread is made with wheat flour and their bread is made of “khoai mi”, thus the confusion-Wheat flour is called “bột lọc trong.” Also, bread over there is cooked in wood ovens-so replicating the temps is hard to do since they don’t use recipes, it’s usually “a bowl of this and half a bowl of that.” Vietnamese baguette-a real one from Vietnam is mostly air inside, it is nothing like a French baguette here, which needs a lot of gluten to keep itself together; in fact I’ve never had a real Vietnamese baguette anywhere in the U.S. (before being allergic) because it’s much cheaper and easier for restaurants and vendors to use all purpose flour)-just like it’s much more efficient to use wheat wrapper instead of rice wrappers for egg rolls. Hope this helps anyone brave enough to tackle a rice & tapioca baguette in a super high temp oven!

  11. Thx for the recipes I have been searching for years, with no success. In the past I ate many many Viet rolls from a Viet suburb next to mine. They did not taste like wheat flour bread at all — so I think rice & tapioca could be the right track. Will try the tapoica rice recipe. maybe this new recipe is why they don’t last over 1 day, unless u r an addict like me and will eat them tillthey go mouldy.
    Temperature.
    Does recipe ACTUALLY state Fareinheit or Celsius — r u guys using Fareinheiht or celsius oven gauges? fan forced , convection or normal BURNER. what weight system do they use in Vietnam? The French celsuis?
    In France the patisserie/granerie au pain bakery I learnt at bakes baguettes at 250 Celsius deg (482 F.) for 20 mins check & maybe 4 mins more baguette usual size 400 gram (say 14.1 ozs) dough ball — rolled thin say 3 inch wide x long 15 inch loaves, but they don’t use the old fashioned fareinheit. Their ball dough r much larger then Viet which I suppose would be abt half say 200 g/ 7 ozs. You need to check it all out Then test test test but once u have it right Voila!!!!!
    Which ever u must still test your oven as suggested. Mine was way off from probe by 15 deg. So bought a new oven HAHAHA. Now recipes work fine. R’s Bread lover

  12. Here is a wonderful recipe and detailed instructions for banh mi

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dz9r3vNRxPA

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