Classic and Creative English Tea Sandwiches

English tea sandwiches are the established mainstay of afternoon tea, bridal and baby showers or small receptions. Whether you're making them to enjoy yourself or as the focus of a small gathering of friends, tea party sandwiches are a perfect way to keep party fare light and flavorful.

Preparing Tea Sandwiches
The general rule when serving tea sandwiches, is to plant for four to six tea sandwiches for each guest. Aim to offer a variety of fillings and assorted breads and always use the best quality bread you can find. Bread used for tea sandwiches should be soft, though some chefs recommend freezing just before use to reduce the chance of tearing or breaking when spreading. Tea sandwiches are known for being dainty and light, so be sure the bread you choose is thinly sliced or can be at home.

Classic English tea sandwiches are always spread with a light coat of unsalted butter that extends to the edges of the bread. Creative variations may call for herbed mayonnaise or cream cheese, or, if you're making sweet rather than savory tea sandwiches, chutneys or marmalades.

Once you've assembled your full sandwich, cut it into thirds or quarters, taking care to remove the crusts. You can also purchase tea bread cutters if you wish to cut your tea sandwiches into shapes. Popular choices include hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. Alternatively, you can cut tea sandwiches into shapes using cookie cutters.

Cover cut tea sandwiches with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Classic English Tea Sandwiches
Perhaps the most well known tea sandwiches are cucumber sandwiches and watercress sandwiches. Both are simple to make, though you'll need to take care with the cucumber sandwiches to slice the cucumbers as thin as possible (a mandolin makes short work of this exacting task).

Cucumber Sandwiches. Start with peeled, seedless cucumbers. Slice ultra thin, aiming for each cucumber to yield between 25 and 30 slices each. Place the slices between layers of paper towels to draw out excess moisture. If you prefer, sprinkle them lightly with kosher salt beforehand to draw out as much water as possible. Set aside.

Next, use plain, unsalted butter or herbed butter if you prefer, to coat each slice of bread (one side only). Place cucumber rounds on the bread slices (between four to six per slice, depending on the bread you're using). Top with another slice of buttered bread, then trim the crusts. Finally, cut into thirds or quarters and arrange on a serving tray.

Watercress Sandwiches. Watercress is an aquatic plant from the cabbage family found in Europe through Asia and has long been noted as a popular filling for tea sandwiches. To make watercress tea sandwiches, wash and pat the leaves dry. Butter thinly-sliced white or rye bread and layer with watercress leaves. Top with another slice of buttered bread then trim the crusts. Cut into thirds, quarters or diamonds and serve.

Tea Sandwich Breads, Spreads and Fillings
Although high quality white bread is the traditional choice for tea sandwiches, that doesn't mean you can't experiment with others. Some bread choices you might want to experiment with to create your own tea sandwich recipes include:

  • White bread
  • Sunflower bread
  • Sourdough bread
  • Pumpernickel bread
  • Rye bread
  • Pumpkin bread
  • Raisin bread
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Black bread
  • Cheese bread
  • Potato bread
  • Oatmeal bread
  • Anadama bread

Like white bread, unsalted butter is a classic tea sandwich spread, but you can achieve a variety of flavors and textures by trying one or more of the following:

  • Unsalted butter
  • Sweet butter
  • Cream cheese (plain, flavored or herbed)
  • Dijon mustard
  • Chutney
  • Mayonnaise (plain, curried or herbed)
  • Sour cream
  • Crème Fraiche
  • Horseradish
  • Marmalade

If cucumbers and watercress aren't piquing your palate's interest any more, consider filling tea sandwiches with a variety of meats or cheeses, sliced ultra thin, like:

  • Roasted chicken
  • Smoked salmon
  • Crabmeat
  • Smoked Ham
  • Poached shrimp
  • Bacon
  • Hard-boiled eggs (salted)
  • Bleu cheese
  • Extra sharp Pinconning cheese
  • Edam cheese
  • Havarti cheese
  • Almond slivers (raw or toasted)

 You might also try:

  • Sliced strawberries
  • Olives
  • Endive or escarole
  • Avocados
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Sliced apples or pears
  • Red radishes
  • Mint leaves
  • Red onion (slice very thin)
  • Chives and chive blossoms
  • Sliced lemon (peeled and seeded)
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