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Crusts off! How to assemble sandwiches for an afternoon tea.


If you'd like to include savory sandwiches in your plans for an afternoon tea, some attention to detail is important.

Figure on the equivalent of at least one full sandwich per guest. Tea sandwiches are crustless, often cut in half or into batons ("finger sandwiches") or triangles. Fill the whole sandwiches before removing the crusts and dividing into smaller pieces - it will be easier to assemble, and you'll end up with neat edges. You can reserve the crusts for making croutons, bread crumbs, stratas or bread pudding.

Spread the fillings with restraint. The sandwiches will look nicer and be easier to eat. You can make extra-elegant noshes by using loaves labeled as thin-sliced, such as Pepperidge Farm's "Very Thin" white and whole-wheat loaves. Or find unsliced loaves you can slice thinly yourself.

For added visual appeal, consider mixing white and whole-wheat bread in individual sandwiches. Pumpernickel is also good for added color and flavor. You can have a little fun and think beyond standard sliced bread, too - mini croissants or small phyllo shells can be charming vessels, and I've even had mini bagels served at a tea in the Orangery at Kensington Palace in London.

Leave final assembly until just before serving, if you can. Fortnum & Mason's "The Cook Book" by Tom Parker Bowles (Fourth Estate, 2016) says that if the sandwiches have to sit around for more than a few minutes, a damp paper towel on top can help preserve the softness of the bread.

Filling ideas:

Cucumber. Perhaps the quintessential tea sandwich. "Cucumber sandwiches, often with extraneous elements added these days, are still de rigueur at any proper English tea," writes Colman Andrews in "The British Table" (Abrams, 2016). He suggests simply combining cucumber with salted butter on white bread. But cream cheese is also commonly used, which you can mix with a bit of fresh dill or mint.

Chicken salad. Consider a Coronation Chicken rendition, created for the accession of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Egg salad. Choose your favorite recipe; those made with mustard make for a punchy addition to the tea spread. Serving the egg with watercress is standard practice in Britain; flat-leaf parsley or arugula are acceptable stand-ins.

Cheese and chutney. Make the centerpiece an aged cheddar, grated or thinly sliced. Pair it with a chutney - Major Grey's, made with mangoes, is an English staple and fairly easy to find. Or pick your favorite (I'm partial to Virginia Chutney, which makes zesty plum and peach chutneys, in addition to Major Grey's). The nuttiness of whole-wheat bread complements this combination.

Smoked salmon. Pull a little inspiration from the classic bagel sandwich, with a thin layer of cream cheese, perhaps with a bit of dill, scallions or capers. "The Cook Book" suggests a dressing made with mayo, capers, baby gherkins, dill and chives.

Ham. Keep it simple with high-quality, thinly sliced meat and a little Dijon mustard or honey mustard.


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