The Vietnamese baguette, or Bánh mì, is a national dish unique to Vietnam. It has its origins in the French baguettes introduced during colonial rule and evolved into a filled sandwich that can contain an abundance of roast meat, shredded vegetables, sauce, and a spread of margarine. Originally eaten for breakfast, it is now commonly consumed as a snack throughout the day.

Traditionally, Bánh mì is made by artisanal bakers in wood fired ovens. In order to provide the freshest, crispiest bread for breakfast, bakers usually start their day at midnight. By 5 a.m., the baked loaves are sold in bags to Bánh mì food carts, where they are stuffed with fillings, before being half wrapped in paper secured with a rubber band.

Differences from French baguettes

Unlike the French baguette, which calls for gentle kneading, the Vietnamese baguette requires high speed and high energy mixing. French baguettes are characterized by delicate shaping and long fermentation times, while Vietnamese baguette shaping is a noisy affair with much slapping and rolling.

This results in the internal structure of the French and Vietnamese baguettes being vastly different. The French advocate air pockets that are extremely variable in size and unevenly spaced, with an elastic crumb and chewy mouthfeel. The Vietnamese prefer fluffier, melt-in-your-mouth crumb with finer and more even air pockets.

Concerning the dough formulation, Vietnamese bakers normally add some kind of bread improver and the very important secret ingredient – vitamin C tablets.

Ingredients and procedure

Below are the ingredients in a typical Bánh mì recipe:

Medium protein flour is typically used, similar to French baguettes. This gives the crust a delicate crispiness rather than a tough leathery chewiness of higher protein flour. Vitamin C tablets normally are crushed and dissolved in water before being added in.

All the ingredients will then be mixed at high speed to form a soft, slightly tacky dough that often reaches 37 degrees C (99 degrees F). The dough is immediately divided and rounded loosely and only rested for a very short time before shaping. Shaping involves elongating the dough by slapping it onto the well-greased table, folding in half and finally rolling it to form a tight short rod.

Proofing takes about 3 hours at ambient temperature in wooden trays. When the volume has increased by around 7 to 8 times, longitudinal or diagonal incisions are made across the proofed dough. Before transferred into the oven, the dough pieces are sprayed with water or syrup water. The oven must be expertly controlled to ensure even heating for the optimal browning and bloom of the Bánh mì. The 5-hour process is concluded successfully when the crackling sound of the Bánh mì is heard upon removing them from the hot oven, when the cool air meets the hot bread and the crust cracks.

Qualities of a good Bánh mi

The Bánh mì is all about the crust. The crust must be thin and crackly, and shatter easily when gently pressed. This leads to a more pleasant eating experience when sandwiching a great spectrum of ingredients rather than biting into a thick chewy crust.

The “wing” caused by the opening of the cut is preferred not just for aesthetic purposes, but also because where it pulls away from the crumb, it stays crispy for longer.

Problems and Solutions

Problem: Poor stability, dough collapses when transferred to a baking tray.

Solution: Increase ascorbic acid (ELCO P-100 K), add lipase (Alphamalt LP Xtreme) and/or add glucose oxidase (Alphamalt Gloxy 21084)

Problem: Not enough oven spring or shred/“wing”

Solution: Increase mixing time, use lower protein flour, increase ascorbic acid (ELCO P-100 K), add glucose oxidase (Alphamalt Gloxy 21084)

Problem: Low volume

Solution: Increase amylase (Alphamalt A 7060) and hemicellulase (Alphamalt HC 14090)

Problem: Lack of crispiness and browning

Solution: Add glucoamylase (Alphamalt GA 5071)