World Bread Day: Vietnamese Mini Baguettes

My whole house smells of baking bread. It is wonderful. Perfect for the cool, wet fall day outside. With so much “to cook” on my “to do” list, I happily stepped up to bake a little something for World Bread Day, which I learned about via Kochtopf.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about bread a lot these days, having just finished up Susan Seligson’s Going with the Grain, a lovely book of one woman’s travels that are focused around the breads of different cultures. From camping with Bedouins to touring a Kosher bakery to visiting a family in India and making Chapati, where there’s bread, you’ll find Susan. The book offers up one recipe for each chapter, but it’s really more about meeting the people and the culture, and the impact of bread on the community. Definitely a good read.

Going with the Grain

As to my bread for bread day, I got intrigued by the vietnamese mini baguette recipe in the Alford/Duguid Home Baking book after having a few Bahn Mi sandwiches in the past few months. I really love everything about Bahn Mi, the fresh peppers, the seasoned grilled meats, the fresh cilantro… but mostly the light, crisply baguettes… the perfect bite of flakey and chewy. So, when I saw the recipe, I knew I needed to give it a try.

Now, like Hot Sour Salty Sweet also by Alford and Duguid, Home Baking is combination travel/history/culture book as well as a cookbook. It’s packed with gorgeous photos of people and bread, and has a large number of recipes. But, the recipes can be hard to follow, and I found that unfortunately, the mini baguette recipe was one of those that needs a bit more clarification at the critical step of how to roll the dough. As a result, I’m pretty sure I rolled my baguettes the wrong way, and they came out more like oddly shaped croissants than the pictured baguettes. I also didn’t get the loft in the bread that I was hoping for, but that wasn’t the book’s fault… more likely inconsistent temperature in my oven. Still, the bread was quite tasty, fairly light and had that really nice crisp crust that the bahn mi bread has (due to using a bit of rice flour in the mixture instead of straight wheat flour).

The recipe also calls for two ingredients that I didn’t have – pastry flour and wheat malt syrup. I used the suggested substitutions, but I’m betting that they would have been lighter and fluffier if I had used the pastry flour and malt syrup instead of all purpose and cane sugar.

Vietnamese Mini Baguettes
(from “Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World” (Jeffrey Alford, Naomi Duguid))
Makes 8 baguettes

1 cup rice flour
1 cup pastry flour or 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 t baking powder
2 cups warm water
1 T active dry yeast
1 T wheat malt syrup (or 1 1/2 t sugar)
1 1/2 t salt
About 4 cups of all purpose flour

Mix the rice flour and the first wheat flour (1 cup of pastry or 3/4 cup of all purpose) along with the baking powder in a dish and set aside.

Combine the water and yeast and let sit to proof. Then add the malt syrup (or sugar) and stir to combine. Sprinkle in the salt and the rice flour mixture, and mix with a wooden spoon. Then, transfer the dough to a stand mixer with a dough hook and mix on low for about 1 minute. Add the 3 1/2 cups of the all purpose flour, continuing to knead with the hook for about 3 minutes until its all combined and forms a smooth dough. Then, turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for another minute by hand.

Transfer the dough to a large bowl, cover and let sit in a warm spot for an hour and a half, or until doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and carefully punch down. Cut the dough in half, and then cut each half into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a bowl, and flatten a little. Then, cover the dough balls and let rest for 10 minutes.

Take one dough ball at a time, leaving the rest covered, and roll out with a rolling pin to an oval shape about eight inches long and six inches wide. Now, here’s where they lost me in the recipe. The books says, “Roll up into a cylinder, starting from one pointed end and stretching the dough crosswise as you roll, to make a mini baguette about 8 inches long.” I took that to mean starting from the bottom, narrower edge, roll up and pull outwards slightly as you roll to increase the width of the dough from six inches to eight inches. When you do this, you’ll end up with a seam that goes kind of around the loaf instead of going from end to end. I think, now that I’ve cooked mine wrong, that the right thing to do is to pull out a bit more to make sure that the final edge of the seam actually goes from end to end. Next time I make these, I’ll take a photo to demonstrate.

Anyway, place the roll, seam side down, on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Repeat with remaining dough balls, and space each roll about an inch and a half a part. Cover and let them sit for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Bake the bread for 20 minutes total, rotating the baking sheets after 10 minutes. The bread should be golden and sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a rack before serving. Best eaten the same day it’s cooked, but you can freeze the bread if you don’t use them the same day.

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