Wednesday, April 16, 2014

For the Love of Tea Sandwiches

An offering of Cucumber, Watercress, Pimento Cheese,
and Radish tea sandwiches for Afternoon Tea
There's something special about dainty little crust-less tea sandwiches, savored and lingered over cup after cup of warm, fragrant tea. Whether it reminds us of our own childhood tea parties, or the upper crust allure of Downton Abbey, those little nibbles we enjoy when taking tea make us feel doted on and special. We sit up a little straighter in our chair and dust off an old set of manners that seems to belong to a different age. Perhaps I'm overly romantic about it all, but it almost seems like we become better versions of ourselves –  more civil, more refined, more contemplative, more appreciative. There are few other practices that can cause this kind of transformation. Is it any wonder that Afternoon Tea is our favorite way to entertain?
Sliced baby cucumber on herbed
cream-cheese topped bread

And the variety of tea sandwiches is endless. Whether you choose to go traditional with cucumber and watercress tea sandwiches, the ever-popular egg salad and chicken salad sandwiches, or sweet finger sandwiches to delight the palate, an assortment of these lovely little gems will surely please everyone.

Curried Chicken Salad served inside
split mini croissants.
Don't forget your favorites, like good ol' ham and cheese, too!

But be sure to try some new combinations, as well. They may just end up becoming your new favorites. Pesto, tapenade, caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, chutneys and smoked cheeses are incredibly flavorful ingredients that can be turned into some fantastic tea sandwiches. Mix sweet with savory, like cranberry sauce and turkey slices, or orange marmalade with chicken, for easy taste bud pleasers. Just remember to keep each sandwich no bigger than 2-3 bites each so everyone can enjoy sampling a few.

Egg salad
Also remember to offer them in a variety of shapes for visual appeal and to make them extra-special. Simply slice or cut out bread shapes with a biscuit or cookie cutter for a lovely display of tea sandwiches. Try ovals for cucumber sandwiches, round for radish sandwiches, triangles for watercress sandwiches, flowers for egg salad sandwiches, hearts for tuna salad, diamonds for ham and cheese, etc.

As my niece pointed out, "Somehow, eating egg salad in the shape of a flower just tastes so much yummier!"

Add a simple garnish to your various tea sandwiches –   an olive slice, a sprinkle of chopped chives, a sprig of parsley or a small strip of vibrant pimento –  for a tea party spread worthy of royalty.

Open-faced olive tea sandwiches
Roast beef pinwheels - heartier fare
Our menu, of course, will depend upon whether we're entertaining the ladies, the men, or holding a child's birthday tea party.

Men love sandwiches, too, so don't count them out of your next tea party. However, they do often prefer heartier eats, like roast beef with horseradish, while ladies generally prefer lighter and more delicate fare. Children will be delighted with simple cheese sandwiches or peanut butter and jelly, as long as the crusts are removed.  Cut into animal or dinosaur shapes with those cookie cutters to tickle their fancy!  (Send your kids to school with some tucked into their lunch boxes, and you'll be the talk of the school lunchroom.)

Sweet tea sandwich tray
At Afternoon Tea, we had many orders for tea sandwich trays from our customers, ready to go or to be delivered to a friend's house for an event. Tea sandwiches make a statement, are more substantial and perhaps a little more elevated than a tray of sweets or cookies.

We make sweet tea sandwiches out of banana bread, date-nut bread, pumpkin bread and strawberry bread (or any other sweet tea bread or pound cake of your choice). Filled with cream cheese, they are absolutely scrumptious! Tie the tray up securely in cellophane with a ribbon, and it's good to go to your next potluck. No doubt it will be an original and special treat on the table.

Making so many tea sandwiches, we picked up a few tricks along the way. For example, we always whip our cream cheese with a tablespoon or so of cold water first, to make sure it stays creamy and doesn't dry out and crack. It also helps keep your bread moist, as well.

Slicing a tea bread filled with blueberry
cream cheese into finger sandwiches.
When slicing firmer tea breads, stand up the sandwiches and cut down through them so that the cream cheese won't smoosh out of them (that's the technical term for it). If your tea sandwiches are too soft to slice nicely, place in an airtight container and refrigerate until firm, then try again. Do try flavored cream cheese, as well ... a generous amount of chopped chives and dill added to your cream cheese for savory tea sandwiches, and mashed strawberries, blueberries or honey whipped into cream cheese for sweet tea sandwiches.

If you've got a lot of tea sandwiches to make, consider using a cake decorating or pastry bag to pipe the cream cheese or other filling onto each slice. It will make the process go much faster and easier.

Cover your tea sandwiches with a damp towel while working to prevent the bread from drying out. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container, and keep your tea sandwiches chilled until you're ready to serve.
Placecards identify each tea sandwich for a French-themed tea party

Tea sandwiches aren't just for tea parties, anymore. Sandwiches are always perfect for any party, anytime, and with the variety of tasty combinations possible you can create a beautiful spread of tasty noms for every situation that comes up. Tea sandwiches open up your entertaining options and a tray of adorable tea sandwiches are a welcome addition to any party!

Pinkies up, and enjoy!

What to do with all the leftover crusts and bread scraps from your tea sandwiches? Process them into breadcrumbs for your next meatloaf or crab cakes. Cut into cubes, toss with melted butter, herbs and spices, and toast them up for homemade croutons. Dry out the scraps in a low temperature oven and mix up your favorite stuffing recipe to serve with chicken or turkey. Dice and throw into a pan with beaten eggs for a brunch bread frittata. Toss them into a custard base and bake up a breakfast French Toast casserole, or try your favorite version of the Chopped contestants' perennial fallback dessert: bread pudding.

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