“In Saigon, the loaves we encountered were blimp-like in shape, light as a feather, cottony on the inside with a crispy, eggshell-thin crust. Replicating these loaves at home is difficult but not impossible.
“There are many factors that come into play at the Saigon bakeries: mixtures of several different purpose-milled banh mi flours of varying protein percentages and additives; the humidity and temperature of the bakeries; the hydration level of the dough; and probably the most important factor, the skill of the baker. You have to see these guys in action; they are amazingly talented, especially in the rapid slap-and-roll shaping of the baguettes.
“The intensive mixing regimen is also important and cannot be achieved without machinery or superhuman strength and speed. It involves whipping the dough with a spiral mixer at an absurd RPM for a short period of time. This takes the place of the multiple rise and fold cycles that would normally develop the gluten, and can be approximated using the hook and paddle attachments of a stand mixer.
“The following recipe is as close as I have been able to come to reproducing the modern banh mi. There are likely to be discrepancies with the equipment you own, the flour available and hydration level given the environment in your kitchen, so don’t expect perfect or even acceptable results out of the gate; it took me a couple dozen tries to get this down. If nothing else, this will give some insights into how professional banh mi bakers achieve the results they do.” — Andy Ricker, chef-owner of Pok Pok restaurant in Portland, Ore.
Strong bread flour with a protein makeup of 12% to 13% and dough improver, a treatment agent that keeps dough from getting too tough to work with, are two essentials to making authentic banh mi rolls. You can use all-purpose flour as a substitute for bread flour, but the resulting loaves will be drier. Do not try to substitute the dough improver for its organic or natural cousins; its stabilizers and chemicals are what help give the baguettes their characteristic texture. If you have a convection oven setting, use it; the extra boost of hot air from the fan will help the loaves rise higher and attain a fluffier crumb than when baked in a conventional oven.