Homemade Banh Mi Rolls

August 25, 2014
4 Ratings
Photo by Paige Green
  • Makes 6 rolls
Author Notes

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, and there are great supermarket options too. However, 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.

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

What You'll Need
  • 500 milligrams vitamin C from a capsule or crushed tablet
  • 1 teaspoon (0.2 ounces) fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (0.2 ounces) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (0.25 ounces; 1 envelope) instant dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons lightly packed (0.6 ounces) vital wheat gluten, plus more as needed
  • 3 1/4 cups (16 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (0.6 ounces) shortening, in 3 or 4 chunks, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) very warm tap water (about 110° F)
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. Press the barely tacky, finished dough and it should immediately bounce back 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 doubled.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 dough mounds rest and rise for 10 minutes. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet (I use a half sheet pan) with parchment paper. Set aside.
  6. Uncover the mounds and save the plastic (you’ll need it again). To shape each roll, put the dough smooth side down. Press and pat into a big thick disk, about 4 1/4-inches wide and 5/8-inch thick.
  7. 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 mid-line. 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.
  8. 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 the 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.
  9. 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 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.
  10. 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 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, leaving space to later safely pour water into the pan. Place a baking stone (or 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 hot. Find a 1-quart measuring cup or similar vessel to later 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.
  11. 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. Slide the baking sheet onto the stone, carefully pour water into the pan 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 when thumped on the bottom crust.
  12. 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.)
  13. When done, turn the oven off. Let the rolls further crisp and brown in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes. 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 to a shattering crispness, per the master banh mi recipe.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • MBE
  • Jenn Batt
    Jenn Batt
  • SongSoo Kim
    SongSoo Kim
  • davis p
    davis p
  • Andrea Nguyen
    Andrea Nguyen
Andrea Nguyen is a James Beard award-winning author, cooking teacher, consultant and editor. Her latest book is "Vietnamese Food Any Day" (Ten Speed Press, 2019). She edited "Unforgettable", the biography cookbook about culinary legend Paula Wolfert.

20 Reviews

fisher February 16, 2022
Hi. Love your book and have made these lovely rolls with success. I will soon need to make a large batch of them for a gathering and would like to do as much as possible ahead of time. Can the dough be made ahead and refrigerated? Thank you!
MBE June 1, 2020
I love banh mi and requested the book from the library as soon as I saw this post. Because of Covid-19 I've been able to keep it for a long while and also have the time to experiment. These rolls are amazing. The pictures in the book are extremely helpful if you are a visiual learner like me! I don't buy many cookbooks these days but this is one I will add to my collection. The only thing I couldn't find in my cooking equipment was my spray bottle. The steam created by putting hot water in small cast iron skillets on the bottom rack seemed to work just find as I got that soft interior with a crispy crust. Can't wait for my CSA to start and have some great diakon ect. to pickle!
nvergalla May 21, 2020
I was super excited to try making these - but my first round didn't crisp up or rise nearly as much as the pictures. (Still tasted great though!) I don't have a mixer and had a lot of trouble with the second step, not knowing if I should add more vital wheat gluten or not. My dough ended up super sticky and tough to work with. Without a mixer, what's the equivalent to "wrap around a hook" I should be looking out for?
Rachael P. July 9, 2019
My favorite part of a banh mi is always the bread and holy moly, this recipe was just absolutely stellar. It has those telltale flaky fractures on the sides and happily, the bread is crisp without requiring the jaw of a horse to chew
Andrea N. July 10, 2019
Yes to those fractures. I'm so happy you made the recipe and took time to write feedback. "The jaw of a horse" ...I'm going to borrow that. Thank you.
Lynda W. June 16, 2018
Dear Mrs. Nguyen ,
I made your wonderful rolls yesterday. Modified slightly by using potato water for the liquid and saved pork fat in place of the shortening; using bread flour, I assumed that I could skip the wheat gluten. This is all by way of apology for not following the recipe exactly.
Here are my notes to myself, which I wanted to share: Superb rolls, unexceptionable recipe. A very easy and fool-proof method, precise and clear directions. Adding a vitamin C tablet is a genius and rarely-used trick. I used bread flour but no wheat gluten. It wasn't necessary. Absolutely beautiful rolls, very light interior and lovely crisp exterior.
Thank you so much for this! I will make these again and again.
By the way, I am so sorry to see that you were attacked by the fanatic food police. I make bread all the time using hot tap water and we all seem to be alive and healthy.
Andrea N. June 22, 2018
Dear Lynda -- You are masterful. Gadzooks! I love your experimenting with the recipe by using potato water, which is suppose to be a good dough conditioner. And heheheh... the pork fat is so practical and genius.

I've been using the convection function on my oven and it gives just a slightly bigger rise.

Thanks for the note about the hot water person, who seems like a pro at stuff like that. We just have to stay the course and keep on trucking through life, remembering what the things that matter most -- connecting with people. Thank you for sharing your insights.
Lynda W. June 22, 2018
How lovely of you to reply to this old post. I thought it unlikely that you would see this. Yes, the only answer in life is to keep on keeping on.
And, once again, my grateful appreciation for your carefully thought-out recipe and perfect directions.
All the best to you!
Ron K. February 7, 2021
Wonderful recipe. What temperature are you using on convection?
Lynda W. February 7, 2021
I am not an expert on convection ovens, but the usual information is that an oven set to convection will run about 25 degrees hotter than a conventional oven set to the same temperature. So if you are using convection, set the oven 25 degrees lower.
Joe April 30, 2017
This recipe ill-advisedly calls for 'very warm tap water (about 110 degrees F)'.

In the United States, hot water directly from the tap generally is not potable. From one city's department of health to another, one will learn that heat-friednly bacteria may grow in the boilers that heat the water, and these bacteria may make one ill, sometimes seriously ill.

Hence, municipal departments of health generally advise using cold tap water for drinking and eating which is then heated over the stove or in the oven to the desired temperature.

Please correct this recipe and the many others on this site that advise the use of substances that are known to make one ill and caution readers to avoid this danger.
Andrea N. May 1, 2017
Hello Joe,

I've not read information on bacteria being in hot tap water but there is Center for Disease Control (CDC) information about lead in hot tap water, as stated in this 2015 post:

As the CDC suggests, people should inquire about the safety of their water. Also dosage (quantity consumed and frequency) as well as age are important factors to consider.

Thanks for bringing this up. If you have specific information on bacteria in hot tap water, please share it.
Joe May 1, 2017
I assume these recipes are targeted to folks from a large variety of locales, and a large variety of water supplies and water containers. Your example of lead leaching into hot tap water is on point in too many places, like Flint, Michigan, but some places have more rigorous building and health codes that minimize the threat of lead. Yet, each home is unique: did its builder or a prior owner connect to the main water supply using pipe made of lead or solder containing lead; does the internal plumbing, whether original or replacement piping, contain lead; and does the hot water heater contain lead? As these are widely variable factors, why publish a recipe for an international audience that contains ingredients or directions that may prove dangerous to a locale?

Moreover, while one should not use hot tap water in recipes, because of the threat of lead and other minerals, hot water heaters in single-family homes and boilers in multiple family dwellings may serve as incubators, and often do, for bacteria that feed off minerals normally found in domestic water supply: think of sulfur, which feeds some bacteria that can cause illness. While not evidently life-threatening, although they can be, such bacteria more often can cause intestinal problems.

The types of water are endless, such as the difference between so-called ‘hard’ water (from subterranean sources) and ‘soft’ water (from reservoirs located above-ground), and the presence of sulfur and other bacterial food is highly variable. Oddly, the bacteria that feed off such minerals thrive in very hot water. I’m assuming that most folks in the US have hot water coming from the tap at somewhere between 120-140 degrees F; if the water is 120 degrees, we’ll find types of bacteria that do not survive at 140 degrees, a temperature that other bacteria find acceptable. Bacteria that like hot environments are not usually found in cold-water environments, and vice versa.

Whether or not the bacteria in hot tap water pose a threat to health and safety is a question that gets lost in the effort to find the cause of intestinal distress. How many times have folks attributed intestinal problems to beans or salmonella or cruciferous vegetables or the like, when the real source was the bacteria delivered by hot tap water?

Must one absolutely stop using hot tap water? No, but why does a recipe intended for an international audience direct the reader to use hot tap water when safer sources of hot water, like cold tap water heated on a stove, are so readily available?
Andrea N. May 1, 2017
Joe -- Each cook needs know her/his local ingredients, sources, and kitchen. That way, they may take a recipe and make it their own. I expect people to tweak my recipes and people often do. Again, dosage and frequency are important considerations here. There is 1 1/4 cups involved in the recipe, and I am not advocating a diet that regularly includes hot tap water.

You've pointed out something interesting. If there's an article or scientific study on the bacteria issue, please point to it. That would help folks a lot.

Just the other day, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently sent out an easy-to-understand piece on gut health. We all need to do a gut check, as it suggests, because heredity, stress, diet, and lifestyle all figure into the complex way in which our bodies work, and deal with nutrients as well as toxins.

There's a brief discussion toward the end about bacteria function. The takeaways are many, including the importance of eating a balanced diet, consuming less processed food, and creating a healthy lifestyle personal routine that works for you.

This recipe that has worked for many people and I am confident that if they're concerned and knowledgeable as you are about the hot tap water issue, then they have figured out a workaround. Cooking is a lot about empowerment. Knowing yourself and your surroundings and resources for making that good food is part of that empowering process.

Jenn B. February 22, 2017
why is there vitamin c in this recipe? Can it be omitted?
Andrea N. February 22, 2017
The Vitamin C gives the dough an extra lift. It's in the dough for a good reason so don't omit it. Here's a little info on its use:

SongSoo K. April 26, 2016
I made 200 rolls from this recipe. Seems to work good! Thanks!
Andrea N. April 26, 2016
YOWZA! That is incredible. Deeeeelighted that you put the recipe to good use! Did you have a special event?
davis P. November 30, 2014
I avoid eating hydrogenated oils, so I'm wondering if I could just substitute lard or butter for it here? Thanks!
Andrea N. November 30, 2014
Butter is too wet so the rise isn't as lofty. Try Earth Balance shortening sticks? You can freeze what you don't use:

I suppose you could render your own lard too.