Bread Making in Thailand — Banh Mi (Baguette)

b2This is Songkran week, the annual Thai New Year’s festival. It’s based on water, hence the name ‘the water festival.’ Basically it’s a week of getting wet. Since I’ve done this before, and my wife is 7 months pregnant, we have been spending most of the time in the house. So we’ll pass on the water stuff.

Kind of boring, so I decided to make some bread. This bread or ‘Banh Mi’ which is a variation on the French Baguette, and much simpler, is the most popular bread in Vietnam (and parts of Cambodia). It’s pretty simple to make, and though it’s not really a Baguette, meaning that it doesn’t take nearly as much time or effort,but has the same ingredients…

It’s very simple, flour, water, and yeast.

b3I’m at a definite disadvantage here in Thailand–the oven, I just don’t have one. What I have is a big burly toaster oven that is made in China. I still think I make pretty good bread, and I am looking forward to that day when I can afford a nice bread oven, or at least something that comes close to an oven. The good part is that I can get my oven real hot–not quite 500 degrees, but close enough (450 F) which is a good temperature for making this kind of bread.

So I struggle, but I think this is pretty good, a nice brown loaf, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Not quite the bakers percentage of a true French Baguette–but then again this is Banh Mi.

It’s two cups AP flour, a teaspoon of salt, 1 cup and a little more of water, and 1 1/2 teaspoons on yeast. You can also add 1 tablespoon of sugar to jump start the yeast. It’s not necessary though, and all you really need to do is mix the yeast, half the flour, and all of the water together until you get a mixture that looks like pancake batter. Let this sit for 2-3 hours, then add the rest of the flour and the salt and knead for 8-10 minutes. Try to keep the dough on the wet side if you can.

b4After the second rise, about an hour, divide the dough into 2 or 3 pieces, flatten, and then role, and pinch the dough together. Hey, make it into a long shape, but this is the fun and easy part.

Let your Banh Mi rise for another hour while you preheat your oven as hot as you can get it. Make some slash marks in your dough, and then spray the inside of your oven with water and a little spritz on your bread. If you can, you can also add a pan of water to the bottom of your oven. This helps the crust get nice and brown…

I cooked my bread for a little over 20 minutes, and at the half way point I opened the oven, gave the inside a bit of a spray, and the bread as well.

I always enjoy making bread, and this recipe should be considered an initiation to the Baguette, say Baguette making 101, or maybe Baguette making for lazy people. The results are pretty good.



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