Making the cut
Whatever the filling, the foundation of the perfect sandwich is, and always will be, the bread.
Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
The problem most people have when making sandwiches is that they concentrate too much on the fillings, when the quality of the bread is just as important. I very rarely make sandwiches with pre-sliced "sandwich bread", which has a tendency to get soggy (although for some reason it works well for croque monsieur). Baguettes and country-style breads I leave up to the professionals, but the two breads below are easy to make.
This is the bread I make most often. I usually make it with instant yeast because that's easiest, but you can use active dry yeast instead (it needs to be dissolved in some of the water, before being mixed in with the flour).
The dough will be very damp, but don't be tempted to add extra flour. You can top the bread with fresh herbs, such as oregano, thyme or rosemary, although for sandwiches I prefer adding only salt, which makes the bread suitable for both savoury and sweet fillings.
This focaccia makes excellent grilled sandwiches: slice the bread in half horizontally, add the filling, then heat it in a hot cast-iron pan, pressing down on the sandwich with weights to flatten it. After toasting the base of the sandwich, remove the weights, flip the sandwich over, press it down again with the weights and toast the top.
550 grams plain (all-purpose) flour or bread flour
1½ tsp instant yeast
1½ tsp fine sea salt
480ml lukewarm water (35 degrees Celsius)
About 150ml extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Rough-flaked sea salt (such as Maldon), for sprinkling
Use about 30ml of the olive oil to liberally grease a large bowl. In another bowl, thoroughly combine the flour with the yeast and salt. Add the water to the flour mixture and use your hand to stir the ingredients into a cohesive but shaggy and very damp mass; do not add any more flour. Transfer the mixture to the oiled bowl, drizzle with more olive oil and rub it over the surface of the dough to coat it entirely. Cover with cling-film then refrigerate for at least eight hours. Remove from the fridge about an hour before you want to bake the bread.
Preheat the oven to 240 degrees. Use about 45ml of olive oil to grease a 24cm by 30cm pan that's about 3cm deep; the pan should be very well coated, so use more oil if necessary. Put the dough in the pan and gently stretch and spread it so it covers the bottom of the pan in an even layer. Drizzle with more olive oil and spread it over the dough so it's evenly coated. Leave at room temperature for about 15 minutes, then use your fingertips to poke holes all over the dough, pressing all the way to the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with rough-flaked sea salt then place the pan in the oven. Turn the heat down to 220 degrees and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the focaccia is fragrant and golden brown; when you touch the surface, it should be firm. Cool to room temperature before slicing into sandwich-size pieces.
Easy sandwich bread
I usually make this with sourdough, but realise that not everybody has a jar of it lurking in their fridge, so I've written the recipe without it. If you do have sourdough, though, add about 200 grams of it to the dough, omit the yeast and add some more flour to create a workable, not-too-sticky dough. If you like, use 700 grams of bread flour, rather than a combination of bread and whole-wheat flours.
500 grams bread flour, plus more for kneading
200 grams whole-wheat flour
1½ tsp fine-grained sea salt
½ tsp instant yeast
375ml lukewarm water
Oil, for greasing the bowl
Thoroughly combine the two flours with the salt and yeast. Add the water and mix to form a dough that's neither sticky nor dry; if needed, add more flour or water. Knead the dough on a lightly floured work surface until it's cohesive and smooth (about 10 minutes). Lightly oil a large bowl. Put the dough in the bowl, turn it over so the oiled side is on top then cover with cling-film. Leave at room temperature until the dough has doubled in size. Hit the dough with your fist to deflate it then cover again with cling-film. Let the dough rise again, either at room temperature or in the fridge overnight. If you refrigerate the dough, leave it at room temperature for at least an hour before baking it.
Preheat the oven to 230 degrees. Hit the dough again, knead it briefly, then shape it into one or two loaves: round ones, long ones or sandwich loaves (for which you'll need lightly oiled bread tins). Make sure the smooth side of the dough is on top. If you're not using a bread tin, place the loaves on a baking tray covered with parchment paper or aluminium foil. Leave for 30 minutes, or until the dough has risen by about three-quarters. Sprinkle the surface of the loaves with flour then slash the tops diagonally, using a sharp paring knife. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven to 200 degrees and continue to bake until the loaves are fragrant, brown and firm to the touch. Check they're done by turning them upside down (take the bread from the tin, if you're using one) and tapping the bottom of the loaf - it should sound hollow. Cool to room temperature before slicing.