Although the term "panini bread" is regularly used as though it indicates a specific type of bread, that is not correct. Many types of bread can be used, and there is not just one authentic recipe for making panini bread.
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The Italian word panini literally means little breads. Pane is the Italian word for bread and ini refers to the diminutive version, hence little breads. In general usage in Italy, panini describes sandwiches, with the singular form being panino.
Hot or Cold?
Panini is often taken to mean a hot sandwich, usually prepared in a panini grill, but in fact it can be either hot or cold; it just means a sandwich. In Italy it would be a relatively simple affair, not the overstuffed version often seen in American bars and cafes.
What Type of Bread?
The breads most often used to make panini are foccacia and ciabatta. Insofar as there is any authentic bread, these are the ones most likely to qualify. They both have an open crumb texture with a relatively soft crust. These characteristics lend themselves to a moist filling while holding up well to being grilled.
With the increasing popularity of panini, cafes, coffee bars and restaurants have adopted all kinds of bread for their own version: whole grain, flat breads, rye, even ordinary sandwich bread.
Ultimately, the best type of bread for panini comes down to personal preference and availability, but a well-made foccacia is popular.
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