Bread

How to Make Banh Mi Rolls (and Build a Banh Mi Sandwich)

November  4, 2014

It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: Andrea Nguyen, author of The Banh Mi Handbook, is showing us how to make banh mi rolls (and banh mi sandwiches) at home.

Shop the Story

Do you need to bake your own bread for legit banh mi? Absolutely not. Most Vietnamese cooks and many banh mi vendors buy their bread, but it is deeply satisfying and darn fun to make your own.

Years of pondering (and three months of daily baking), led me to this recipe for exceptional rolls. They have crisp exteriors and fluffy, chewy-tender interiors -- the hallmarks of excellent Viet-Franco breads. Plus, they don’t require special ingredients or equipment.

 

To make banh mi rolls, many Vietnamese bakers prepare fast-rising dough with wheat flour that contains a moderate protein level -- what you’d use for cookies or Asian dumplings. The loftiness usually comes from dough improvers such as ascorbic acid and enzymes. My substitute for professional-grade dough improver is a combination of vital wheat gluten (VWG) and vitamin C, which I mix with unbleached all-purpose flour and instant (fast acting/rapid rise) yeast. A bit of salt and vegetable shortening further help the bread to be light and airy.

In this recipe, be precise and weigh the ingredients. For the vitamin C, empty a capsule or crush a tablet into a powder using a knife or mortar and pestle. After you’ve made these torpedo-shaped rolls and feel comfortable with the dough, make other shapes like in the photo above.

Homemade Banh Mi Rolls

This recipe was slightly adapted from my book, The Banh Mi Handbook (Ten Speed Press, 2014).

Makes 6 rolls

500 milligrams vitamin C from a capsule or crushed tablet
1 teaspoon (0.2 ounces) fine sea salt (like La Baleine)
1 1/2 teaspoons (0.2 ounces) sugar
About 2 teaspoons (0.25 ounces; 1 envelope) instant dry yeast (SAF/Red Star and Flesichman's both work well)
2 tablespoons lightly packed (0.6 ounces) vital wheat gluten, plus more as needed (like Bob's Red Mill or Giusto's)
Scant 3 1/4 cups (3 cups plus 3 1/2 tablespoons; 16 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed (like Gold Medal or Whole Foods brand; if using King Arthur flour, reduce the amount of VWG to 4 teaspoons)
1 1/2 tablespoons (0.6 ounces) shortening, in 3 or 4 chunks, at room temperature (like Crisco, Earth Balance, or Spectrum)
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) very warm tap water (about 110° F)

Mix and rise: Put the vitamin C, salt, sugar, yeast, vital wheat gluten (VWG), and flour in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. With the paddle attachment in place, mix on the lowest speed for 1 minute, adding the shortening midway. Stop to add water. Restart on the lowest speed and continue mixing for about 1 minute to form a shaggy ball. Let sit for 5 minutes, uncovered, to hydrate. Lightly oil a bowl for rising the dough. Set aside.

Pull the dough off the paddle, attach the dough hook, and mix on medium-low (speed 2 on a KitchenAid) for 2 minutes, until smooth and medium-firm. The dough should wrap around the hook in the last 30 seconds. If the dough is soft and wraps around the hook early on, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of VWG to stiffen and build structure.

Transfer the dough to an unfloured work surface and briefly knead it into a ball. If the dough feels soft and moist (think perspiration on a humid day), lightly dust the work surface with flour and knead it in. The finished dough should be barely tacky; when you lightly press a finger into the dough, it should bounce back immediately yet a shallow indentation should remain. Put it into the oiled bowl, turn to coat, then tightly cover with plastic wrap. Set it in a warm spot to rise for 45 minutes, or until it doubles in volume. 

Cut, round, and shape: Uncover the bowl and set the plastic wrap aside to reuse later. Invert the dough onto your work surface. Cut the dough in half. Form each half into a brick shape, then cut crosswise into 3 pieces to yield 6 pieces total. 

To round each dough piece, use both hands to cup it, then pull, tuck, and gather the edges toward the center to form a small mound. Aim to create a taut outer surface. Put the mound, seam side down, on your work surface, then loosely cover with the saved plastic. Let the balls rest and rise for 10 minutes. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet (I use a half sheet pan) with parchment paper. Set aside.

Uncover the mounds and save the plastic (you’ll need it again). To shape each roll, put the dough smooth side-down on your work surface. Press and pat it into a big thick disk, about 4 1/4 inches wide and 5/8 inch thick.
 
Imagine a scroll that rolls inward from the top and bottom. Roll the top down and over twice, pressing each time to seal well. When done, the top should be rolled to the midline. Roll the bottom up and over twice, sealing well each time. Firmly pinch the top and bottom together to form a center seam and create surface tension. Pinch the ends to seal.

Gently roll and rock the dough back and forth to form a torpedo about 6 1/2 inches long and 1 3/4 inches wide at its center. Place the roll, seam side-down, on the lined baking sheet. Repeat, arranging the rolls in a 3 by 2 formation on the prepared baking sheet.

Proof and bake: Smear a little oil (or use nonstick spray) on 2 pieces of plastic wrap (use the saved one plus a new piece), then use them to loosely cover the rolls. Let them rise until more than doubled, close to a full rise, which will take about 1 hour at moderate room temperature. If it’s a hot day, preheat the oven after shaping the rolls.

Monitor the rolls via these benchmarks:

  • After 20 minutes of rising, or when most rolls are 2 inches wide, set up the oven for baking. Place a broiler pan or a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet on the oven floor, its rim positioned near the oven edge (you’ll be pouring hot water into this pan). Put a rack in one of the lower positions, about 5 inches from the water pan, to safely pour water into the pan later. Place a baking stone (or an inverted heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet) on the rack. Preheat to 475° F. 
  • At 45 minutes, or when the rolls have nearly doubled, remove the plastic wrap. Let the rolls dry and finish rising for 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring some water (about 1 cup) to a boil, then lower the heat to keep it hot. Find a 1-quart measuring cup or similar vessel -- you'll use it later to pour hot water into the pan in the oven. Partially fill a spray bottle with water. Set aside.
  • Around the 1 hour mark, or when the rolls are porpoise-like and 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 inches at the middle, it’s time to bake. Pour a good 1⁄2 cup of hot water into the pouring vessel. Set near the stove. 

To slash each roll, hold a sharp knife nearly horizontal to the roll surface and make one angled cut on the midline. Mist the rolls 5 or 6 times with the spray bottle of water. Slide the baking sheet onto the stone or invetred sheet, carefully pour the hot water into the pan that's on the oven floor, then close the door. Lower the heat to 425° F and bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until golden brown and hollow sounding (check by thumping the bottom crust).

When the rolls are light golden, usually after baking for 15 minutes, rotate the pan and/or shift the rolls to expose them equally to the oven temperature variation. (If the rolls achieve that color after baking for only 10 minutes, lower the temperature to 400° F.) 

When done, turn the oven off. Let the rolls further crisp and brown in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the rolls from the oven and let them cool on a rack for about 45 minutes before eating. The sides will slightly soften. If the rolls are a little flat, don’t fret because you’ll be filling them to a beautiful plumpness. Use the rolls as is, or reheat them to achieve a shattering crispness, like I do in my master banh mi recipe.

See the full recipe for the banh mi rolls here, then use them to make a master banh mi sandwich.

Adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s The Banh Mi Handbook (Ten Speed Press, 2014). Food photographs by Paige Green. Author photograph by Ariana Lindquist.

31 Comments

Nancy O. May 29, 2018
I bake bread all the time. I am planning on trying this today as I have been asked by a Vietnamese restaurant if I can supply them with this bread for their business. I am able to get high gluten flour here in FL and also in Michigan from Gordon Food Service. I buy my flour in 50 lb bags. It is Primo Gusto Bread and Pastry Flour. I will let you know how it comes out.
 
Jill R. February 13, 2018
I just had banh mi for the first time at Dong Phuong in New Orleans East. It was outstanding! Now I’m home and want to create these amazing sandwiches myself. I have the ingredients for the bread, but my vital wheat gluten (Hodgson Mill) already has vitamin C in it. Do I add more, or just go with it? (I ordered the Banh Mi Handbook earlier today!)
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. February 20, 2018
That's terrific! Dong Phuong just received a prestigious James Beard Award!<br />Boy, I have no idea how much Vit C is in the Hodgson Mill product. I would hedge by using 50% less Vit C than what's called for in the recipe and seeing what happens. Thank you for getting "The Banh Mi Handbook"! I hope you enjoy using it as much as I do! Banh appetit!
 
Korie V. January 2, 2018
I was given a bottle of vitamin C as a white elephant gift this Christmas. I was searching for what to do with it... and this came up! Giving it a whirl. I messed up the rising process a bit, but I think it recovered nicely. Can't wait to make sandwiches tonight!
 
Bev P. November 28, 2017
I made these today and despite the lengthy instructions, they were really easy and came out beautifully. I crushed up one of my vitamin C pills and got a small amount of gluten flour from the co-op. They held their shape beautifully and I'm really pleased! I'm going to bake a dbl batch tomorrow and freeze them.
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. November 29, 2017
Thanks, Bev! My instructions are long so thanks for sticking with them! It's a funny dough but once you get the hang of it, the process is fun and satisfying. It's smart that you crushed your Vitamin C pill!
 
Magda July 23, 2016
I have tried this recipe and it was a complete fail. I am not a novice baker, I bake different kinds of bread including baguettes at least once a week, and I followed this recipe to the dot. Yet the result was a completely inedible, looking and tasting awful
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. July 23, 2016
I am sorry to hear that. Other people have used the recipe to great success, including first time bread bakers. What do you feel were the problems with the recipe or your experience? Let me know and perhaps I may assist.
 
Seth H. November 5, 2014
Why did you use a mix of AP flour, VWG and ascorbic acid instead of a bread flour with ascorbic acid? Pillsbury is one national brand that makes such a flour that is available in many supermarkets and I use it in many bread recipes where I want the dough conditioning effects of ascorbic acid.
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. November 5, 2014
I found that bread flour is too strong. And without the VWG, the rise wasn't as nice. You can control/tweak the dough texture with ease via the VWG. It's an ingredient found in natural dough conditioners. The rise is amazing when VWG is combined with vitamin c/ascorbic acid. <br /><br />Most people have AP flour at home and I'm already asking them to obtain VWG and grind vitamin C. Is it worth it to push folks to find bread flour too? The less fussy a recipe is, the more likely you are to try it.
 
Krista November 5, 2014
I live in Canada, where I understand our all purpose flour is equivalent to your (American) bread flour. Do you have any suggestions for making the flour less strong? Would one cut it with cake and pastry flour, for example? (I have and love the book, by the way, but I haven't made the bread yet.)
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. November 5, 2014
I woke up this morning, Seth, thinking about your question. If you're set on using bread flour, I suggest that you try regular AP and follow the recipe to get a sense of the benchmarks that I've set forth. Then use the bread flour and add the VWG -- adjusting it as needed to arrive at the dough texture that works, will hold the nearly full rise before you bake. That's what VWG and ascorbic acid/vitamin C do. I've had other folks who got the book and have worked through the recipe multiple times to come up with their formula.<br />
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. November 5, 2014
@Krista -- I bet the AP flour in Canada is similar to King Arthur AP. Try the 4 teaspoons first and see what happens. Thanks for getting a copy of the book!
 
Seth H. November 5, 2014
AP flour in Canada is probably more like "northern" AP flours in the US which run 11%-12% protein content. King Arthur is this type and runs 11.7%. The "southern" AP flours tend to run in the 9%-10% range. Most national brands of AP flour such as Gold Medal and Pillsbury (and I would assume Whole Foods from the recipe) run 10%-11% and try to target 10.5%.
 
Seth H. November 5, 2014
I asked about bread flour because I always have it around and I don't keep VWG around because it tends to go bad before I have a chance to use most of it. Also, since my preferred bread flour (Pillsbury) already contains ascorbic acid I was figuring I could replace 3 ingredients with one. While bread flour does knead, rise and bake slightly differently than AP plus VWG, it is usually pretty close as long the protein percentages are kept close. <br />I quickly ran the numbers and assuming you are using Gold Medal AP flour and Red Mill VWG, you will get a protein content in your final flour and VWG mixture of about 12.8% while using the KA AP flour and Red Mill VWG it is about 13.2%. Pillsbury bread flour which is my preference (and already contains ascorbic acid) runs about 12.9%, so I was figuring it should work by itself.<br />Is it possible that the tests you ran on bread flour used ones that ran in the 11.5%-12% protein range which is about the percentage of King Arthur AP and therefore did not get good enough gluten formation without adding VWG?<br />I am excited to try out the banh mi roll recipe and I will probably try it out this weekend, possibly with some tweaking.
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. November 7, 2014
This is an unusual dough because I was aiming to replicate a commercially made bread that employs dough conditioner. The air holes needed to be relatively small and the crumb cottony. The crust needed to be crisp and crunchy. It's also a fast, reliable rise -- imagine baking bread in humid Vietnam! I thought about that a lot (to say the least!) and it's amazing how people pulled it off on a daily basis there and here for little cost to the consumer.<br /><br />The recipe also needed to be somewhat accessible too, but interesting enough for an advanced baker like you. Testers included beginner and advanced home cooks, as well as my stylist an and editor at Cook's Illustrated. After the book released, a gal who had never baked bread in her life successfully made these rolls. She was so proud and her husband was thrilled. (There's no shame in buying the bread too.)<br /><br />The bread flour I used was Gold Medal Better for Bread (General Mills owns GM and Pillsbury) and the results weren't great given the parameters and benchmarks that I set for the recipe. For my purposes, it was easier to stick with AP flour. If your library has a copy of the book, read the back story to this recipe on page 15. <br /><br />You sound like you know more about this sort of stuff than I do. Give the recipe a whirl and let's keep talking! Thanks so much for your culinary curiosity.
 
Susan W. November 4, 2014
Banh Mi sandwiches are one of my favorite foods on earth. The ability to make the incredible bread is mind blowing.
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. November 5, 2014
I made a batch last week and it still thrills me. Sorry to sound so geeky.
 
Susan W. November 5, 2014
I can't wait to try it.
 
Mary November 4, 2014
Thanks so much for posting this wonderful recipe. I have experimenting with some baguette recipes. I don't have VWG, would this affect the results?
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. November 5, 2014
Yup, it sure would. Look in the bulk section of a health food store so you don't have to spend a bundle.
 
Mary November 7, 2014
I bought the VWG, I don't have vitamin c. I have citric acid, but I googled and it is not the same, should I use Citric acid?<br />Thanks again,<br />Mary<br />
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. November 7, 2014
I tried citric acid and it was close but not quite the same. You could try it if you'd like, maybe with 1/2 teaspoon? Would a neighbor have a vitamin C tablet for you? I've thought that a pinch, I would try half of an Airborne or Emergen-C, but I've never tried that.
 
Mary November 7, 2014
That's what I thought borrowing vitamin c from my neighbors. I will go ahead an buy vitamin c. All I have is multivitamins :) I will post the results.<br /><br />Mary
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. November 7, 2014
Fabulous, Mary!
 
cynthia |. November 4, 2014
I'm so so excited for this!!!!!! The banh mi baguette has always seemed so elusive -- thank you for such dedication in figuring out a homemade version! I can't wait to try this.
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. November 4, 2014
You are very welcome! Have fun with them!!!
 
Ann L. November 4, 2014
Thank you for this recipe. I'm curious: what does dough improver (here substituted with vital wheat gluten and vitamin C) do for the bread?
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. November 4, 2014
Those ingredients lend loft and structure but little chew. The crumb is cottony and fine with them.
 
molly Y. November 4, 2014
this is everything i've ever needed!!!!
 
Author Comment
Andrea N. November 4, 2014
Go for it! Thanks for loving banh mi.