Sandwiches are a staple food. What could be a more comforting pairing than bread, meat, and cheese? It is a simple meal that is good anytime. However, a Panini can be a way to elevate the simple sandwich and turn it into something that feels gourmet no matter how simple or complex the ingredients inside are.
Yet, unlike simple sandwiches, in a Panini the ingredients are important, none more so than the bread. Not only should the bread choice of a Panini lend to the overall flavor, but it should be hearty enough to stand up to being pressed. There are a lot of bread options out there these days, but not all are created equal when it comes to making a quality Panini.
Which Bread to Choose?
When it comes to choosing the right bread for a Panini, it ultimately comes down to what sort of sandwich you are going to make. You need to consider the ingredients in a sandwich in order to pick the perfect bread. When walking through that endless bakery aisle, keep in mind:
How wet will your sandwich be?
Most meats are pretty dry, which means you can afford to use a less hearty bread. However, when you add in wetter ingredients, like pesto, you need a bread that won’t immediately become a moist mess when pressed. It is also worthwhile to keep the same aspect in mind when working with meats that feature fat that melts when heated up, like pepperoni or salami.
Does the bread match the ingredients?
This is something you can be little more lenient with. However, typically if you are making a certain type of sandwich, the bread was chosen for it because it pairs well. Yes, you can make a reuben without the rye or a torta without a bolillo roll, but often it is matched that way for a reason.
Does it Lend to Flavor?
Many breads tend to be more neutral, if not subtle, in their flavors. However, a lot of new artisan breads can be really in your face about their flavors. These artisan breads do tend to be quite dense, which makes them a natural friend to the Panini. Unfortunately, you need to make sure that the flavors you are picking compliment the ingredients, not overwhelm or fight against them.
Best Bread for Dry Panini
If you are using lean meats, thicker melting cheeses, and very little other wet ingredients, you essentially have a wide world of bread options available to you. Some of the best dry Panini bread options include:
- Thick or thin-cut sourdough
- Brioche (Only with lighter pressures, though)
- Challah (Another light pressure bread, but thicker cuts make it fine for hard presses)
- Thin-sliced flavored artisan bread
Best Bread for Wet Panini
If you are using wetter ingredients like fat-filled meats, moisture-packed meats like Italian beef, or other wet ingredients like tomato, you need a more sturdy bread. For wetter sandwiches, the old Panini bread rule of “denser is better” is even more important so you don’t end up with bread that is barely toasted and super wet. Typically, for these types of Panini, rolls tend to hold up a little better to the sandwich elements.
Some of the best wet Panini bread options include:
- Ciabatta (The most popular Panini bread option)
- Thick-cut Sourdough
- Thick-cut artisan bread
- Hard rolls
Non-Traditional Bread Options
While much of creating the perfect Panini is about picking the right bread, not every Panini needs to be perfect. The best part of owning your own Panini press is that you can do all sorts of weird things with it and nobody – not your spouse, not your kids, not that judgmental sandwich artist at Subway – has to know. Sometimes the best Panini you have ever had is just waiting to be discovered, so while the above bread options are great, don’t be afraid of more curious fare.
Go ahead and make that quesadilla with tortillas. Don’t skip that pound cake and nutella dessert sandwich. Be free to satisfy your curiosity on how a cornbread and bacon sandwich will turn out. Why not even find out what ingredients would work well in a Panini made of doughnuts?
A Panini press is freedom in the kitchen. The freedom to make some really strange sandwiches that might just be absolutely amazing.
What Bread Not to Use?
For all the great Panini-ready bread out there, there are still some options that you should avoid. One of the major must-avoid breads is your typical processed, pre-sliced white bread. It is light and airy, perfect for a cold sandwich, but unfortunately, it is not made for the press. Your first Panini made at home likely used this bread, and you suffered for it. In the press, that airiness gets pressed out of the bread creating bread that is literally as flat as a cracker. It doesn’t crisp well and creates an unsatisfactory experience.
Another option that many people think is great is the bagel. Oh, yes, the bagel is great right from the toaster or even with a simple smear, but a good Panini vessel it is not. Due to that tough, chewy crust that surrounds a bagel, it can keep heat from fully penetrating the bread. The hole in the center helps heat the ingredients through, but your bagel will be cold in the center. The quest for getting it warm in the center may also result in some unwanted burning as well.
Those two examples aside, most breads are pretty great to experiment with. Essentially, you want a bread that is dense, but not covered with a tough protective skin like a bagel. You want bread that can fight back against the press to get a good toast and not just flatten until it is as thin as the meat on your sandwich. As long as those two conditions are filled, you will end up with a great pressed sandwich.