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David Ross

Cook-Off 60: Banh Mi

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Today we’ve reached a milestone, the 60th edition of one of the most popular discussions that graces our forums—the eGullet Cook-Off Series. (Click http://forums.egulle...m/#entry1581324 here for the complete eG Cook-Off Index).

In celebration of reaching Cook-Off #60, we’ll be discussing a sandwich that is a marriage of French and Vietnamese cultures. A sandwich that has crossed international borders and now finds itself on restaurant menus throughout the world. It’s served on fine china at white tablecloth dining rooms and it’s delivered on a paper plate out of a food truck parked in downtown Manhattan. Yes, friends, you’ve guessed the subject of Cook-Off #60-the Banh Mi sandwich, the current king of sandwichdom.

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I'll be watching, never heard of this nor have I ever eaten it. What would be the best recipe to start off with?


"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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Well we are both basically in the same circumstance. While I've heard of Banh Mi sandwiches, I've never eaten one nor have I ever made one. But due to the urging of our Members and the popularity of Banh Mi sandiches today, I think we'll be embarking on a fun adventure in the kitchen--and I'll be relying on everyone's input before I start crafting my sandwich.

From what I've researched over the course of the past week, the basics are French bread rolls, pork, (and often pate), and crisp vegetables dressed with some variety of vinegar--a marriage of French and Vietnamese cuisines.

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this will be fun :-) also just poked around the net a bit, french roll, though the best seem to have some rice flour in them and are crispy almost to the center if I read that correctly. Pickled carrots or similar are in the mix, meat (pork belly!) of any kind, marinated in 'Vietnamese' sauces/spices, mayo or a simple yolk/oil mix and cilantro seems to be a staple. I'm getting hungry just thinking about this, sandwiches are a fun thing to play with!


"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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I'm going to resist temptation with this Cook-Off and not go directly into the kitchen. I'm going to gather my thoughts and recipe ideas while I gain some insight and relish in everyone's Banh Mi success stories. Then next weekend I'll put my mouth to my own Banh Mi and taste the results.

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Having eaten a stupid quantity of these for breakfast ($3 for a roll of awesome?) some preferences I have:

* Roast pork belly as opposed to the cured meats, even tho' I think that roast meat as opposed to cured meat is maybe a riff on the classic and perhaps not honest-to-God banh mi (which I grew up knowing simply as a 'pork roll').

* Easy on the coriander. Or, rather, take care with it. I love coriander. I do. It's just that my go-to banh mi guys basically tear the bunches into long strips, meaning when you're eating the roll you always need to pull out nasty threads of stem from your teeth.

* Butter or nothing. No marg or random vegetable fat spread. Proper greasy pork belly kind of butters its own bread, anyway. Pig butter. And I'm pretty sure that some places in Springvale will just go all out and use lard, anyway.

* The best soy sauce for the job is that thick, sweet Indonesian stuff.

I'm off to buy some pork belly. Will report back.

EDIT

I have no idea of the ethno-cultural mix of Spokane or your cities/areas, but truly, plant your arse in the car and go find an area with a few Vietnamese/SE Asian retailers. Look for a bakery. In Melbourne, at least, damn near every suburb I've shopped in has at least one Vietnamese bakery. And pretty much all of them will sell you banh mi. It might not be great banh mi, but it will give you an idea of what you're shooting for. I also suspect that it's probably easier to make the pork belly version for you than the cured meats version, as the whole idea is to have a selection of meats (brawn and that sort of thing). Fresh slabs of pork are probably easier to get your hands on. And I assume pate isn't too hard to get (or, in a pinch, make).


Edited by ChrisTaylor (log)

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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Having eaten a stupid quantity of these for breakfast ($3 for a roll of awesome?) some preferences I have:

* Roast pork belly as opposed to the cured meats, even tho' I think that roast meat as opposed to cured meat is maybe a riff on the classic and perhaps not honest-to-God banh mi (which I grew up knowing simply as a 'pork roll').

* Easy on the coriander. Or, rather, take care with it. I love coriander. I do. It's just that my go-to banh mi guys basically tear the bunches into long strips, meaning when you're eating the roll you always need to pull out nasty threads of stem from your teeth.

* Butter or nothing. No marg or random vegetable fat spread. Proper greasy pork belly kind of butters its own bread, anyway. Pig butter. And I'm pretty sure that some places in Springvale will just go all out and use lard, anyway.

* The best soy sauce for the job is that thick, sweet Indonesian stuff.

I'm off to buy some pork belly. Will report back.

EDIT

I have no idea of the ethno-cultural mix of Spokane or your cities/areas, but truly, plant your arse in the car and go find an area with a few Vietnamese/SE Asian retailers. Look for a bakery. In Melbourne, at least, damn near every suburb I've shopped in has at least one Vietnamese bakery. And pretty much all of them will sell you banh mi. It might not be great banh mi, but it will give you an idea of what you're shooting for. I also suspect that it's probably easier to make the pork belly version for you than the cured meats version, as the whole idea is to have a selection of meats (brawn and that sort of thing). Fresh slabs of pork are probably easier to get your hands on. And I assume pate isn't too hard to get (or, in a pinch, make).

Wow, Banh Mi for breakfast. Makes sense of course, meat and bread. The local Asian store I shop at just started getting bread rolls for sandwiches and I'm sure they are intended for Banh Mi sandwiches. They also sell fresh pork belly, but it's cut in pretty small slabs, under about 1 1/2 pounds. We don't have a large Asian community and the Vietnamese restaurants only serve Pho soup and not much else. I can find decent pork pate in a regular grocery store.

You mentioned thick Indonesian soy. I assume you mean Kecap Manis? I have a bottle on hand that I occasionally use. Do you use it as a condiment on the sandwich or do you cook the pork belly with some of the thick, sweet soy?

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this will be fun :-) also just poked around the net a bit, french roll, though the best seem to have some rice flour in them and are crispy almost to the center if I read that correctly. Pickled carrots or similar are in the mix, meat (pork belly!) of any kind, marinated in 'Vietnamese' sauces/spices, mayo or a simple yolk/oil mix and cilantro seems to be a staple. I'm getting hungry just thinking about this, sandwiches are a fun thing to play with!

It would be interesting to see a Vietnamese recipe for the "French" roll--especially the inclusion of rice flour. The French likely brought their beloved bread with them across the seas when they landed in Vietnam during the Colonial period. I'm not an expert on French baguettes, but I doubt they employ rice flour in the dough. Anyone know if the Vietnamese started baking French-style baguettes using rice flour as a substitute for wheat flour? I imagine it was probably somewhat expensive to export European wheat flour to Vietnam in the mid 19th century.

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No doubt my experience with banh mi is peculiar: these sandwiches have become a staple in our house, but weirdly, and despite the fact that some great places (by reputation) abound here in Oakland, I've never even once eaten one out.

If you have never made or eaten one, I suggest a good place to start is with Andrea Nguyen's Viet World Kitchen website. Recipes are given for the carrot-daikon pickle and for roasted pork as well as a master recipe for putting the sandwich together. The essentials as far as I know them are: pate, roast meat, sliced cucumbers, a source of heat, such as fresh sliced jalapenos or sriracha, fresh cilantro, a mild fresh pickle such as carrot-daikon and a good baguette-type bread. I do use mayo and I take Andrea's advice and spike it with a drizzle of Maggi sauce.

I have made banh mi with various kinds of meats; my own char siu pork roast (Andrea's recipe) or if I am lazy, roast pork purchased in Chinatown. I've done it with grilled leftover chicken and with grilled or broiled prawns. I'm a big fan of using some type of pate as well as roasted meat. I have used the Viet rolls that can be bought in Chinatown but honestly I am partial to an Acme baguette, which I can get easily at the places I usually shop. I don't make my own mayo or my own pate. I've used a variety of pates that can be purchased and find that a relatively smooth chicken liver pate works really well and is a good foil for roast pork. Once I used a fabulous coarse duck pate but I'm not sure it's the best use of expensive charcuterie. Nor have I ever used pork belly, but I'm sure that would be heavenly.

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Funny - younger son has been lobbying for banh mi recently, so I will probably join in. We typically use Andrea Nguyen's rather flexible instructions from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. Our favorite version includes char siu pork, liver pate, cucumber strips, cilantro, jalapeno slices, Maggi, mayo, and daikon and carrot pickle.

I'm not much of a baker, so store-bought baguettes are fine by me.

I look forward to seeing what everyone does with banh mi.

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What's the purpose of the Maggi seasoning? Does it just add a soy type of salty flavor? Would a drizzle of sweet or dark, thick soy sauce provide the same flavor profile as Maggi?

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No, you're never going to get the same flavour from soy as you will from Maggi. Maggi's secret is the addition of an herb called Lovage (Levisticum officinale), which (at least in my experience) works kind of like MSG as well as boosting the umami factor quite a bit. Reason, of course, why I grow Lovage (which is actually called Hierba Maggi over much of the Spanish-speaking world) in the garden - it's absolutely indispensable in the kitchen.

Minor edit for spelling issues.


Edited by Panaderia Canadiense (log)

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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Plus as I recall Maggi is not sweet

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My ignorance is showing. I've seen bottles of Maggi in markets for years. I always assumed it was like the browning agent Kitchen Bouquet and I sensed it was full of salt and preservatives. Now I know better. Do you dilute the Maggi or just drizzle it on the pork when you are making the Banh Mi sandwich?

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Oh, but Maggi is full of salt and preservatives. It's just also got a very unique flavour that you won't get unless you've got access to lovage. Personally, I'd drizzle a little neat on the pork while making the sandwich (if I'm working with precooked meats) or (if I'm cooking my own pork) I'll use it in the marinade for the meat. Maggi isn't nearly as thick as most soy sauces.


Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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Growing up in the South Bay area of CA, I'll also report that maggi's a pretty essential part of the bahn mi here.

Here's my experience with it:

french roll: reheated in a toaster oven, so that the crust gets overly crunchy and is likely to cut the roof of your mouth (not my favorite part of the experience, but essential nonetheless)

meat: any number of things but typically a choice between...combo (pate, cold cuts), roast pork, bbq pork(char siu), meatball

pickled julienne of carrots and daikon

jalapenos sliced thin lengthwise

coriander leaves

mayo

maggi

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My ignorance is showing. I've seen bottles of Maggi in markets for years. I always assumed it was like the browning agent Kitchen Bouquet and I sensed it was full of salt and preservatives. Now I know better. Do you dilute the Maggi or just drizzle it on the pork when you are making the Banh Mi sandwich?

If making one or two sandwiches I just sprinkle a bit on top of the mayo. If I'm being efficient and making a number of sandwiches I might just put some mayo in a bowl, drizzle in the Maggi and swirl it in, then apply. I don't use a lot of either, just a thin layer on both top and bottom halves of baguette. If you just taste a drop of undiluted Maggi you can guess just how much you think you will like on your sandwich; you wouldn't really want the end result to taste like Maggi. It packs a wallop and yep, is mighty salty. Since I have not found any other use for Maggi besides banh mi, I'm still on my first little bottle. With all the crap (and I don't really want to know what) that's in it I assume it's preserved for life.


Edited by Katie Meadow (log)

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Thanks everyone, you're helping me put together my shopping list, but I've still got a way to go. I see that most traditional Banh Mi call for roast pork belly with crisp crackling. I love Asian-style roast pork, but it can be bland with the main flavor component coming from that fatty, crisp skin. So, has anyone ventured over to China and used red-cooked pork belly in a Banh Mi? I like the deep flavors and caramel notes in red-cooked meats so I'm thinking it would work in a Banh Mi, maybe without the need of adding pate. I've also seen some Vietnamese recipes for a caramelized pork belly, (not red-cooked). Any thoughts on this discussion of how to treat the pork meat? Can we use the loin, ham or shoulder meat?

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Our favorite version includes char siu pork, liver pate, cucumber strips, cilantro, jalapeno slices, Maggi, mayo, and daikon and carrot pickle.

So, has anyone ventured over to China and used red-cooked pork belly in a Banh Mi? I like the deep flavors and caramel notes in red-cooked meats so I'm thinking it would work in a Banh Mi, maybe without the need of adding pate. I've also seen some Vietnamese recipes for a caramelized pork belly, (not red-cooked). Any thoughts on this discussion of how to treat the pork meat? Can we use the loin, ham or shoulder meat?

Well, if you want char sui in your bahn mi, you're in good company with Bruce. Though personally, I think the sweetness would be all wrong in bahn mi and would compete badly with the bright flavors of the pickled/fresh vegetables and herbs. Plus, there's already plenty of richness from the pate and mayo. Char sui is definitely not a substitute for the pate, which does not add sweetness, just the opposite--the light smear of liver pate gives the sandwich a funky, earthy note. A good bahn mi has a lot going on flavor-wise but is still balanced.

My favorite bahn mi shop offers a bbq pork option that I'm pretty sure is a slow-roasted shoulder, but definitely not caramelized. I'll stop by tomorrow for lunch and find out.



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Our favorite version includes char siu pork, liver pate, cucumber strips, cilantro, jalapeno slices, Maggi, mayo, and daikon and carrot pickle.

So, has anyone ventured over to China and used red-cooked pork belly in a Banh Mi? I like the deep flavors and caramel notes in red-cooked meats so I'm thinking it would work in a Banh Mi, maybe without the need of adding pate. I've also seen some Vietnamese recipes for a caramelized pork belly, (not red-cooked). Any thoughts on this discussion of how to treat the pork meat? Can we use the loin, ham or shoulder meat?

Well, if you want char sui in your bahn mi, you're in good company with Bruce. Though personally, I think the sweetness would be all wrong in bahn mi and would compete badly with the bright flavors of the pickled/fresh vegetables and herbs. Plus, there's already plenty of richness from the pate and mayo. Char sui is definitely not a substitute for the pate, which does not add sweetness, just the opposite--the light smear of liver pate gives the sandwich a funky, earthy note. A good bahn mi has a lot going on flavor-wise but is still balanced.

My favorite bahn mi shop offers a bbq pork option that I'm pretty sure is a slow-roasted shoulder, but definitely not caramelized. I'll stop by tomorrow for lunch and find out.

What is your favorite bahn mi shop? My husband and I have ventured no further than the stall at Super 88 in Allston. Dangerously delicious. The spicy sauce they use...is it this Maggi? I've no idea how I could duplicate the wondrous bread...shatteringly crispy on the surface yet meltingly soft inside. No roll up here will come close. And half the sandwich is all about the bread!

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My go-to banh mi place offered both regular crisp pork belly (my favourite--and keep in mind you've got condiments, salad, etc to go in there, so it's not a slice of pork in bread with nothing else) and red-cooked pork. Chicken, too.


Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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I get banh mi all the time in chinatown Boston. I didnt realize they made them in Allston, but its difficult to park there when the food court is open. Sunday AM different story.

the place i go to is a 'hole in the wall' with the usual collection of chinese seniors hanging out. its on Beech street just off Washington on the L side turning off Washington. Its the kind of place you think twice about going in.

But ..... the banh there are the best Ive had. it get the 'regular' one with the pate/etc. Its interesting that the 'innards' seem standard and come from somewhere else.

extra green chili for me of course!

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What is your favorite bahn mi shop? My husband and I have ventured no further than the stall at Super 88 in Allston. Dangerously delicious. The spicy sauce they use...is it this Maggi? I've no idea how I could duplicate the wondrous bread...shatteringly crispy on the surface yet meltingly soft inside. No roll up here will come close. And half the sandwich is all about the bread!

So true about the bread. "Shatter" is exactly the right word to describe what happens when you eat it. Though my office is an easy walk to several good bahn mi shops, what keeps me from having a bahn mi lunch more often is having my desk--and me--covered with the crumbs that inevitably result from every bite. Standard baguette bread doesn't come close.



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Char siu (Xa xiu in vietnamese) is a standard filling for bahn mi at my favorite BM joint, which happens to be a bakery suppling rolls to most of the Viet restaurants around the area (as well as to white-tablecloth places). Here is the BM menu from Dong Phuong, where you can buy 10 sandwiches and get one free: http://www.dpbanhmi....ry/Banh_Mi.html

I usually go for the #1 Dac Biet (house special), which is overflowing with housemade rolled ham, pate, and other porky goodness.

I have tried, many times, with NO success, to make a BM roll as light & airy as what I can purchase at many Viet bakeries in SE Louisiana. I think that the feathery light rolls have some dough conditioners and require a steam-injected oven to get the "right" texture. I can attest that rice flour does nothing for the texture.

When making 'em at home, I usually fill with ga nuong (grilled boneless chix thighs), and I use Andrea Nguyen's recipe (lime juice, fish sauce, a little sugar, black pepper, and oil). Or, I buy red-cooked boneless pork from the asian supermarket & use it (pictured below).

p9111593.jpg


Edited by HungryC (log)
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      In a bowl combine the flour, salt and two tablespoons of clarified butter. Slowly begin to add the water, kneading the flour as you go. Make a dough, kneading for at least 10 minutes. The final dough should be soft and pliable. It should not be sticky or else it will not roll out well.


      Cover the dough with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let it sit for 30 minutes.

      Roll the dough into a log. Cut into 8 equal portions. Lightly dust the rolling surface with flour.
      Lightly oil or flour your hands. Take one portion and roll into a ball between the palms of your hands. Flatten the ball. Place it on the prepared floured surface. Use a rolling pin to roll it out into a circle about 5 - 6 inches in diameter.
      Now fold the dough over itself.

      Take the folded dough and roll it around itself into a spiral.

      Tuck the end under.

      Do this for all eight dough balls. (This folding and rolling will make the paratha very flaky.)

      Now flatten the spiral and roll again on a lightly floured surface until about 5 - 6 inches in diameter.


      Heat a griddle on medium heat. Brush it lightly with butter and add the paratha. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until the bottom of the paratha begins to blister. Brush the top lightly with butter and remove from heat. Put the paratha aside on a warm plate.

      Grease the same griddle a bit and break an egg on it. Cook the egg sunny side up. Place the cooked side of the paratha on the egg. Press down gently to break the yolk. Let it cook for a minute. Brush the top of the paratha with butter, flip carefully and cook for another minute or two until the paratha is no longer raw.


      Remove the paratha from the griddle and place on a serving platter. Cover with a paper towel. Continue until all the parathas are cooked.
      Serve hot.

      Indian Bread Stuffed With Spicy Potatoes (Aloo Ka Paratha)
      This filled paratha is a very popular North Indian bread, served traditionally with homemade white butter and Indian pickles of your choice.
      • 2 cups Indian atta flour (whole-wheat flour)
      • 4 tablespoons semolina
      • 1½ teaspoons table salt
      • 2 tablespoons melted clarified butter or butter
      • Water as needed
      • 3 medium potatoes, peeled
      • 2 Serrano green chilies, seeded and finely minced
      • 1 tablespoon cilantro, minced
      • 1 1-inch piece fresh ginger root, grated
      • 1 teaspoon Chaat Masala
      • 4 tablespoons melted clarified butter or butter
      • A few tablespoons flour for dusting
      In a bowl combine the wheat flour, semolina flour, salt and two tablespoons of clarified butter. Slowly begin to add the water, kneading the flour as you go. Make a dough, kneading for at least 10 minutes. The final dough should be soft and pliable. It should not be sticky, or else it will not roll out well.
      Cover the dough with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let it sit for 30 minutes.
      While the dough is resting, prepare the filling.
      Boil the potatoes in enough water to cover for about 15 minutes. Drain.



      Put the potatoes in a bowl and mash them well with a fork. Add the green chilies, cilantro, ginger root, and chaat masala and mix well. Set this filling aside to cool.
      Roll the dough into a log. Cut into 8 equal portions. Lightly dust the rolling surface with flour.
      Lightly oil or flour your hands. Take one portion and roll into a ball between the palms of your hands. Flatten the ball. Place it on the prepared floured surface. Use a rolling pin to roll it out into a circle about 5 - 6 inches in diameter.
      Lightly brush the surface with the clarified butter. Add a tablespoon of the potato filling to the center. Bring the sides together and pinch them to seal and form a ball. Flatten lightly. Dust very lightly with flour.



      Roll the flattened ball again on a lightly floured surface until about 5 - 6 inches in diameter.


      Heat a griddle on medium heat. Brush it lightly with butter and add the paratha. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until the bottom of the paratha begins to blister. Brush the top lightly with butter and flip over. Cook for 2 minutes.

      Remove the paratha from the griddle and place on a serving platter. Cover with a paper towel. Continue until all the parathas are cooked.

      Sheermal
      A sweet bread, it is one of the few Indian breads that uses yeast. Keep the dough in a warm place to ensure that it rises. You can increase the amount of sugar if you like a sweeter taste.

      • 1 packet dry yeast
      • 1 teaspoon sugar
      • ¼ cup water
      • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
      • ¼ teaspoon salt
      • 2 tablespoons sugar
      • 2 eggs (separate 1 egg and set the yolk aside) beat the whole egg and the white together
      • 2 tablespoons melted clarified butter or butter
      • Extra flour for dusting
      • Pitted cherries/raisins for garnish
      Mix yeast with the sugar and 1/4 cup water. Set aside until frothy, about 5 - 10 minutes.
      Combine the flour, salt and sugar. Add the clarified butter, egg and yeast mixture. Knead until a smooth dough is formed. (You may need more warm water.) Set aside to rise until the dough doubles in size.
      Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a large, heavy baking tray and set aside. Lightly dust the rolling surface and rolling pin with flour.
      Knead the dough again on the floured surface for about 5 minutes. Divide it into 6 equal pieces and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap.
      Roll each piece into a ball and flatten it with your hands. Using a rolling pin, roll it out into a disc. Continue until you have made 6 discs.
      Beat the reserved egg yolk and brush a little on each sheermal. Place a few cherries on the sheermal for garnish. Place the discs on the baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes.

      Turn on the broiler and broil for an additional 3 minutes, or until golden brown.

      Tandoori Roti
      We wanted to show how the tandoor is used to prepare breads. These pictures are of a special roti or bread, called Tandoori Roti, being prepared in the hot tandoor or clay oven.
      The basic recipe entails preparing a dough of whole-wheat flour. (See the paratha dough prepared earlier.) The flattened rolled out discs are then cooked in the tandoor until the dark spots begin appearing on the surface of the bread.




      Post your questions here -->> Q&A
    • By eGCI Team
      Post your questions here -->> Q&A
      Sourdough Bread
      by Jack Lang (jackal10)
      Acknowledgements
      Dan Lepard, for inspiration and and contribution.
      Charles Lang, whose hands are in the photographs.
      Brendel Lang for the painting.
      The Members of the eGCI team for considerable labour and expertise.
      Samuel Lloyd Kinsey (slkinsey) my fellow instructor.
      Jill Grey, my partner, for putting up with the mess.
      Introduction

      The object of this lesson is to teach you to bake better bread— bread that will be the envy of your non-baking friends—bread so good that people will wonder where it came from!
      The recipe is archived here.
      Why sourdough? Because it tastes better. This is the real stuff; not some machine-made pap. You will make bread you just can’t stop eating, and that will spoil you for mass-produced bought bread. Once you have mastered basic white bread, you (or we) can go on to whatever variations you like or request. This is daily bread, fragrant with tastes of the yeast and the grain, and with a crisp crackling crust. Perfect on its own, or with good butter, or jam, or cheese and maybe a ripe tomato. It keeps (in a paper bag, not in the fridge) for close to a week, although you may need to toast it toward the end of the week. Toasted it makes magnificent bruschetta. You can bake weekly, or less often as the bread freezes well.
      This recipe and technique may seem straightforward, but it contains the results of years of experimentation and optimisation. We’ll make plain, white bread. Once you have mastered that, you can go on to fancier loaves. However (unless you really need the bran) you will come back to this basic bread just because it is so good and so pure.
      Bread comes in many shapes.

      English bread shapes

      European bread shapes
      This lesson will teach the basic French boule or flattened ball shape. We will also look at baguettes. But you can make any shape you fancy. The same dough works well in a tin, too.
      You can find more technical details regarding the history of sourdough bread and the composition of the starter by clicking this link. Reading this background history and science is not essential, but very helpful. It will give some insight into why as well as the how.
      Where to get your starter
      You basically have three options –
      1. Buy a starter off the web or from a local artisanal bakery. One place is here.
      2. Order the eGullet starter.
      You can obtain the special egullet starter by sending a PM to jackal10 with your snail-mail address. The starter will be sent out free, although the cost of the starter and postage is about $10. Please donate at least that much to your favourite charity, and we would appreciate it if you could include the name of the charity and the amount in your PM.
      Your egullet starter was collected originally in the vineyards of California, but has travelled extensively since. It produces a light, mild bread. When it arrives, it will look like raw dough in a plastic bag

      How your starter will look when you unpack it.
      You can leave it in the fridge until you are ready, or better, turn it into your own starter. To do this, add one cup of flour and 1 cup of water and mix to a smooth batter. You can do this by hand or in a food processor. Put the batter into a basin, cover and leave in a warm (80-85F/27-29C) place for 4-8 hours, or until you see bubbles on the surface. Ideally refresh it a couple of times, and you are ready. You can store the starter in a jar in the fridge.
      3. Make your own.
      You can make your own starter and harvest the local wild yeasts with some patience. The key is the remarkable stability of the yeast-lacto bacillus pairing. If you keep almost any fermentable mixture of flour and water at about the right temperature, and when it begins to bubble, feed (refresh) it regularly, you will get the right bugs.
      Some people add grapes with bloom on them (yeasts live on the surface), rye (high in enzymes), or other things, but that is mostly superstition.
      How to roll your own starter
      a) Mix 1 cup flour and 1 cup water to a smooth batter.
      b) Cover and leave in a warm (85F/29C) place until it starts to bubble (12 hours or so but it can take several days). Don’t worry about off smells or colours at this stage. Skim any obvious muck.
      c) Refresh it by adding another ½ cup of flour and ½ cup of water and stir. If the volume gets too much for your container, throw some away. Cover the rest and put it back into a warm place.
      d) Repeat the last step for 4 times at 8-12 hour intervals. The starter should be active, and smell wholesome.
      Starters can be kept in a closed jar in the refrigerator for months. They may separate into two layers, but just stir them together before use. They will, of course, keep best if used and refreshed regularly. If the starter seems sluggish, refresh it a couple of times (step c above) before use.
      Starter doesn’t freeze well, but can be dried for a reserve supply. If you need to ship it, make some into a lasagna sheet, or stiff dough.
      For best results always use the same flour, so the bugs can get used to it. Some people keep separate starters for white, rye and for wholemeal (whole wheat). I use white unbleached flour, which has added Vitamin C as an improver. As mentioned above, if your flour does not already have Vitamin C in it, you can add 1/2tsp Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) but it is not critical.
      Recovering a sick starter
      If your starter smells off (cheesy or of peardrops), or has gone sluggish you can recover it by following the procedure for a new starter above, but inoculate the initial flour and water mix with a tablespoon or two of the old starter.
      Practical Section
      A typical bread-making timetable is
      Day 1:
      09:00: Refresh starter
      - Starter ferments -
      13:00: Make dough
      13:15: Dough kneaded (by hand)
      -Amylisation-
      13:45: Add Salt
      14:00 Finished dough
      - Bulk fermentation-
      16:00: Shape
      -Retard overnight –
      Day 2
      Pre-heat oven, and bake for 40 minutes.
      Ingredients for 1 loaf or four baguettes.
      To refresh the starter:
      1 c sourdough starter
      1 c Strong white bread flour
      1 c water
      For the dough:
      1 c refreshed sourdough starter
      3 c Strong white bread flour.
      1 c water (you may need more -- see below)
      2 tsp salt
      The dough in the illustration is ordinary unbleached supermarket (Tesco) strong white bread flour, 11.7g protein, with ½ cup of spelt flour added for flavour. This supermarket adds Vitamin C and amalyse to their bread flour. Different flours may adsorb different amounts of water. This flour needs a bit more water. The object is to make a very soft dough -- one that has only just stopped being a batter and just holds together.
      Sourdough Bread Instructions
      A. Refresh the Starter
      1. Mix together 1 cup starter, 1 cup strong flour and 1 cup of water. It should be the consistency of very thick cream.

      Starter just mixed.
      3. Cover, and allow to stand in a warm (85F/29C) place for 4 hours.

      Starter after 4 hours.
      After 4 hours or so, it should be bubbly. Temperature is fairly critical, as discussed above. Any hotter than 85F/29C and you start to kill the yeast; any colder and it will not be as sour and will take longer to rise.
      What we are making here is a sponge starter or poolish. Starters (pre-ferments) can be roughly divided by hydration into wet, batter-like pre-ferments, often called poolish from their origin and dry, dough-like pre-ferments, often called biga, as the technique is typical of Italian bread. Some bakers call a poolish a sponge; others use sponge to refer to all pre-ferments.
      B. Make the Dough
      Assemble Ingredients as listed above.

      The storage jar with the rest of the starter is at the back right, ready to go back into the fridge for next time.
      The easiest way is to whizz together refreshed starter, flour and water (but not the salt yet) in a food processor for 20 sec.
      Alternatively mix them in a large bowl:

      Ready to mix

      Dough after mixing.
      Should make a softish dough. The wetter the dough the bigger the holes in the final bread. Different flours need different amounts of water – add more water or flour to get the right consistency. You may need to add up to another ½ cup of flour so that it just stops being a batter and holds together as a dough. On the other hand if it is too stiff then add more water. Plenty of loose flour will stop it sticking too much.
      If you are making the dough by hand then knead for 10 minutes by the clock.

      Be rough with it. Lose your temper with it. Take out your frustrations on it. Slam it about. When it is properly kneaded it should feel resilient to the touch. It has been described as feeling like an earlobe, but I describe it like feeling a soft breast or buttock. You should be able to take a pinch of dough and stretch it so thin you can see through it – called the “windowpane test”.

      When kneaded the dough will stretch without breaking
      You cannot over-knead by hand. It is possible (but quite difficult) to over-knead if you are using a mixer or a food processor, as the dough can get too hot, and if worked too long and hard the gluten will begin to break down.

      Finished Dough
      Gather it together, and wipe a little oil over the surface to stop it sticking, cover it and leave it in a warm place for 30 mins.

      Resting
      This pause, before the salt is added, is for several reasons:
      - It lets the enzymes do their stuff. They begin breaking down starches into sugars to feed the yeast to make a better crust colour. Salt tends to retard this reaction.
      - It lets the dough (and you) rest and relax after the exertions of kneading.
      - It allows the flour to complete its hydration, High levels of salt can interfere with this.
      - It allows time for you to prepare your “banneton” to receive the finished dough. See Preparing Your Banneton below.
      After 30 mins add the salt and whiz for another 20 sec, or knead for another 10 mins. Oil, cover, and leave for 2 hours or so in a warm (85F/29C) place. The exact time is not critical – anything from about 90 minutes to 3 hours will work. Temperature is more critical than time.

      Rested Dough
      The dough will have expanded a bit. Don’t worry about whether it has doubled or not. A lot of nonsense is written in some cookbooks, resulting in much overproved dough. The dough will also have got a bit softer and wetter.
      Turn out onto a floured board.

      Dusting the board with flour
      Now handle gently - don't knock all the air out. The time for rough handling is over. Take the sides and fold to the centre.

      Folding the dough
      Folding the dough like this (you can also fold top to bottom as well) gently stretches the gluten and the bubbles forming in the bread. Dan Lepard's technique for his wonderful bread is to repeat this folding operation every hour for up to 5 hours during an extended bulk fermentation phase, resting the dough between times. When the dough is ready for shaping bubbles are clearly visible if you cut a small slit
      in the top of the dough with a sharp knife.
      Turn the dough over and shape into a ball. As you shape it try and stretch the surface a bit so it is taut.

      Shaping the dough
      Put it upside down (on its stretched, taut surface) into a cloth lined basket (called a banneton). The top of the dough in the banneton will be the bottom of the finished loaf.
      Preparing Your Banneton
      Traditionally, bannetons are made of cane or wicker, lined with linen, but you can improvise from a basin or a basket and a tea-towel or a piece of muslin. Ideally they are porous, so the outside dries slightly to help in crust development.

      Dough in the banneton
      Don’t worry if the top surface of the dough in the banneton is uneven: it will even itself out. Put into the fridge, covered with a cloth, overnight.

      In the fridge
      The dough is soft and needs the support of the basket. You could bake it after letting it rise for a hour or so, but its easier to handle, and gives a better crust if you keep it in the fridge (retardation) for between 8 and 24 hours. The cold will practically stop the fermentation, and so timing is not critical, and it gives you back control in that you can bake the dough when you want, rather than when the fermentation dictates.
      I’m lucky enough to have a brick bread oven that has a brick floor that holds the heat. The shell of this one I imported from France, from a company called Four Grandmere. If you are inspired to build your own, Dan Wing’s and Tom Jaine’s books are given in the references

      My oven

      Inside the oven
      You can approximate a similar environment in a domestic oven by putting a pizza stone or a layer of quarry tiles or engineering bricks on the lowest shelf to provide bottom heat.
      You are aiming for 440F/230C or even 500F/260C, as hot as most domestic ovens can manage. Heat the oven at least an hour before you want to bake to allow time to stabilise, and for the heat to soak into the tiles or equivalent. (If you have a wood fired oven you will need to light the fire about four hours before baking.)

      My oven heating up
      If you have an oven thermometer, check the temperature of the oven. You are strongly advised to do this as oven thermostats are surprisingly inaccurate.

      Thermometer
      When ready to bake, take the dough out of the fridge. Some advise letting the dough return to room temperature --a couple of hours or so, but I find I it better and easier to cook these very soft doughs straight from the fridge. The cold dough is stiffer, handles easier and spreads less.

      The dough from the fridge
      Again, don’t worry that it does not seem to have expanded much. Most of the expansion will be in the oven (called oven-spring). This will result in a lighter and better-shaped loaf than if the expansion is from proofing when some of the gas may leak out.

      When ready to bake, turn the dough out onto a baking sheet and remove the cloth. (For the wood fired oven we use a peel, lightly dusted with dry polenta meal so the dough does not stick.)

      Slash the top firmly with a very sharp knife. Professional bakers use a razor blade on a stick, called a “lame”. Slash quickly and decisively – it is a slash not a cut. Don’t mess the dough about. Spray the knife blade with cooking spray to prevent it from tearing the dough.

      The slashes allow the dough to rise in a defined way, and lessen the resistance to expansion by making weak points in the crust. In ancient times the pattern of slashes identified whose bread it was in the communal oven.
      Here a slightly careless slash has caught the dough on one side, so the finished loaf will be a bit uneven and rustic.

      Into the oven:

      Just loaded:

      20 minutes later, and halfway through the bake. Most of the expansion has happened. Our loaf is the one on the left.

      The pattern on the rye bread on the front right is created by using a banneton made from coiled cane. No cloth is used in that sort of banneton. Bannetons can be obtained from any good baking supplier. The ones shown come from Four Grandmere and the San Francisco Baking Institute.

      Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until it is a good colour. You might need to rotate it after 30 mins.
      Let the bread cool to warm before you slice it. Hard to resist the temptation to slice into the loaf too soon, but it needs time to finish cooking and for the structure to firm up as it cools.

      I like an open texture, as it gives more room for the butter. The crust is a little thick as the bread was slightly over baked.

      That completes the basic bread lesson.

      Variations on the basic recipe/technique
      I’d advise practicing plain white bread before trying variations. When you get that right you can get fancier. You might not get it completely to your satisfaction the first time, but as you go on your baking will improve. There are infinite variations possible.
      Crust Variations:
      My brother prefers a flour dusted crust. These were the other loaves in the bake:

      To get this effect, lightly dust the banneton and the top of the dough with flour before putting in the dough.

      The legs in the top of the picture are my sister-in-law, painting the scene. I’m the one sitting down; my brother is loading the oven.

      The dough is slashed in a feather pattern. To achieve this, make alternate slashes from each side of the loaf to just over halfway across. This pattern was tought to us by Ian Duffy, then of the San Fransisco Baking Institute.

      This is a loaf with 25% rye flour.
      For a shiny, thinner crust, put an empty pan in the bottom of the oven and pour a cup of boiling water into it after you have put the bread in the oven (be careful of the hot steam), and shut the door quickly. The idea is to provide a burst of steam, which gelatinises the outside of the dough. Professional ovens have steam injection for this purpose. Alternatively (but not as good) you can paint the bread with water before it goes in the oven, or use a garden sprayer. (Be careful not to get cold water on the oven light or it might shatter.) The baguettes below are made like this.
      Other crust variations you can try:
      Brush with milk or cream
      Brush with egg glaze (egg yolk+milk)
      Toppings (stick on with egg-wash or water):
      Porridge oats (oatmeal)
      Muesli
      Poppy seeds
      Sesame seeds
      Grated cheese


      Flavours and additions
      Add with the salt, but you might want to chop them and then hand-knead them in – the food processor chops them a bit too fine
      Onions (soften in butter first),
      Hazelnuts, walnuts
      Olives,
      Sun-dried tomatoes (oil-packed?)
      Caraway seeds
      Dill weed
      Raisins
      Smarties or M&Ms
      Seeds: Pumpkin, sunflower, sesame
      Flour variants: I’d recommend replacing only 1/3-1/2 of the plain strong white flour with:
      Wholemeal (whole wheat) (will not rise as much)
      Granary (has added malt)
      Rye flour (makes a sticky dough)
      For dark rye add 1 Tbs black treacle (molasses). Some like caraway seeds as well.
      Spelt (ancient wheat) (Poilane is reputed to use 1/5th Spelt. This was the example bread).
      “Mighty White” (steamed, corned grains)
      For a sweet bread: add sugar and butter with the fruit. Saffron for Easter.
      Baguettes
      Baguettes, that typical French loaf, are long thin loaves made with a soft, white dough. Because they are thin, they are baked at a higher temperature but for less time. The dough is delicate, and needs supporting continuously during proof and baking. You can get special pans for this. I’ve now thrown away my tin baguette pans (the ones in these pictures) and instead use a silpat baguette form (from www.demarle.com). You can just see it in the crust variation photo. Much easier and no sticking.
      To Make Baguettes from the Finished Dough
      Divide the dough into four, at the shaping stage:

      Roll and stretch into long cylinders, tucking the end in neatly. Cover, put into a large plastic bag, like a dustbin liner so that they do not dry out too much, and put in the fridge overnight. Next day take them out, and slash the tops.

      Put them in the hottest oven you can, and throw half a cup water into a pan or onto the oven floor. Beware of the hot steam!

      Bake until golden, say 30 mins

      Let cool on a rack. Enjoy with cheese and a glass of wine, or maybe some good soup.

      References
      Dan Lepard Baking with Passion - Dan Lepard - A great book. Website: www.danlepard.com.
      Joe Ortiz The Village Baker ISBN 0-89815-489-8 wonderfully evocative.
      Bread Builders. Hearth loaves and Masonry Ovens - Daniel Wing and Alan Scott. The definitive book on building and using brick bread ovens.
      The Bread Baker's Apprentice - Peter Reinhart
      Breads from the La Brea Bakery - Nancy Silverton
      Elizabeth David English Bread and Yeast Cookery ISBN 0-14-046791 is, like all her books, masterly for its time.
      Tom Jaine, Building a Wood Fired Oven for Bread and Pizza. Prospect Books ISBN 0907325
      Web resources
      www.danlepard.com
      www.fourgrandmere.com (Click on the Union Jack to get the English version).
      www.sfbi.com
      www.demarle.com
      www.sourdoughhome.com
      http://samartha.net
      www.sourdo.com
      www.faqs.org SLKinsey is a contributor- a good resource.
      Post your questions here -->> Q&A
    • By Terrasanct
      Hi all, haven't been here for years, not since about the time Bourdain was stuck in Lebanon.  It's been a while.  But I knew it was the best place to ask a food question.  On a trip to Seattle a year or so ago, we stopped at the Starbucks reserve at the headquarters.  They sell Princi baked goods.  There were so many things I couldn't figure out what to get, so I got a big round loaf of bread and a package of three huge crackers.  The crackers were just so good, and we've been getting them on every trip.  Since the apocalypse and everything, no traveling and lots of baking.  I ordered some overpriced semolina, thinking those huge crackers must be semolina based.  The crackers I baked were very good, but not quite the quality I was hoping for.
       
      So here are the things I could do differently--I only have regular olive oil right now, not extra virgin.  That might make a difference in the richness. The recipe calls for half semolina, maybe a higher percentage would be better?  I was able to roll out really thin, so that's not a problem.
       
      If anyone is familiar with those crackers and how they are made, I'd appreciate it.  Maybe I'll stick around this time.
    • By JoNorvelleWalker
      Ankarsrum, the Swedish mixer of many names: Electrolux Assistent, DLX, Verona, Magic Mill...
       

       
       
      I understand a few eGullet folks have these, or have had.  Mine came this afternoon.  From what I've read, mixing procedure with the Ankarsrum is different from mixing with planetary stand mixers.  At the moment I need advice specifically with whether I should use the dough hook (with or without the scraper arm) or the roller attachment for my bread.
       
      The Ankarsrum manual says to use the dough hook for dough with between 1 and 1.5 liters of liquid ingredients.  OK.  My usual dough recipe uses 410 g of water.  Rose Levy Beranbaum in The Bread Bible says to use the dough hook when mixing less than 4 pounds of dough.  Which if my math is correct is about 750 g of water (math is not my thing).  Beranbaum adds "For larger amounts, use the roller and scraper."
       
      Yet most bread recipes in the Ankarsrum recipe booklet that call for the dough hook use about a liter of liquid.  The recipes that call for the roller use less liquid, 400-600 ml.  Beranbaum is usually right but I'm wondering if she's wrong?
       
      Thoughts or suggestions?
       
       
      P.S.  Sparkling Gold was not my first color choice.  Sparkling Gold was perhaps not my thirteenth color choice.  But Sparkling Gold was 10 percent off.  Besides, the gold color matches the gold lettering on the bowl and dials.  Now I feel better.
       
       
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