Hot Out of the Oven

Walk into our kitchens and take a peek at five breads you’ll be seeing on sandwiches across our menu. Our head baker, Tom Gumpel, shares the story on each.

Sandwiches are a balancing act. You have to consider all the tastes and textures that are working together, as well as the perfect ratio of filling to bread, and every bite—every bite—should taste incredible. There’s a lot of collaboration between the bakery side and the kitchen side of Panera, and when it comes to sandwiches, that partnership is fundamental. I’m a strong believer that bread shouldn’t just be a carrier for the other sandwich ingredients: It has to bring something to the table.

And for these five breads on our fall sandwiches, we’ve definitely achieved that.

1. Hoagie Roll

This roll is like the soft-hearted cousin of a baguette. Baguettes are crunchy and really chewy, which makes them less than ideal for sandwiches: Your tomatoes would go flying out the side at the first bite. So we played with the recipe and added a touch of sugar and vegetable fat to soften the interior, and you get the best of both worlds. The hoagie roll has a crispy crust, like a baguette, and a soft interior that’s perfect for soaking up juice from the filling. Try it on the New Italian with artisan salami and giardiniera—it’s killer.

Try it at home: These rolls are seven inches long, so they’re great for any filled sandwiches you make at home. Try stuffing them with meatballs and a little sauce and cheese. My favorite thing to do is put in Italian sausage with roasted peppers and let the hoagie roll sop up the drippings. They’re kind of like the sandwiches at baseball games, but better.

2. Cranberry Walnut Bread

If you want our whole bread philosophy in one loaf, this is it. It has whole, ancient and sprouted grains in it—absolutely everything. It’s a larger loaf, which holds in moisture well, and it has a thin, heavily caramelized crust on it from just a touch of honey. The earthiness of the grains balances with the sweet cranberries and texture of the walnuts, and when you pair it with turkey for a sandwich, it’s a bit of Thanksgiving in your mouth.

Try it at home: My personal favorite is cutting this bread into cubes and tossing them in a bread pudding—flavored breads are amazing for that. And don’t be afraid to experiment with sandwich types either: It can bring an entirely new dimension to a basic ham sandwich, or even peanut butter.

3. Black Pepper Focaccia

This one’s a twist on a classic Italian focaccia. It has simple, select ingredients—flour, water, salt, yeast and sprouted grains—with the addition of coarse-ground black pepper and an olive oil blend. You’ll find it on the Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt and the Tuna Sandwich, and what’s great is that it’s not just a blank canvas, like ordinary white bread. The taste, the texture, the slight pepperiness—they’re an integral part of the sandwich experience. It doesn’t just hold fillings in place.

Try it at home: Buy a quarter-sheet from the bakery and take it home, and you’ll be surprised at how much you can do with it. Slice it up into thin bands and toast them with a little olive oil for a great bruschetta base. Or chop it and toast it for croutons for salads or to float on top of soups. Since it’s a thinner bread, it’s also amazing for sandwiches or panini.

4. Stone-Hearth Baked Flatbread

I developed this recipe years ago when I lived on a farm in upstate New York: I had a little tandoor oven outside, and I developed this flatbread recipe based off a true Indian naan bread. It’s made with yogurt and ghee, or clarified butter, and it’s fermented—so it’s really good-for-you stuff . We bake it directly on a hot stone hearth, which caramelizes the surface and makes the inside tender. It works perfectly in our Roasted Turkey Flatbread with Cranberry Mostarda: Enclosing the fillings creates this easy-to-eat package with all the flavors locked in nicely. Since flatbreads are flat, of course, this bread is great if you want a higher proportion of meat and veggies in your sandwich.

Try it at home: Try rolling it up like a wrap with some chicken salad with Caesar dressing inside. Or you could top them with pizza toppings and heat them in your oven at home; they’d be great little appetizers for friends. I love this flatbread as piadina: It’s kind of like pizza, but you add a little salad to the top after it bakes.

5. Whole Grain Pan Loaf

We used to sell a BIG version of this bread, called a miche, but this is our first time making it smaller for specific use on sandwiches. Since it’s made with whole grains and has just a touch of honey in it, it has rich, nutty, earthy flavors and this slightly sweet-and-sour flavor from the long resting time we give it. But the flavors aren’t overwhelming, either, so it’s easily customizable for any sandwich. If you’re on a journey to introduce your kids to whole grains, this is the loaf to start with.

Try it at home: Any meat will taste great paired with this bread for a sandwich: pork, roasted chicken, roasted turkey, you name it. And it works just as well for a breakfast sandwich or a PB&J—or toast. This loaf toasts beautifully; just add butter or your favorite jam.

Tom Gumpel

Head Baker, Panera Bread

Favorite sandwich?

“The New Italian sandwich we have coming out is the best. The hoagie roll, the salami…it’s just incredible.”

Best sandwich memory?

“Backpacking around Italy in my 20s and finding this place that sold porchetta on a ciabatta roll—real crunchy texture, big holes throughout the bread and this amazing roasted pork.”