Is there a single universal option when it comes to choosing the best bread for panini? Of course not. Ciabatta remains the most common choice as the best bread for panini but I also want to introduce you to different alternatives.
It’s true that the bread absolutely matters and it influences the final taste. However, let’s not be rigid in our cooking. If you want to make a panini and you have all your favorite ingredients, you can make it with whatever loaf you have in the house or whatever loaf your diet allows you to eat.
Just like it’s the case when we’re making sandwiches that there’s no universal best bread for sandwiches, so it’s the case when making paninis.
I am well aware that the first first choice for the best bread for panini might be ciabatta but we must expand our horizons and experiment with different types of loaves.
Maybe we would love to make our panini with some other type of loaf than a ciabatta.
Or maybe we would prefer not using a white loaf for our sandwiches.
Or maybe we are on a gluten-free diet and we need something completely different for our sandwich breads.
Best Bread for Panini: Italian Breads
The classic definition for panini is that it’s a sandwich made with Italian bread and it’s usually served hot. That’s why most of us choose to buy a panini press if you want to follow the procedures properly from start to finish.
However, just as we can use other breads besides the classic Italian ones, so we can skip on using a dedicated press.
If you don’t have the budget for a sandwich maker or a panini press, then you can simply grill your paninis in a hot pan and press on the bread with another heavy pan. That’s how you can very easily create your own press by using two pans.
I would recommend using a cast iron skillet to make your paninis if you don’t have a press. You’re going to be amazed by the result.
Another alternative to a press is an outdoor grill fired up with gas or charcoal. The charcoal can deliver a unique, smoky flavor.
1. Ciabatta: Most Popular Bread for Panini
Ciabatta (means slipper in Italian) is pretty much the most accessible Italian loaf around the globe. Some of you might not have heard of rosetta or michetta but it’s a good probability that you can easily find a supermarket that sells ciabatta.
I will admit that, besides focaccia, ciabatta is one of my favorite Italian breads to make at home. However, I still love focaccia a bit more because it can be made to have a more complex taste by simply adding some rosemary on the dough.
Ciabattas are characterized as having a crisp crust and a large open crumb. It’s airy, with crispy crust, and a downright delicious flavor.
What sets ciabatta apart from a classic French baguette is the much higher hydration level with which is baked. That’s what gives it that unmistakable open crumb.
Plus, a ciabatta might have a crispy crust but baguettes are a bit more crispier.
For me, the crust of a ciabatta is mid-level crispy. Just perfect really.
Last but not least, a stronger flour is used in making a ciabatta. That’s what leads to that delicate and sweet taste.
Rosetta means little rose and the shape of the rolls certainly resembles that.
These are actually bread rolls that have a very unique shape. I would say that rosetta bread rolls might be some of the hardest to make at home. If you like a challenge, you might think of making some at home.
The complicated thing about rosetta is that it’s characterized by a hollow center. And that’s the hardest part to nail. It’s a result of working the dough, long proofing and a high oven temperature.
It’s the hollow center that makes rosetta such a perfect candidate as the best bread for panini.
If you’re interested in attempting to make rosetta at home, make sure that you understand that the hollow center is very difficult to achieve. It’s a lot more likely that you’ll end up with a dense crumb and no hollow. That’s why I don’t even attempt making rosetta at home.
Michetta are bigger rosetta rolls. They’re called michetta in Milan or northern Italy.
With both michetta and rosetta, you’ll probably end up making a cold panini, although you could also try grilling it with the help of a press.
4. Focaccia: My Second Favorite
Let’s talk about one of my favorites and how you can use it as the best bread for panini because making a focaccia at home is very easy.
Focaccia is one of those breads that even has no-knead recipes. It’s very easy to make at home and you can use all purpose flour.
Moreover, once the dough is proofed, right before baking, you can add various toppings to make the taste even more special.
The most popular additional ingredient is adding rosemary, either fresh or dry rosemary works as a topping.
You can cut your focaccia as big squares or make it into triangles if you want to make smaller panini. Then, add your favorite ingredients, and finish it in a press or on the stove in a pan with a second pan pressing on the focaccia.
Best Bread for Panini: Other Delicious Options
You can use classic sandwich bread, baguettes, and sourdough. Or you can go the whole grain and multigrain route for deeper flavors, for a more earthier and denser taste.
We should also cover a couple of popular gluten-free loaves.
1. Classic American sandwich bread: Easy to Find
I believe that this is the easiest type of bread that you can find around the world. I know that it’s on the sweeter side but the Classic American sandwich bread can totally work as the best bread for panini.
It also helps a lot that it’s already sliced. Some might find this aspect helpful.
Moreover, this loaf can work with whatever ingredients you want to use. It will taste delicious once you grill it.
It will transform from slightly bland and sweet slices of bread to a crispy crust and delicious flavor. By grilling it, it gains another dimension.
Just think of how good toasted bread tastes and you’ll perfectly understand what I’m saying.
If you have a loaf pan, you can also easily make this bread at home.
2. Sourdough bread: Unique Flavor
This is a bit of a controversy. Even some people who absolutely love sourdough loaves have a limit: they don’t like using them for making sandwiches.
Other people absolutely love sourdough for sandwiches. If that’s you, you’ll definitely love sourdough as the best bread for panini.
The controversy stems from the fact that it is a bit too much on the sour side for some people.
The tartness can be perfect if you pair it with sweeter ingredients like mozzarella, mortadella, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes or a sweeter basil pesto.
3. Whole grain
If that’s what you love and whole grain loaves are the type you frequently make at home by hand or by using a bread maker, then you can certainly use whole grain for all kinds of sandwiches, including grilled ones.
It’s certainly an awesome alternative to white loaves.
4. Rye loaves
Another awesome alternative to white loaves is rye bread.
I absolutely love rye loaves when it comes to making the classic Reuben. It has a slight tartness and an earthy taste.
It’s a very dense loaf so it’s not going to be something that absolutely everyone loaves, especially if you’re used to eating only white loaves all your life. In that case, it’s best to stick to the classic ciabatta or try a focaccia, a baguette or a white sandwich bread if that’s what you can find.
5. Baguette: Alternative to Ciabatta
If you can only find baguettes where you live, you can certainly use a baguette as the best bread for panini.
However, I view baguettes as a last resort for a few reasons. Let’s see which are my reasons.
Baguettes have a crisp crust. That can certainly pose a problem for our gums. Thus, I wouldn’t exactly recommend it for those with sensitive gums. I figure that it won’t be a totally enjoyable experience, even if the taste is delicious.
One easy solution is to cut the top of the baguette. That way, you can eliminate the crispy top, ending up with a flat sandwich.
Another aspect to pay attention to is that the diameter is smaller than what a ciabatta offers. You’ll have a slightly smaller surface for packing in all your ingredients. You’ll have to slightly reduce the amount of ingredients that you can place in a baguette for making a panini.
A baguette is not made with a strong bread flour, like ciabatta is. It’s actually made with a flour that has a lower protein content, around 11.5%.
If you want to make baguettes at home, you can use all purpose flour because that’s the one that comes closer to the 11.5% protein content. The French use Type 55 flour but that’s not easily found around the globe.
6. Crusty country-style bread: Easy to Make
This is also known as a boule. It has a characteristic round/oval shape, a nice crispy crust and a delicious crumb.
There’s no universal recipe for it. The 4 ingredients are basic: all purpose flour (or bread flour), yeast, salt, and water.
It’s mostly characterized by the bakeware used for baking the round dough. You can use a bread cloche or a Dutch oven or even a baking steel/pizza stone. However, if you have none of these you can also use a baking sheet and bake it at 400-450 degrees Fahrenheit until it has a rich golden brown crust.
There are also no knead recipes for boule.
Best Gluten-Free Bread for Panini
Just because you choose to or need to eat a gluten-free diet, that doesn’t mean that you can’t make wonderful sandwiches.
For the best gluten-free bread for panini, you can make a gluten-free Italian herb bread if you want. You can even use a gluten-free bread machine to do the work for you.
The recipe for a gluten-free Italian herb bread is actually inspired from the recipe book that comes with the Zojirushi Virtuoso.
The ingredients are: 360ml milk, 3 large eggs, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, 3 tbsp vegetable oil, 3 tbsp honey, 2 cups potato starch, 1-¾ cups brown rice flour, 1 tbsp xanthan gum, 1 tsp dried basil. 1-½ tsp salt, and 3 tsp active dry yeast.
You could also make a GF sandwich bread. Some recipes are also dairy free. You certainly have plenty of options.
Another option is to buy gluten free panini rolls but I don’t know how many people have access to that.
If you thought that the focus should be on finding the best bread for panini, I’m going to argue that the focus is on what should go between the two slices.
The ingredients that go into making a sandwich are what truly fascinates me. There is so much diversity that I’m always in awe when I’m perusing panini cookbooks. I never know which I should make first.
How to stack the fillings
Before talking about ingredients, let’s see how we should stack them to obtain a perfect ratio of bread to filling. No one likes eating more bread than fillings, even when it comes to the delicious ciabatta.
You should first add the cheese, then meat or veggies in equal parts. The moisture should be provided by pesto, sauces, spreads, tomato slices, vinaigrettes. Don’t forget about herbs.
Usually, the panini is held together with a good melting cheese. That’s why it goes in first next to the bread. If you want to achieve a very stable structure, you can add cheese to each bread slice. Or layer cheese on one slice and spread on the other, it depends on your selection of fillings.
For a golden grilled bread, you can brush the outside with olive oil or butter.
Some of my favorite panini recipes contains the following toppings:
- three cheese (mozzarella, provolone, garlic and herb cheese spread), thin tomato slices, fresh basil – you can use crusty country-style bread for this one
- mortadella, salami, provolone, Italian ham (I prefer bresaola), mozzarella, chopped olives, some pickles, and chopped fresh oregano – you can use ciabatta, baguette or even rosetta
- meatballs, mozzarella, marinara sauce, pepperoncini – definitely make this in a ciabatta
Best Bread for Panini: Dessert panini
This is indeed a thing. You can actually make dessert paninis, which is fabulous.
You can add various ingredients to transform this world-famous sandwich into a dessert: hazelnut spread, bananas, marshmallows, sliced almonds, cream cheese, raspberry/strawberry jam, sugar.
In this case, when you’re making a dessert, you can use Classic American sandwich bread, brioche bread, challah or even sourdough as the best bread for panini.