Classic tea sandwiches are cut into fingers (shown above), triangles or pinwheels. Photo by Bit Boy | Wikimedia.
Tea sandwiches are adorable. Who can resist miniature food?
Those who have made them know how easy they are. They can be as simple as curried tuna salad or sliced cucumbers and herbs with sweet butter. Expensive ingredients are not required.
Nor is special bread. We typically buy loaves of Pepperidge Farm Very Thin white bread and whole wheat bread. You can use whatever bread you like, but the key is to keep it light; the bread shouldn’t overwhelm the fillings.
Most importantly, you don’t need to serve tea sandwiches with tea. For snacks, as cocktail food or for a light dinner with soup or salad, the whole of tea sandwiches is greater than the sum of the parts.
(Otherwise stated, they have much more appeal than a conventional sandwiches.)
Classic tea sandwich shapes include fingers (slender rectangles), squares, triangles and pinwheels (cut from wraps). While traditionally made with two slices of bread, they can be open-face.
But you can be even more fanciful and get out the cookie cutters: animals, diamonds, hearts, stars, whatever you have. For a trompe l’oeil, use gingerbread men. For holidays, dig out the turkey, the Christmas tree, the candy cane.
(For the days after Thanksgiving, stave off turkey sandwich boredom with turkey and cranberry tea sandwiches—whether or not you have a turkey cookie cutter.)
Plan on four to six finger sandwiches per person for snacks or when serving a light lunch or dinner alongside a large bowl of soup or salad. Plan for two or three with cocktails.
HOW TO CREATE TEA SANDWICHES
You can start with a book such as “Tastefully Small Finger Sandwiches: Easy Party Sandwiches for All Occasions” (more information).
Or, grab that thin-sliced bread and mix and match from the ingredients that follow. Tea sandwiches should be light and delicate. The idea is “just a bite.”
Pick A Filling
Asparagus and prosciutto
Bacon, arugula and tomato
Blue cheese and thin-sliced apple or pear
Carrot and raisin slaw
Have some fun with it: Use fanciful cookie cutters to make tea sandwiches. Photo by Kenneth Clawson | Wikimedia.
Chicken salad, egg salad, shrimp salad, traditional or curried
Chicken salad with sliced grapes and almonds
Crushed pineapple, cream cheese and chopped walnuts/pecans
Cucumber (seedless), radish, watercress or a combination, with butter
Goat cheese, tomato and basil
Goat cheese with cracked pepper and chopped pistachios
Ham and grilled pineapple
Italian salami and mozzarella or ricotta
Pimento-stuffed olive and cream cheese
Sliced hard-cooked egg and watercress
Smoked salmon and watercress with cream cheese or cucumber and goat cheese
Sundried tomato and basil with cream cheese or goat cheese
For snacks, you can also make sweet tea sandwiches: PB&J, mascarpone and strawberries, Nutella.
Pick A Spread
In England the bread is traditionally buttered, but we enjoy different spreads that complement the ingredients.
Butter, unsweetened or compound butter
Cream cheese, plain or flavored
Goat cheese (fresh)
Mayonnaise, plain or flavored
Chopped pickles or relish
Fresh herbs: basil, dill, mint, tarragon
Sprouts or microgreens
Pick A Garnish Or Accent
Both pieces of bread should have a thin coating of the spread. You can use butter on one side and a different spread (mayonnaise, mustard) on the other.
The spreads should be at room temperature so you can use only a little.
Freezing the bread beforehand (even for an hour) makes it easier to handle. It will defrost before the sandwiches are served.
After the sandwich is made, cut the crusts from the bread; then cut the fingers or triangles.
Set aside the cut-away bread and crusts for bread crumbs, bread pudding or stuffing. Stick them in the freezer if you won’t be using them immediately.
Even if you plan to serve them within the hour, cover the plate or tray of sandwiches tightly with plastic wrap so the bread doesn’t dry out.
Share your favorite tea sandwich combinations.
And check out the history of afternoon tea.