A sandwich is a bit like a bookshelf. You can have the entire works of James Joyce or three well-thumbed Jackie Collins novels on there, but if you don't have good bookends, it all starts falling apart.
No wonder, then, that the type of bread with which you construct your sandwich is a hotly debated topic. Max Halley of Max's Sandwich Shop in London's Crouch End discovered this when he showed us how to make his iconic ham, egg, and chips sandwich. According to Max, "sourdough can go fuck itself."
For this particular sandwich man, sourdough's hard crust makes it the worst kind of bread for cramming fillings between. "You take a bite and have to like rip at the crust and then the bread opens up, all the contents fall out, and the sandwich is ruined," Max continued, telling us that he now only uses focaccia for his sammies.
Is Max right? Is Italian bread really the best foundation for layering cold meats and cheese? Maybe rye or a wholemeal loaf could be better—or even the good old fashioned baguette.
To settle the sourdough versus focaccia versus rye versus whatever-the-Scandis-are-baking nowadays debate, we asked five baking experts to share their sandwich secrets.
Let the Carb Games commence.
Our expert panel: Mark Douglas, a.k.a. Krazi Baker from Belfast, Northern Ireland Miisa Mink, one of the owners of Scandinavian-inspired Nordic Bakery in London Meera Sodha, food writer and author of Fresh India Edd Kimber, 2010 winner of Great British Bake Off and author of The Boy Who Bakes Ellinor Grapp, store manager at Swedish stone oven bakery Fabrique in Stockholm and London
The best bread for sandwiches
Mark Douglas: "It has to be granary bread with its moist texture and malty flavour. Pieces of that malted grain complements all fillings but it must be freshly baked."
Miisa Mink: "Dark rye bread, with its nutty chewiness, makes the best satisfying sandwich—and it's good for you too. It works well with strong flavours and is a natural partner for smoked salmon, pickled herring, or tangy lingonberries. Plus rye can carry a third dimension with the addition of lemon juice, mustard, dill, or sour cream to the filling."
Meera Sodha: "Paratha, a layered Indian flatbread, which is used to make my favourite 'sandwich'—the kati roll. First the paratha is dipped in beaten egg, pan-fried until crispy then filled with chicken, paneer, or mutton and finished off with some hot-slapping coriander and mint chutney."
Edd Kimber: "That really depends on the sandwich but I'm a big sourdough fan."
Ellinor Grapp: "I personally love to make sandwiches using our walnut bread since it gives a little twist to your breakfast sandwich, as well as working great to build a more hearty sandwich."
The best bread for toasting
Mark Douglas: "Well, there are so many here in Northern Ireland. Veda would be great which is a sticky malted small unsliced loaf that you can cut doorstep slices. Toast well to caramelise those malted sugars. My own favourite is a treacle farl which toasts with an aroma to fill the air hot and sticky."
Miisa Mink: "In Finland, we have many fruity Christmas breads and one of my favourites is made with orange, fennel, and raisins. I served it lightly toasted to release all the wonderful aromas."
Meera Sodha: "I like to toast pav, which is a soft Indian dinner roll brought over to India by the Portuguese. The classic way to 'toast' it is to pan-fry it in a little butter. The outsides crisp and char but it's such a dense little thing, when you bite into it the crisp shards give way to a cloud of softness. It's perfect with scrambled eggs or a little spiced kheema [mince] in the morning."
Edd Kimber: "Again, sourdough. Something with a good amount of tang. Slathered with salted butter—heaven!"
Ellinor Grapp: "We have two kinds of lovely toast breads, Mr or Mrs Toast. They are risen and baked in tin forms, making them nice and dense for toasting so that your butter and jam won't run through the slice!"
Thoughts on open sandwiches
Mark Douglas: "Open sandwiches can be enjoyable using wheaten bread or crusty roll, depending on the filling. But they're not a favourite of mine."
Miisa Mink: "Open sandwiches are very typical of Nordic countries where they are often served as a smorgasbord for entertaining. It's important to use a good quality bread, Our favourite is rye or for something different, use Archipeago bread [a dark rye and oat bread with syrup]. The secret is to keep the topping simple—no more than three ingredients. For gravadlax, use a cured salmon with cucumber and a mustard or dill dressing or a simple potato salad topping is a good vegetarian option."
Meera Sodha: "They're a high-risk type of sandwich (especially if the wind's blowing). I prefer the security of knowing my sandwich fillings are safely swaddled between two slices of bread."
Edd Kimber: "Weirdly they remind me of home. If there were lots of people around my mum always made open sandwiches, although not really in the way the Swedes have mastered, a style to which I'm very partial."
Ellinor Grapp: "The open sandwich seems to have come back in fashion, which I appreciate since it is easier to get a good bread to topping-ratio."
The best bread to spread with nice butter
Mark Douglas: "It has to be a soda farl but it has to be straight off the griddle, hot and fresh as can be. Get the butter, slice open the soda, and let the butter melt into it. Sure heaven, like as we say here."
Miisa Mink: "Rieska is a flatbread made with barley and it's great served hot from the oven with butter."
Meera Sodha: "Fresh-out-the-tandoor naan slathered with hot garlicky butter."
Edd Kimber: "It's got to be something with a good butter content. It makes the dish a bit more luxurious and less like the slightly meagre old school British version, so brioche or challah are great (croissants would work brilliantly too)."
Ellinor Grapp: "The best bread with butter is our rye and cranberry bread, without a doubt. It is packed with flavour and doesn't need much more than butter to make a statement."
The best bread for a bacon sandwich
Mark Douglas: "That one here is very simple It has to be a soda farl or as we call it, a bacon soda."
Miisa Mink: "A dark rye organic bread."
Meera Sodha: "A soft white bread, like a pre-cut Kingsmill or a bap but nothing too thick as you want it to squish sympathetically around your target: the crispy delicious bacon."
Edd Kimber: "It has to be sliced white bread, the least fancy you can find, with plenty of ketchup."
Ellinor Grapp: "I will always recommend our classic levain loaf. Nice and fluffy, with a beautiful crunch to the crust, it will never fail you. Give it a quick turn in the frying pan before you start on the bacon and you are good to go."
The weirdest sandwich you've ever made
Mark Douglas: "With a large hunger pang on after a long day at an event, I had brought home fresh wheaten farls and I had smoked cod in the fridge from the market. So I just poached the cod in milk, layered the farl with lettuce, beetroot, scallions, and a wee dash of balsamic, and had it with a cup of tea."
Miisa Mink: "I don't tend to opt for gimmicky sandwiches and prefer to choose simple flavour combinations that work together such as freshly baked rye bread spread with a soft goat cheese or a good Jarlsberg with homemade rhubarb jam."
Meera Sodha: "A lasagne sandwich. It was completely unnecessary to put a slice of lasagne into a sandwich, but it allowed for the addition of some tomato ketchup, which was very nice."
Edd Kimber: "When I was a kid I went to a summer camp and a fellow camper introduced me to sugar sandwiches. Literally buttered white bread with caster sugar. Truly a disgusting thing but I ate a bunch of them on that camp or maybe the food on offer was terrible?"
Ellinor Grapp: "The weirdest sandwich I've ever made had the classic combination of peanut butter and jam in the bottom, with added pickles and pastrami. It's all about those flavour combinations!"