What Bread is Best for Paninis?

I decided to put down some pointers on what is the best kind of bread to use in a panini. This is not rocket science, but if you’re confused, I’m here to help. Plus, I hope I can give you some ideas that haven’t considered before.

Boring Intro to Paninis

While the panini originates in Italian language and appeared in an Italian cookbook as far back as the 16th Century, its popularity as a sandwich is much more recent. Think the mid-20th Century, understanding that its use to describe a sandwich existed well beyond Italy’s borders. While the original concept required varieties of Italian bread such as michetta or ciabatta, other breads are being used on a wide scale. Michetta is recognised by its shape more than anything else, rolls with a hard, crusty surface. Ciabatta on the other hand was developed as an alternative to the French baguette with olive oil providing much of its flavour. Its oblong shape lends itself well to the traditional look people expect from a panini.

A panini differs from a standard sandwich in that the sandwich is prepared and then commonly grilled or toasted and served hot. The range of fillings in a panini is no different from standard sandwiches; cheese, salami, and ham singly or in combination are typical examples. Fresh bread is used and after grilling, it is crisp with items such as cheese obviously melted.

Italy cannot really claim to have invented the panini even though the given name is Italian for ‘’bread.’’ Delicatessens in the USA have been making paninis for decades and there are few snack meals more popular.

Paninis and dip at a restaurant

Wet and Dry

Your ideal choice of bread will depend on fillings. If your ingredients are things such as fatty or moist meats, something like Italian beef, salami, or pepperoni, or will include wet things like tomato, you will need bread that is strong enough to retain its shape. There are several breads that are ideal for this:

  • Ciabatta, the Italian bread made with olive oil is certainly the top choice.
  • The French baguette is another which makes excellent ‘’wet paninis.’’
  • Hard rolls will stand up to the pressure of a panini press while holding ‘’wet ingredients.’’
  • Specialist bread, sometimes known as artisan bread and sourdough can both be used as long as it is cut in thick slices.
  • Focaccia is another flat Italian bread which you may see has a similar texture to pizzas.

In contrast, dry paninis made from thick cheese or lean meat can be made from a range of other breads:

  • Brioche which gets its moisture from the eggs and butter in its cooking.
  • Flatbreads and pitta.
  • Artisan and sourdough that are not cut as thickly.
  • Multigrain and rye bread.
  • Challah which is better with limited pressure is the braided bread common amongst Jewish people.
Panini maker at work

Does it really matter?

A little. The main thing to remember about the bread to use is that it needs to be sturdy enough to take the pressure of a grill press and retain its shape. Other than that, it’s hard to ruin a crunchy panini.

That said, you do not want to open your press to find a panini that has lost its shape and looks like little more than soft mush. That is something that will often happen if you just take a couple of slices of processed white bread. It will have the air pressed out of it when you are making a panini leaving you with a thin, crisp-like surface.

This is why you should select a bread based upon its fillings but there are other considerations as well. One to definitely consider when you select a bread is whether it will compete in flavour with the ingredients you want to savour. As already mentioned, ciabatta is arguably the most popular panini bread and its olive oil will add flavour to your sandwich. If you do not want that flavour, look elsewhere among the recommendations listed above. There are plenty of breads who have limited flavour although if you are thinking of using artisan breads, you need to consider flavour.

Breads to Avoid

Pre-sliced white bread has already been mentioned but there is another bread that is not suitable for making paninis. Forget about using bagels because their hard surface will stop the grill’s heat from penetrating into the panini you have prepared. You will find the centre of your panini is cold when you bite into it.

Panini takeout

Pro Tips

  • There’s wet and there’s too wet. If you’re going strong on roasted veggies, try placing dry ingredients like cheese slices between them to retain the form.
  • If you like that extra crispiness, apply a gentle smear of olive oil/butter/light mayo to the bread before grilling.
  • In my experience, it’s easier to undercook than overcook, so go for longer grilling times.
  • Specialist breads are a gimmick. There is virtually no difference in terms of taste if you use freshly baked bread to make a panini or not, so it’s fine even if you go with day old bread. It grills just as well as fresh bread.
  • Experiment! People suggest anything from pizza dough, cornbread, banana bread, zucchini or whateverbread to tortillas and pound cakes! Have fun.

The Jist

Don’t forget the main points:

  • Best bread will depend on the filling to be used – are they dry or wet.
  • The other main variable is flavour and the bread should not overwhelm the flavours of the ingredients.
  • If you want to up your panini game, try my pro tips.

Other than that, I think you’re set!

Bon Appetit,

G.

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