HANOI, VIETNAM — Vietnam has a growing appetite for baked goods. According to Statista, the average consumption per capita is already 31.4 kg and the growth rate is expected to increase by 4.86% per year until 2026. To a large extent, this boom is due to the popular cuisine of rue bánh mì, an airy wheat bun. generously filled with meat, vegetables and sauces. Other baked foods like sandwich, toast or flatbread play only a negligible role in Vietnamese cuisine.
Bánh mì is a culinary heritage from the French colonial era. At first glance, the product looks like a small baguette. But whereas baguettes have a coarse-pored crumb and a thick, rustic crust, a perfect bánh mì should have a thin, delicately flaky surface, a fine-textured crumb, and a much larger volume.
Classic meal away from home
Bánh mì is a classic take-out meal. In each city, countless snack shops, mobile kitchens, fast food chains and restaurants are ready to serve their customers with substantial bánh mì. For many Vietnamese, it has become a cherished daily ritual to buy such a filled roll to take away and eat it in their hand – on the way to work in the morning, during lunch break or after work.
Traditionally, bánh mìs are generously topped with pork pâté, grilled pork belly and Vietnamese sausage. These are accompanied by cucumbers, pickled vegetables, herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, meatballs, cheese or omelette, depending on the customer’s preference. Flavor is complemented with tangy chili dips, spicy barbecue sauces or creamy mayonnaise. It is this unique blend of sweet and sour, spicy and sweet, hot and cold that magically transforms an ordinary filled bread into a Vietnamese specialty full of contrasts.
Artisan bakers dominate the market
Although the filling of a bánh mì can vary greatly depending on region and personal taste, when it comes to the roll, all Vietnamese have the same preference: they expect a very high volume, a delicately scaly and translucent crust and a silky crumb. .
Freshness is another important quality criterion, which is why street stalls fetch their fresh baked goods from an artisan bakery every day. Alongside small family businesses, medium-sized bakeries have also established themselves in Vietnam. But industrial bakeries only play a minor role.
As a general rule, medium-protein all-purpose flour is used. Imported wheat comes mainly from Australia and the United States.
Vitamin C tablets strengthen gluten
For many years, Vietnamese bakers have sworn by a special procedure in the production of leavened wheat pasta. A dissolved vitamin C tablet is added to the water used in the process.
Most Vietnamese bakers firmly adhere to this tradition, even though the flour is usually fortified with ascorbic acid and other highly functional flour improvers in the mills.
The typical preparation method and recipe are shown to the right.
To prepare, combine all ingredients at high speed to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. Immediately divide the dough and round it loosely. Leave to rest for a very short time before shaping. Shaping involves lengthening the dough by banging it against the table, folding it in half, and finally rolling it to form a tight log. Fermentation for about three hours in wooden trays at room temperature. When the volume has increased significantly, make vertical or diagonal slits through the risen dough. Spray breads with water or diluted syrup before baking.
In the past, wood-fired ovens were common, but nowadays electric ovens are generally used. The kiln should be expertly set to ensure even heating and optimal browning and blooming of the bánh mì. The process takes five hours and ends correctly when the bánh mì makes a crackling sound as it comes out of the oven, caused by cool air meeting the hot bread and cracking the crust.
High humidity causes problems
In the subtropical regions of northern and central Vietnam, in particular, it is a big challenge to maintain that crispiness of the oven for several hours. The typical thick crust of French baguettes would absorb too much moisture and give a hard, chewy feeling. For this reason, a thin, translucent surface is preferable for the Vietnamese version. A deep incision also ensures that the dough piece has more surface area, so the crust stays crispy longer.
Typical characteristics of a premium bánh mì are a soft, airy interior and a light brown, paper-thin rind that flakes slightly when pressed. Also, a fine, even texture is desirable so that sauces and dressings can be evenly distributed and don’t make the crumb soggy. In order to produce buns with these characteristics, flour quality, technical equipment and process parameters must be closely adjusted to each other in the baking process. Here is an overview of the most common errors that occur in practice and what can be done to avoid them:
Problem: Poor stability, the dough collapses when transferred to the baking sheet.
Solution: Reduce water content, reduce fermentation time and increase ascorbic acid (ELCO P-100 K), add lipase (Alphamalt LP 20056 F) and/or add glucose oxidase (Alphamalt Gloxy 21084).
Problem: Not enough oven spring or jagged/”wing”.
Solution: Increase mixing time; use low-protein flour; increase ascorbic acid (ELCO P-100 K); add glucose oxidase (Alphamalt Gloxy 21084).
Problem: Low volume.
Solution: Optimize kneading time and extend fermentation time. If dough is weak, increase glucose oxidase (Alphamalt Gloxy 21084 / Alphamalt SI Gloxy 31001) and lipase (Alphamalt LP 20056F). If the dough is hard and lacks extensibility, increase amylase (Alphamalt VC 5000) and hemicellulase (Alphamalt HC 14090).
Problem: Unsatisfactory crispness and browning.
Solution: Extend cooking time; increase the cooking temperature and add gluco-amylase (Alphamalt GA 5071 / Alphamalt GA 23750).