Use your best bread for the best panini you’ll ever eat

Panini (singular panino) are mouthwatering Italian grilled sandwiches.  They’re closely related to the French “croque monsieur,” but they’re made with olive oil rather than melted butter.  You can put anything you want into them, so long as one of the ingredients is cheese, which ties the whole thing together.

Why not make them with the best bread you can find (your own of course)?  First make some bread from any lean dough (white flour recipe, or a whole grain version), then come back here to fire up the panini press (you’ll see in some of my pictures that I used a mixture of doughs).  One nice thing is that the bread doesn’t have to be absolutely fresh to make a crisp and crunchy panino, so this can be a great way to use up yesterday’s loaf…

I am not a big fan of electric accessories for the kitchen– I like heavy items that will last forever, will never need a new cord, and never stop working (it will surprise no one that I do not own an electric coffee maker).  So I really like cast-iron.  Above, I’m doing a five-minute pre-heat for my Lodge Pre-Seasoned Grill Pan, used with a Le Creuset Panini Press top (it’s a perfect fit).  I’m sure the matching panini press for the Lodge works beautifully, it’s just not what I have.  One slight advantage with the Le Creuset is that the cast-iron grilling surface is enameled, so there isn’ t much seasoning needed.  Even though the un-enameled Lodge was pre-seasoned, it still stuck a little the first two times I used it (no more; follow the instructions that come with the pan and the seasoning really becomes terrific).  Note– I’ve had more trouble with sticking when I tried to use challah or brioche as the dough for panini breads.

This set-up is also great for professional looking results with steaks and other pan-grilled foods, with sear-marks on both sides of the food.  I know that most people go for the electric grill presses like these:

Cuisinart GR-1 Griddler Panini and Sandwich Press

Krups FDE312-75 Universal Grill and Panini Maker

… or any of the George Foreman products (talk about a second career!)

But as I say, I haven’ t used them.  The advantage with those is that the surface has a non-stick coating, so nothing sticks, and no special care is required.  But back to my old-fashioned method.

While the grill pan and panini-press top are pre-heating (about five minutes over medium heat), slice your bread and assemble your sandwich(es).  Make your slices fairly thin, from free-form or loaf-pan breads.  If you’re using meat in addition to cheese, sandwich it between cheese, like so (this is Gruyere and smoked ham):

Yes, there’s some cheese underneath the ham on the farther slice.  If you don’t do it that way, the sandwich won’t melt together nicely.  Stack the sandwich together and brush both sides with olive oil (or melted butter, if you’re doing this in the French style).  If you’re finding that you’re having trouble getting nice grill-stripes, use the fat very sparingly, or not at all (in a well-seasoned pan):

Once the grill pan and panini press are hot, quickly rub them with oil using a paper towel.  Again, if you’re finding that you’re having trouble getting nice grill-stripes, use the fat very sparingly, or not at all (in a well-seasoned pan).  Work quickly or you’ll get too much smoking.  Put the sandwich into the pan, cover with the panini press, and firmly press down (don’t overdo it):

Grill the sandwich over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes.  I’ve found that I need to flip it and go another 2 to 3 minutes, though the press instructions suggest that this should not be necessary.  But I’m very, very happy with this setup.  You can fit four small sandwiches into the grill, or two large ones.  The most efficient way to make enough for four would probably be to use a very large pita bread (see recipe…).

We’re still hard at work on our third book, which is tentatively titled Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day.  And did we mention that Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day was an Honor Book with the Midwest Bookseller’s Association?  Zoe and I accepted the award earlier this month:

See you on Twitter, Facebook, or our YouTube channel…

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If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it with others using one of the social sharing buttons above. Thanks, Jeff and Zoë

37 thoughts on “Use your best bread for the best panini you’ll ever eat

  1. Congrats on the award!

    Thanks for finally showing us a picture of Mark!

    I just got a George Foreman grill, and will try making flatbreads on it. Thanks for the panini idea. Did you know there are actually adults who aren’t old enough to know that George Foreman was a fighter at one time? They only know that he is famous for the grill! :)

  2. I have a LeCreuset grill pan but no panini press, is there another item I could use to press the sandwich down? Maybe set a small skillet on it?

    • Hi Neal,

      Anything that is flat and has some weight to it will probably get the job done. It will still taste great, even if the look is not exactly the same!

      Enjoy, Zoë

  3. Hello,
    I was wondering if anyone has successfully made biscuits from the master dough or if that’s too far off? I attempted yesterday morning by adding butter to the white whole wheat dough from AB in 5 and folding the dough on top of itself like you do with puff pastry. The rounds baked up to be soft, but not the texture or structure of a say a buttermilk biscuit. Zoe, I know because you’re a pastry chef you’ll be able to direct me here in my attempts. Thanks so much in advance I appreciate and really NEED your help.

    • Nia: The best biscuits are made with soft (low protein flour), and no yeast at all (instead, powder/soda). The effect is totally different, so not surprised it doesn’t seem right to you!

  4. I use our George Foreman Grill to make paninis almost every weekend, and it works great! However, a word to the wise – don’t use cheese that gets runny when it melts, since the GF grill is on an incline … unless you want all your cheese on the grill! It only happened the one time I decided to use American – it has worked fine with swiss, muenster, havarti and cheddar.

  5. There aren’t many uses for the 100% Whole Wheat Bread found in ABin5. Is this a versatile dough that I can substitute in some recipes, or should I stick with it’s intended use?

    • Lina: It’s a matter of taste— we have readers who swear by it for everything, including pizza and pita. In general, many people are preferring the version in HBin5, with vital wheat gluten, which lightens it up quite a bit.

      Personally, I use 100% WW for sandwiches, pita, and the occasional pita.

  6. Jeff,
    Thanks for your reply. I guess I was just wishful thinking. I’ll stick to my old school biscuit recipe but continue using the master dough for the many other great breads it can create.

  7. I have two cast iron griddle/grill things (inherited one from my MIL) so I heat them both and put the heavier one on top for panninis. Necessity is the mother of invention.

  8. What kind of salt do you use for the recipes. I find that a 1 1/2 TBLS. to be quite a lot and usually only put in a little less than a tablespoon in mine. What is the important factor for using that much salt and will I get the same results using less?

  9. Hi Jeff and Zoe,
    Just wanted to let you know that I followed Jeff’s suggestion on how to bake healthy breads without the added gluten (reduce the liquids). I tried it with the olive spelt bread, the whole grain rye and the quinoa bread. As I wrote, I don’t store the dough for more than a day or two and have to say that the loaves were absolutely perfect. They rose nicely, they were beautiful and delicious. No one in my extended family wants to eat store bought bread anymore!

    • Ornit: I’m really glad to hear that because I’m about to try that with some spelt doughs that my kids seem to like. Omitting the VWG is just a matter of convenience and curiosity— one less thing to do if they’re not intended for long-term storage. Especially might work for flatbreads. Jeff

  10. Hi Jeff, I have tried the recipes only without the vwg so don’t really know the difference it would make. The bread was just a little more dense than the recipes in the first book, but I think that is normal for whole grain loaves?
    Anyway, I love your books and can’t stop baking (wish I could send in photos of them, they are so pretty). If you ever consider translating the books into Hebrew, I’d love to be the one to do it.

  11. working out of book: Health Bread in Five Minutes a Day,
    where the recipes call for vital wheat gluten can you use a home made dough enhancer made with Lecithin granules and citric acid or do I need to purchase the vital wheat gluten?

    • Cristie: I’ve never tried lecithin plus citric acid but I don’t think it’s going to soak up the extra water you find in these recipes. If you do it decrease the water. Quarter-cup? Half-cup? No way for me to know, but look at the videos for the desired consistency. Jeff

  12. I LOVE your book and am wrapping copies for Christmas presents — given with a loaf of the basic recipe as encouragement to”try it you’ll love it.” I only wish I knew how to adapt the basic recipe to make CUBAN BREAD, the delectable staple of my Miami childhood. It has a crisp but flaky crust, a softer, airy center and is the supreme choice for a panni-press style Cuban sandwich (ham, sliced pork, swiss cheese, pickle and mustard). Any suggestions would be tremendously appreciated!! And a make-do for the panni press is to use a smaller heated cast-iron skillet on top of the sandwich in the skillet on the stove — or just put a clean brick wrapped in foil on top. Happy holidays and many thanks for the wonderful bread in five minutes concept — I don’t even use my bread machine any more, your method is such a delight.

  13. I am not surprised that you won an award. Not only are you award winning bakers and authors, but you find time to answer questions for your readers. Here is my latest question. I bake a lot of my bread from your HB5 books and I am thinking of buying some of KA new Hi maize high fiber flour (is is a mixof AP flour and hi maize natural fiber. I would use it to replace the AP white flour and still use whatever WW or other grains your recipe calls for. Thoughts about anything including liquid would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Bettyanne,

      Thank you for the sweet note. This flour is new to me, thanks for pointing it out. The king arthur flour tends to be higher in protein, but the fiber may negate some of that. I would make a half batch of the dough with NO changes and see what you come up with. You can always make adjustments, even after it has been refrigerated. Keep us posted and we will be able to help once you’ve tried the dough and see how the flour behaves.

      Enjoy, Zoë

  14. Additional note, KA says that “Each cup of blend includes 20g of fiber—that’s over 40% more fiber than you’d find in a cup of 100% whole wheat flour!”

  15. I have misplaced most of my cookbooks in the abyss that is my storage unit. No hope of hoeing it out till spring. I really really want to try making the chocolate bread that is in 5 minutes a day. Found a recipe from Godiva, didn’t turn out so well the recipe is too wet and buttery. Would love to get your recipe, if possible. Can’t seem to find it posted anywhere.
    Thanks
    marilyn

    • Marilyn: Type the words:

      chocolate bread

      into the Search Site’s window in our website above (not Google’s search window, or any other), then press Return/Enter. The recipe you want should be on the list.

  16. Hi guys! I’m asking Valerie’s question again: What do you think about adapting AB5 for cuban bread? Good Miami Cuban bread is very soft inside, not dense/nice holes, with a very thin, sometimes flaky, crust. It’s typically baked at 350F for 30 min, or slightly underdone so that it’s only barely golden but cooked through. I’ve seen some with a sour dough-like starter made 24 hrs ahead, & shortening or lard used in the main dough, which is probably the soft fluffy crumb. Thanks for any guidance!

    • Sandy: I haven’t tried this, but my guess is that you could approximate it by:

      – avoid bread flour, use all AP as our Master recipe in 1st book
      – replace a quarter-cup of water with oil or butter
      — consider a little skim milk powder (1/8 cup)
      — 1/8 cup sugar or honey

      I think you’re going to need a longer baking time if you go with 350, not sure. Jeff

  17. Hey, Jeff, thanks! I just baked the perfect Cuban bread loaf, just like I remember it! I used the master recipe in HBin5, using unbleached flour, adding just 4 TBSP Jungle vegetable shortening, & about 1/8 cup honey. I did use 350F for 30 minutes & it was just underdone, barely starting to brown. PERFECTION! I love you guys!
    I’m sure those who want a more browned crust can extend the time a bit. Oh, & I did NOT add the water-in-the-pan for steam.
    I basically added the additional ingredients from this recipe, http://www.tasteofcuba.com/pancubano.html. The HBin5 method provided the outstanding flavor of the starter without the additional steps involved. I’m positively GIDDY. You’ve no idea how long I’ve tried to replicate the bread of my childhood. You guys are wonderful! :D

  18. Hi Guys,

    Absolutely love your book ABin5. My wife bought it for me for my birthday and I think I’ve made about 1/3 of the recipes in there.

    She’s requesting “the best grilled cheese bread ever,” and I’m curious if you can offer an opinion on it. I did a search for “grilled cheese” and it took me to this blog post.

    I’m leaning towards the olive bread or the cheese bread, personally. She doesn’t care for rye.

    Thanks for the insight – you guys rock!

    Timothy

    • Hi Timothy,

      The Vermont Cheddar would be fantastic bread for grilled cheese! I also like some of the enriched breads like challah and brioche for that type of sandwich.

      Let us know which is her favorite! Zoë

  19. Greetings!
    I am curious if you have ever had the chance to try a panino from Panino’s Restaurant in North Oaks, MN. They are wonderful and I have yet to find a dough that replicates the “wrap” they use. It’s thinner than pita bread but thicker than a tortilla. Soft and chewy and oh so delicious!

    • Mindy: Haven’t been there, but it sounds great. Try doing our pita thinner— 1/16 inch and only bake till set, barely browned. Could try enriching the dough with some oil or butter, might help keep it soft. And 2T of sweetener.

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