Posts in: carbs

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!

Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes

spicy pork sausage with udon

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I don’t love rice cakes unless they’ve been crisped up in a hot cast-iron skillet. There’s something about the (for lack of a better word) mouthfeel of boiled rice cakes that doesn’t appeal to me. For that reason alone I wasn’t looking forward to the spicy pork sausage and rice cakes. In theory the recipe sounded delicious and I was ready to change how I felt about rice cakes, just like I changed how I felt about kimchi.

mise-en-place for spicy pork sausage ragu

The recipe is a riff on spicy Sichuan food, with ma po tofu as the starting point. There isn’t actually much tofu in this dish, but it is spicy, even though I toned down the chili peppers to a quarter of what the recipe called for.

The spicy pork sausage isn’t really sausage in the traditional sense of sausage with a casing, instead it’s ground pork pan-fried and mixed with dried red chilies, garlic, ssämjang, sichuan peppercorns, and kochukaru. There are also some roasted onions and sugar to add sweet to the heat. Chopped gai-lan adds some crunch and just a touch of tofu is stirred in to make the sauce a bit more creamy.

spicy sauce

The spicy pork sausage ragu was delicious just out of the pan. It had a bit of a nostalgic flavour to it for me, because growing up, we didn’t eat beef so all of our meat sauces were made with ground pork. Ground pork is flavourful, juicy, and lighter tasting than beef.

rice cakes

I was super happy with the spicy pork sausage, but then I had to add the boiled rice cakes. I really truly gave it a go, but after eating two pieces I couldn’t stomach the thought of eating more. It’s a texture thing. I’m sure if I grew up eating boiled rice cakes I would love this dish.

rice cakes with spicy pork sausage ragu

There was one thing that made the dish slightly more palatable for me: crispy shallots. Chang tells you to buy packaged Chinese fried shallots, but I happen to have a container full in my fridge that my mother-in-law made for me. She knows I love them and one day she gave me a giant container. It was a great present! I love love love crispy shallots and really, they make anything taste better. They add crunch and a delicious mild onion taste.

crispy fried shallots

Alas the crispy shallots where not enough to make me eat my whole plate. I picked out the rice cakes, saved the ragu, and mixed it with udon, topping it with crispy shallots. Now there’s a chewy carbohydrate that I love! The spicy pork sausage tasted great with udon.

spicy pork sausage & rice cakes

Would I make this dish again? No, not in way it was intended in the book. As much as I hoped otherwise, the rice cakes were disappointing.The ragu I would make again: juicy ground pork, spicy Sichuan flavour, crunchy greens. I would skip out on the tofu though; it didn’t add much. I imagine this would taste fantastic on rice, which I’m going to try because I have a lot of spicy pork sausage left.

Steamed Buns

rows and rows of steamed buns

You don’t have to make your own steamed buns for Momofuku Pork Buns. As Chang says, “how many sandwich shops bake their own bread?”

bread flour, yeast, non-fat milk power, water, baking soda and water, pork fat

Momofuku still sources their steamed buns from elsewhere, so if you want to take Chang’s advice, you can easily buy plain steamed buns at most Asian grocery stores in the freezer section. The most common plain steamed bun is the mantou, which doesn’t have the sock-puppet mouth shape that Chang uses, but you can substitute it easily, just slice them open and fill.

dough hook kneading dough

The problem is, when you do find steamed buns that are the right sock-puppet shape they are mostly too big compared to the Momofuku steamed buns.  I highly recommend taking the time to make your own steamed buns. You can always freeze them. I froze a bunch of steamed buns and am looking forward to instant pork buns whenever my little heart desires! (Well, I guess I need to have roast pork belly on hand too, but who doesn’t have slabs of roast belly in their fridge waiting to be consumed?)

the kitchen aid doing all the work

Really though, this is a fantastically easy snack to put together when you have everything at hand, so even though the recipe yields 50 buns, trust me, you’ll eat them all. I know we did!

balls of dough

The steamed buns are a basic bread recipe but steamed, instead of baked. Yeast, water, bread flour, sugar, non-fat milk powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda and pork fat are all kneaded together into a sticky ball and left to rise. After the dough has doubled, it’s punched down, divided into 50 balls, and left to rise again.

flattened ovals with chopstick to fold over

The balls are then flattened into an oval and folded over to form the floppy sock puppet mouth shape. One more rise and then they are ready to steam! (That’s three rises, just in case you were counting.)

sock puppet mouth shaped bun

I steamed my buns in a wok because I don’t have a bamboo steamer. Apparently bamboo steamers are ideal because steam condensation doesn’t drip down on the buns, which causes wrinkly bun skin. That was exactly what happened to me: wrinkly bun skin. Nobody wants wrinkly bun skin! My inventive solution was to stretch a tea towel over the rim of the wok so that the drops of water from the lid would catch on the towel instead of falling on to the skin. The towel trick worked, the buns were less wrinkly as the steaming progressed.

un-steamed buns waiting for the wok

I was also worried about the colour of the buns. They weren’t pure white, more of a very pale yellow. The buns tasted good, they just didn’t look super white, which is what I wanted, because I’m a bit of a prefectionist like that. I looked up “why are my steamed buns yellow” on google and found a little trick where you put some white vinegar in the steaming water. I tried it and (surprise surprise) it didn’t work.

::fluff:: buns become fluffy after steaming

Even though they were wrinkly and not pure white, they were fluffy and tasty. At least I have that! As one friend said, “I could eat the [bun] just on it’s own.” (Actually he said “sponge,” but I know he meant bun.)

Roasted Rice Cakes

roasted rice cakes

Rice cakes are gelatinous, chewy, and a bit of an acquired taste, but mostly an acquired texture. Rice cakes don’t have a lot of flavour on their own since they are made from rice. Usually Korean rice cakes are found in soups or in dok boki, a Classic Korean dish that tosses boiled rice cakes with a red spicy sauce.

I’ve had dok boki in Korean restaurants before, and even though I like the chewy rice cake texture, eating more than one or two of them isn’t really my thing. After a while they start to feel too heavy, too gelatinous. I think it’s the monotony of the texture of the dish; there are no real contrasts.

raw rice cake sticks

Roasted rice cakes are different because of the roasting. Roasting them in oil in a cast iron skillet crisps up the rice cake giving it a toasty, crunchy outside and a soft, chewy inside. It’s an addictive combination and much better than boiled. Mike and I tried some of the roasted cakes right out of the pan and they were delicious just like that.

roasting in a cast-iron skillet

bowl of crispy rice cake sticks

The cakes were delicious plain, but they were even better when you tossed them in that signature red sauce. Chang’s sauce is made up of Korean Red Dragon sauce, roasted onions, mirin, and ramen broth.

Sweet and spicy, crisp and chewy, this dish is answers all my complaints about the monotony of dok boki. If my version is this good, I’m definitely ordering this when I visit Noodle Bar again!

bowl of crispy rice cake sticks cut up

roasted rice cakes tossed in sauce with sesame seeds

Note: Rice cakes are called mochi in Japanese and they do an awesome grilled mochi of their own: isobe maki mochi. Mochi is grilled until puffy and golden brown, wrapped up in seaweed and drizzled with shoyu. It’s quick and tasty, if you don’t have time to make all the Momofuku sauces.