After many days of rice noodles and pho recipe write, I decided to bake bread for homemade banh mi. It was early, around 8am, when I started, and for some reason, I decided to go rogue and tinker with my tried-and-true banh mi roll recipe, the one that I’d worked on for three months for The Banh Mi Handbook.
The tinkering had to do with using an industrial leavening: dough improver, or rather, mejorante para pan. It’s a powdery substance that cookbook author Kate Leahy got for me by way of her aunt, who lives in Mexico and brought it to the U.S. for me. Kate’s a good friend and curious cook. I’d not used the mejorante para pan in a couple of years so I was curious. Actually, I was inspired by Jyoti, a Banh Mi Handbook reader in Kenya who got her hands on dough improver and baked up some lovely rolls; she emailed me to ask how much to use and together we guesstimated an amount that worked out for her.
Anyway, I had this Mexican dough improver and after mixing up the dough, I knew something was wrong. The dough was slack but I baked it up anyway. The resulting rolls, which you see above, were hard and very very chewy – like rustic bread. I expected a puffy rise like commercially-baked bolillo roles. Not.
“Why are they so flat today?” Rory asked me. Because I was trying something new, I admitted. My husband indulges my experimental nature and professional obsessions. I assured him that lunch was not at stake. We were going to have banh mi. It wasn’t like past times, when I was experimenting and experienced solid fails.
If you think I turn out perfect food every time, I don’t. To prove it, here are highlights of my banh mi bread fiascos.