While writing her forthcoming cookbook, The Banh Mi Handbook (July 2014), California-based author Andrea Nguyen went on a mission to create the perfect bread recipe for the Vietnamese sandwiches. She wanted it to be crispy but not too crusty on the outside, and light and airy within. “You don’t want that fancy bread that has a long ferment,” she says. “That will tear up the roof of your mouth.” What she learned along the way: It’s actually very hard to master lowbrow white bread. Here, she explains the process behind creating a perfect recipe.
1. Start with existing recipes. “There are a lot of recipes out there that call for rice flour, with people saying that’s why the Vietnamese loaves are so light. Well, those came out like lead.”
2. Go to the source. “I started asking Vietnamese bakers for advice and no one would share a thing. Even my parents tried helping me out, trying to convince the bakers that I was a just a writer. Everyone was suspicious. They thought I was going to reveal their secrets and their business would go down the drain. Finally, one baker told me that a lot of the bakers use dough conditioners—something to make the bread extra light. These conditioners were never listed on the labels and no one would admit to using them.”