As a self-proclaimed bread aficionado, I can wax poetic about crusts and crumb structure for hours. After all, there are literally dozens (or more!) types of bread to choose from. So, how do you choose the BEST bread for french toast, grilled cheese, sandwiches, bread pudding, or any other dish you desire?? I’m here to walk you through all the different styles of bread and what dishes each one excels in so you can choose the *perfect* bread for your needs.
What Are The Different Types Of Bread?
There are tender, enriched breads like pillowy soft brioche, sweet Hawaiian rolls, or herby foccacia. Then there are crusty breads like sourdough, baguettes, or Italian bread. Some bread uses yeast, others use different leaveners like baking soda or baking powder. Flatbreads can similarly be leavened (like naan) or unleavened (like matzah).
With all these different categories of bread, it’s easy to get yourself twisted into a pretzel trying to figure out which ones are best for different dishes. That’s why I’ve created this easy primer on the different types of breads and their corresponding best-use scenarios. Let’s dive in!
If you think back to your younger days, I’d bet you can conjure up the image of a perfect PB&J sandwich. Soft, fluffy, almost sweet white bread nearly dripping with sweet jelly and creamy peanut butter. YUM! Turns out, white bread is an enriched bread, which is probably why little you loved it so much.
Many old-fashioned breads generally have little more than flour, salt, water, and yeast, but this “enriched” category adds in all kinds of goodies to make it pillowy soft. The biggest contributor to the tender texture of enriched breads is fat, either in the form of milk, butter, or eggs (or a combination thereof!). Oftentimes sweeteners like honey or sugar will also make their way into the mix.
Best For: French Toast, Bread Pudding, Tea Sandwiches, BLTs
- Brioche - One of my all-time favorite breads is traditional, buttery French brioche. It makes up the base for my fried and stuffed donuts, gorgeously layered babkas, and makes for a damn fine french toast or bread pudding.
- Challah - Similar to brioche, challah is a delicious bread for making french toast and bread pudding, but since it is made in the Jewish (read: kosher) tradition, there is no dairy involved.
- White Sandwich Bread - Tender, slightly sweet, with a fine crumb, it’s no wonder kids love plain white sandwich bread. Heck, I do too! It’s my go-to choice for making dainty tea sandwiches and simple BLTs.
- Dinner Rolls - Parker House rolls, Sweet Hawaiian rolls, or any of the flaky, soft, buttery versions you serve at Thanksgiving are perfect examples of enriched bread. If you’re stuck with leftovers, they make for great bread pudding or savory stratas.
- Hamburger or Hot Dog Buns, Potato Buns - Yep, these are yet another excellent example of soft, fluffy, enriched bread. When you inevitably end up with extra hot dog buns (it’s a conspiracy!), I find they make for delightfully dippable french toast sticks.
- Focaccia - Rich with olive oil and usually flavored with a smattering of herbs, focaccia is an Italian delicacy right up there with fresh pasta and stretchy gelato. While I typically suggest making croutons from crusty breads, stale focaccia can get a lovely second life from being cubed and toasted. Stratas or savory french toast are two other great uses for leftovers.
- Milk Bread - If you’ve ever had the delicacy that is Japansese cheesecake, you wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that Japan is also responsible for this light-as-air, squishy-soft bread. This is another great option for sweet applications like french toast and bread pudding.
- Texas Toast - Everything is bigger in Texas, or so I’ve heard. That apparently also includes their toast! This is simply white sandwich bread cut to 2-3x the width of normal bread, making it a great base for soaking in custard and frying or baking to gooey perfection.
Whole Grain Breads
Typically made with the Big Four of bread-making — flour, water, yeast, and salt — the big difference here is that the flour for whole grain breads must be made from, well, whole grains.
Let me take a minute to explain: white flour (e.g. all-purpose) has had both the bran and germ of the wheat removed, leaving only the inner portion known as the endosperm. These removed bits are the most nutritious parts of the grain, which is why refined flour often gets a bad rap.
In addition to being filled with healthy minerals and other nutrients, whole grains offer their own distinct flavor profiles. As such, I typically prefer to eat whole grain breads simply toasted with some butter (it really does make everything better). They also make for some of the best deli sandwiches around.
Whole wheat bread is the most well known in the category, but there are lots of other flours that are considered whole grain: oat, buckwheat, einkorn, millet, pumpernickel, and quinoa, just to name a few.
Best For: Deli Sandwiches, Toast
- White Whole Wheat Bread or Regular Whole Wheat Bread - As a kid, I wasn’t into the denser, grainier crumb and more complex flavor of whole wheat bread, but as an adult, I relish it. If you want the health benefits of whole grains with a consistency that is closer to white bread, white whole wheat bread is a good compromise.
- Multigrain Bread - As the name suggests, this bread is made with two or more distinct types of grain, leading to interesting flavor profiles. They can include lots of seeds, but that’s not a necessary component. If you’re shopping at the store, be sure to look for the “whole grain” qualifier, otherwise you’ll end up with bread made from refined flours.
- Rye - Dense, dark, and deeply flavorful, rye is a bread I wouldn’t touch as a kid but that I love now. You can’t have a proper Reuben or pastrami sandwich without it! It can be lighter or darker depending on the flour used and how much molasses is added. If you can’t decide, try grabbing swirled rye for a visually appealing compromise.
- Pumpernickel - Made with a particular kind of rye and often flavored with caraway, this is as dense, heavy, and deeply colored as bread can get. It has an interesting profile that is at once tangy (from the sourdough starter used to leaven it), yet still sweet from the nutty grains and addition of molasses.
As the name implies, quick breads are the easiest and fastest types of bread to make. Why? Instead of relying on a typical rise, these tasty morsels rely on leavining in the form of baking soda, baking powder, or even beer.
Since they don’t go through the same gluten formation process, quick breads are usually much crumblier than traditionally risen loaves, meaning they’re not great for repurposing into sandwiches or soaking in batters to make french toast.
What they lack in structural integrity, however, they more than make up for in taste. They are usually on the sweeter side of things, though they often pair beautifully with more savory ingredients. (Have you ever had cornbread with cheddar and jalapeños? Or a biscuit breakfast sandwich with bacon and eggs? Then you know what I mean.)
The most popular type of quick bread has to be banana bread, but I’d argue that cornbread, biscuits, scones, and most other muffins and even cakes fall in this category. I suggest eating them plain, or with a simple swipe of butter, jam, curd, or clotted cream.
Best For: Slathering With Butter & Eating For Breakfast
- Banana Bread - Whether you like yours with nuts, chocolate chips, or simple and plain, chances are you’ve tried this ubiquitous quickbread on more than one occasion. Another strong contender for most popular in the category has to be zucchini bread.
- Muffins - IMO, muffins are just miniature quickbreads that have been packaged for eating on the go.
- Cornbread - Equally perfect for eating with a bowl of chili, slathering with jam for breakfast, or frying into hushpuppies and dipping in tartar sauce, cornbread is a southern staple that is too good to resist.
- Biscuits - Flaky and delicious, biscuits are basically the southern version of croissants. Though much easier to make than laminated dough, they require a gentle hand and some practice to master. The dough can also be used for making monkey bread, which is a delicacy unto itself.
- Scones - Consider scones the British version of American biscuits. They’re short and crumbly, and perfect for breakfast. Once you have the basic formula down, they’re also endlessly adaptable into any number of sweet or savory flavor combos.
With hard, crunchy crusts that shatter into a million pieces when you tear them and soft, stretchy crumbed interiors, crusty breads are among my favorite type of carbs. If you’ve ever had the satisfaction of knocking the exterior of a French boule to hear the airy hollows of its interior, you’ll understand why.
Typically made with differing ratios of just water, flour, salt, and yeast, these rustic breads are best the day they are made. When I lived in France, I’d often buy a baguette or boule, a wedge of cheese, and a Euro-priced bottle of wine for dinner, and I can honestly say I’ve never been more satisfied.
These artisan breads make for the perfect pre-dinner course when paired with butter or an olive oil dipping sauce. They’re also my go-to choices for turning into golden grilled cheeses, paninis, or croutons.
Best For: Grilled Cheese, Paninis, Croutons, Dipping in Soup
- Sourdough - Naturally leavened with a fermented flour and water mixture known as a “starter,” sourdough by definition does use commercially produced yeast. That means you only need flour, salt, and water to make it! The signature tangy flavor results from the fermentation process and makes sourdough one of the easiest breads to identify.
- Italian Bread - While “Italian bread” can mean a great many things (the Italians are responsible for ciabatta, Pugliese, and Toscano, to name a few), Americans typically know Italian bread as an elongated loaf with a crust that is more chewy than crusty. Technically speaking, it is often made with just a touch of olive oil and sweetened with the scantest bit of sugar, making it an enriched bread, but the texture leads me to categorize it as crusty.
- French Bread - Made from the same dough as baguettes, but shaped into a wider loaf known as a batard, this yeasted bread has a thick, crumbly crust and an impossibly stretchy crumb that makes it perfect fodder for pan-fried sandwiches.
- Ciabatta - Characterized by a wide, irregular crumb structure and a crisp exterior, this bread is often shaped into square pillow-shaped rolls that are perfect for loading up with a pile of meats, oil & vinegar dressing, and a multitude of marinated veggies.
When you think of “shaped breads,” your mind might first go to adorable pumpkin-shaped dinner rolls or something equally kitschy. As it turns out, though, shaped breads are far more commonplace than you might think. From the elongated, skinny shapes of baguettes to the twisty appeal of homemade pretzels, almost all breads that aren’t baked in a classic loaf tin are considered shaped.
Best For: Subs, Bread Bowls, Garlic Bread, Pull-Apart Rolls, Bruschetta, Cheese Platters, Breakfast Sandwiches
- Baguette - Long, slender, with an impossibly crisp crust and a stretchy, wide crumbed interior, baguettes are a classic for a reason. The word baguette means “little stick” or “little rod” in French, and this shape can be from 2 to 4 inches wide. This is my go-to loaf for making bruschetta, serving with cheese or charcuterie platters, creating delicious subs (use the thicker baguette for more surface area), or turning into garlic bread.
- Boule - French for “ball,” boules are the classic round shape that you’ll find many sourdough makers use. They are the *perfect* bread for turning into soup-filled bread bowls. They are also my go-to shape for making dinner rolls (I make smaller boules).
- Épi - This fun French bread shape is intended to look like a stalk of wheat, with smaller, oval-shaped pieces being attached in one long piece. This shape is essentially the OG pull-apart bread, with each piece being the perfect size for a dinner roll. Next time you want to impress your friends at a dinner party, bust out the épi!
- Bagel - Shaped like “O’s,” bagels are one of the most recognizable shapes of bread in the world. They also have an interesting process, requiring that you boil them in a lye solution before baking. They’re the ideal bread for slathering with cream cheese, preferably in concert with a hefty load of lox (cold smoked salmon) and other accouterments like thinly sliced red onion, a perfect slice of a summer tomato, and some briny capers to round it all out.
- Waffle - Studded with craters that catch all the syrupy, buttery goodness of a weekend breakfast, waffles are another iconic shaped bread. They also happen to fall under the category of “quick breads” when they are raised with non-yeast leaveners. Belgian waffles and liege waffles are made with yeast, however, so they’d be classified as “enriched breads.” Technically speaking, they are also considered “fried breads” since they are usually made in an iron with oil or butter.
- English Muffin - While English Muffins have a shape similar to Southern biscuits, they are actually shaped into miniature boules before being rolled into flat discs. Unlike biscuits, you shouldn’t cut them from a larger piece of dough because you’ll lose all the gaseous bubble structures that help create a tall, puffed piece of craggy breakfast magic. They are my go-to shape for making amazing breakfast sandwiches loaded up with eggs, cheese, and breakfast meats.
- Pretzel - Most often, pretzels are shaped into pretty knots. They can also be shaped into rolls or buns, which make for excellent burgers, hot dogs, or tasty sandwiches.
Pretty much every culture across the globe has its own version (or multiple versions) of flatbreads. From Indian naan to Ethiopian injera, Mediterranean pita to Mexican tortilla, there is a vast and varied world of flatbreads to explore! As an added bonus, many flatbreads require no leavening, meaning they are easier to turn into gluten-free options.
Best For: Pizzas, Arepas, Pupusas, Tacos, Burritos, Sopping Up Curries, Making Gluten-Free
- Naan - Soft, leavened, and ultra-tender, naan is perhaps the best-known Indian flatbread around the world. It is my go-to flatbread for serving with curries, and often gets repurposed into making quick weeknight pizzas at our house.
- Roti/Chapati - Thinner than naan and entirely unleavened, roti and chapati are often used as interchangeable terms. Technically speaking, chapati is a type of roti, not the other way around. These flatbreads are also great for serving with just about any kind of Indian food, but they are particularly good at rolling up into Frankie or Kathi wraps. BTW, if you’ve never had either of these Indian street food favorites, you owe yourself a try!
- Injera - Spongy, tangy, and oftentimes gluten-free, Injera is an Ethiopian flatbread that resembles a crepe. Primarily made from teff flour, this tasty bread is used for picking up bites of richly spiced foods, making it as ubiquitous in Ethiopia as rice is in other parts of the world. Injera gets its signature sour flavor from a natural fermentation process (similar to sourdough), which means it is not only packed with whole-grain goodness from teff, but also a hefty dose of probiotics to boot.
- Lavash - Super thin and extra-large, lavash is an Armenian flatbread that is also wildly popular in Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan. While it is typically unleavened, lavash is often made using bits of the previous batch, much the same as sourdough. While the ginormous sheets of lavash are delectable when eaten fresh, they are often left to dry out completely into a near cracker state because it keeps well this way and can easily be rehydrated for future use. It is also tasty eaten as a cracker, if you’re into that sort of thing.
- Pita - Puffy, soft, and created with a built-in pocket, pitas are perfect for stuffing with all kinds of tasty things like falafel, hummus, shawarma, or gyros.
- Pizza - Made with nothing more than yeast, salt, bread flour, and water, pizza dough is one of the simplest homemade breads to make. Plus, who doesn’t love a good pizza? Do yourself a favor and get a pizza stone for your outdoor grill if you don’t have a dedicated pizza oven. You’ll get a much better crust if you do.
- Tortilla - Whether you’re on Team Flour or Team Corn, one thing remains the same: tortillas are delicious. If you’re gluten-free, go for corn tortillas, which are simple to make using masa harina (a particular type of corn flour). These are my go-to flatbreads for turning into tacos, burritos, and other wrapped sandwiches.
In case you didn’t know it: bread doesn’t have to be baked! Any bread that is either pan-fried or deep-fried in oil or butter is considered a fried bread, including pancakes & crumpets to donuts and parathas. While many fried breads are used for either sweet breakfast or dessert applications, there are plenty of savory exceptions available.
Best For: Breakfasts, Desserts & Snacks
- Native American Fry Bread - While there are lots of variations on this recipe that stretches back generations, fry bread is always golden and crisp on the outside, soft and tender on the inside. It can be made with cornmeal for texture, or include lard or eggs for an enriched dough, but the most basic recipe uses just baking powder, flour, salt, and milk. It can be served with either savory dishes or drizzled with honey or syrup for a sweet breakfast or dessert.
- Paratha - This flatbread is similar to naan, but fried instead of baked. In addition, it is rolled out several times, creating a laminated dough that yields a flaky flatbread that is simply to die for.
- Fried Doughnuts - Yep, donuts are totally considered fried breads! Many of my favorite fried doughnuts use brioche as the base dough, though others use a batter that is more similar to a cake batter.
- Pancakes & Crepes - While they are made from batter instead of dough, these quick and simple flatbreads are fried in a pan, making them part of the fried bread community.
- Gorditas - Spanish for “little fatties,” gorditas are essentially thick tortillas that are fried then split open and stuffed like pita pockets. YUM!
- Churros - These tasty cinnamon-sugar dusted batons of fried goodness are essentially the Mexican version of doughnuts. For an extra dose of deliciousness, try dipping them into chocolate sauce or dulce de leche.
- Zeppole - These deep-fried Italian pastries are delightful on their own, but are often stuffed with cannoli fillings, custards, or jams.
- Sopaipillas - Similar to zeppole, Mexican sopaipillas are deep-fried pastry pockets. Unlike zeppole that are only served as desserts, though, sopaipillas can be either sweet or savory.
Nearly every culture around the world has celebration breads that are reserved for special occasions. Some of the sweet bread types listed below aren’t necessarily considered celebration breads where they are from but are eaten here in the US to celebrate specific holidays. These are some of my favorites!
Best For: Holidays, Flavored French Toast, Extra Decadent Bread Pudding
- Irish Soda Bread - Technically another quick bread, Irish Soda Bread is leavened using baking soda. This lightly sweet bread is often studded with dried fruits like currants and is usually served in the US to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
- Italian Easter Bread - Also known as pane di pasqua, this wreath-shaped bread is made with a dough similar to brioche and baked with a brightly colored hard-boiled egg in the center.
- Panettone - This Italian sweet cake-like bread was originally considered a luxury that should only be reserved for church events like Easter and Christmas. While you can easily make panettone any time of year, it is most often served in the US around Christmas.
- Hot Cross Buns - Studded with dried fruit and marked with an icing cross on top, hot cross buns are significant in the Christian faith and are meant to symbolize the death of Christ. As a result, you’ll see these buns only around Easter, when they are eaten on Good Friday (the day of Jesus’s crucifixion).
- Raisin Cinnamon Swirl Bread - Often enriched with honey, eggs, milk, and butter, swirled with cinnamon, and studded with raisins, raisin cinnamon bread is basically dessert in a loaf. While it isn’t technically a celebration bread linked to any particular event, this rich, sweet bread is my version of a party bread! While I love it simply toasted and topped with butter or peanut butter, it also makes for a darn fine french toast or bread pudding.
- Babka - Twisted, marbled, beautiful, and unquestionably delicious, babkas originated as a way for Jewish housewives to use up extra challah dough by spreading them with jam or cinnamon and rolling them up into a dessert loaf. Since then, they have boomed in popularity with dozens of tasty varieties available.
More Bread Recipes
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