The Best Bread for Panini

by on January 8, 2014

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Happy New Year! We’ve got a lot of new friends joining the Panini Happy community after the holidays — let’s start out 2014 going back to the basics. Over the next month or so we’ll take a closer look at the ingredients and techniques to make excellent panini (you can also find more of my ingredient advice in the intro section of The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook).

We all know the foundation of good panini is good bread. But what’s really the best bread for making panini? I’ll help you choose!

bread-490

Which Bread Should I Choose?

You’re standing in the bakery department, with a slew of bread choices displayed before you. Whole loaves, sliced loaves, long baguettes, “panini rolls”, flatbreads — how do you know what to choose? My advice is to think about your bread in the context of the rest of the ingredients in your sandwich, and consider the following:

  • Will the sandwich fillings hold up well on sliced bread (e.g., not overly wet), or do they need a more substantial base, like a baguette?
  • Are we looking for the bread to contribute flavor to the sandwich — such as with an olive or rosemary bread — or should it play more of a neutral supporting role?
  • Are there specific breads that match the cultural heritage of the sandwich, such as a telera roll for a Mexican torta or ciabatta for a sandwich with lots of Italian meats?

There’s no real “right” or “wrong”– it’s all a matter of personal preference — but it’s helpful to have some idea in mind of what you’re looking for your bread to “do” for your sandwich.

My favorite breads to slice (for grilled cheese and other panini with minimal wet ingredients):

  • Sourdough (my San Francisco Bay Area roots are showing)
  • Levain
  • Multigrain
  • Brioche (yes, it’s soft, but I slice it thick and use very light pressure)
  • Challah (sliced thick, just like with brioche)

My favorite rolls (for panini with wet ingredients):

  • Baguette (I slice off the dome to create a flat grilling surface)
  • Ciabatta
  • Other Italian “panini rolls” (often softer ciabatta-style bread)

When it comes to making panini, denser bread is best.

Denser is Better

You’ll notice throughout my recipes that I often call for bread that is “sliced from a dense bakery loaf”. Generally speaking, denser is best when it comes to grilling panini. Dense bread — such as the freeform loaves you find at the bakery department — will hold its shape better than soft, pre-sliced sandwich bread when it gets between the two grates of a panini press.

In the photo above, I grilled two sandwiches with the same fillings but different breads. The sandwich on the left is grilled on a country levain, which I sliced about 1/2-inch thick. As you can see, the bread maintained its thickness, for the most part, and didn’t get soggy. On the right is the same sandwich grilled on regular pre-sliced sandwich bread. The soft, airy bread — which is normally very desirable for cold sandwiches — flattened to nearly a cracker. The weight of the panini press plates is simply too much for softer breads. Dense is the way to go.

Keep bread on hand in the freezer

Saved By the Grill

Rustic artisan loaves can sometimes be a little pricier than everyday sandwich bread. If you want to enjoy artisan-quality bread, but rather not pay artisan prices, consider the day-old basket. Day old bread is typically sold at a discount, and once it’s toasted it usually tastes just as good as fresh-baked.

Another great option is to keep par-baked loaves (I often see them at Trader Joe’s), which tend to be less expensive, on hand in the freezer. When you’re ready to make panini, just finish baking the bread in the oven and — voilà – you’ve got a fresh-baked loaf (and your kitchen smells pretty terrific).

Beyond the Baguette

I’ve been talking a lot about traditional breads, but I encourage you to also experiment with nontraditional options: pound cake, banana bread, tortillas, zucchini bread, corn bread — whatever you can possibly “sandwich.” The idea is to have fun and make something delicious. Happy Grilling!

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:






>Ready to buy a panini press? Check out my Panini Press Buying Guide for the features to look for.

>Want more panini recipes? See my Recipe Index for a list of all recipes on Panini Happy.

>Traveling to a new city soon? Browse Panini Happy’s Great American Sandwich Guide to find the best sandwiches across the country!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mike from Class January 9, 2014 at 9:29 am

Great advice. Very informative!

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2 Seitu Camara January 9, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Well, let me say first, Kathy, thank you for making me smile and happy. You have accomplished a tremendous lot doing what you love=fixing delicious recipes. Do you know you;ve made me hungry just looking at your Panini recipes? They look tasty. You have a lovely smile. I wish for you Great success, Fame(even more), Love and Happiness=you and your daughter, I believe you stated.

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3 Kim Beaulieu January 9, 2014 at 5:25 pm

What a great resource Kathy. I love this post.
Kim Beaulieu´s last blog post ..Bucatini All’Amatriciana: Burning Down The Kitchen with Crazy Foodie Stunts

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4 Helen @ Scrummy Lane January 9, 2014 at 6:12 pm

It’s a wonderful idea to have a whole blog dedicated to a panini press! Looking around here I’m amazed by how many different things you can make on it … thanks so much for all the fun ideas!
Helen @ Scrummy Lane´s last blog post ..Sausage & fennel pappardelle

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5 Kathy Strahs January 9, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Thank you, Helen!

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6 Susan January 11, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Hi Kathy,
Just got the Ultimate Panini Press book from the library and can’t wait to make them all. I may just buy the book for my own. The variety of Panini are endless.

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7 Kathy Strahs January 11, 2014 at 3:30 pm

I hope you enjoy it, Susan!! ~Kathy

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