I love tea sandwiches! Maybe it’s their perfect size or maybe it’s because there’s always a sampling of so many varieties. Every establishment that serves Afternoon Tea has their own signature fillings.
But you don’t have to wait for a special event to make Tea Sandwiches. Often when we have weekend guests, I’ll make a platter filled with quarters of 3 or 4 types of sandwiches, allowing everyone a chance to sample a few. (As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn commission on qualifying purchases)
What makes a sandwich a “tea sandwich”?
Tea sandwiches are usually cut in quarters or fingers, and the crusts should be cut off. (Something I’d never do if I were making a sandwich for lunch). Whereas a traditional sandwich can be “loaded” with ingredients, a tea sandwich will be much more dainty.
When making the fillings, make sure the ingredients are chopped finer than you would if you were making a regular sandwich since they are cut into smaller pieces. Each sandwich should be the perfect size for two or three small bites.
What kind of bread can you use?
Here’s where variety and visual appeal come into play. I like to use a couple different kinds of bread. A pullman loaf is what we used in the pub I worked at many years ago. We served a very simple tea, but the sandwiches were always made with a loaf of pullman bread. A pullman loaf is a very tall loaf of plain white bread that’s perfect for sandwiches. The advantage of an unsliced loaf meant that we could slice the loaf horizontally and make three times as many at one time.
Also called, pain de mie, pullman loaves were very common in the 60s and 70s and you could purchase one, unsliced, just for the purpose many sandwiches. Using a pullman loaf meant you could slice the bread as thin as you liked. I have vague memories of my mother ordering a pale pink loaf from our local bakery for a bridal or baby shower. If you’d like to make your own pullman bread, you’ll need a bread pan like this. Here’s a recipe for pain de mie.
If you can’t find a pullman loaf, use a light and fluffy white bread. Other breads such as brown, rye and whole grain can be used. Often a small roll, (think two bites) is used as well.
What sorts of fillings are used in afternoon tea sandwiches?
This is when you can go wild! There are so many combinations of fillings, spreads and breads. One sandwich that’s a must for tea sandwiches is cucumber. You can use a plain cream cheese filling like these cucumber sandwiches, or a compound butter like this chive butter.
While I usually use unsalted butter in my kitchen, a salted butter is my preference for cucumber sandwiches. Since butter is one of the main ingredients in these cucumber sandwiches, you’ll want to use the best quality butter you can afford.
Another classic filling is a chicken salad. I love chicken salad, so for these tea sandwiches, I used this recipe for Chicken Salad with Apricots, Almonds and Tarragon. Coronation Chicken Salad, which was served at the Queen’s Coronation, is another classic filling.
In addition to cucumber sandwiches, another delicious and traditional filling is Egg Salad. Both of these are vegetarian, which gives more options for guests.
For a truly elegant afternoon tea, smoked salmon is a wonderful filling. While not inexpensive, such a small amount is used to make each sandwich, you can get quite a few sandwiches from 4 ounces of smoked salmon. This Smoked Trout Mousse reminds me of the fish paste sandwiches we’d make at the pub I cooked at in the 80s. Another favorite is thinly sliced ham and Irish cheddar.
How to make afternoon tea sandwiches
Assemble all your fillings, bread and spreads before you begin. I like to make the fillings the night before, especially if I’m making several types of sandwiches. Yes, you’ll be cutting the crusts off for aesthetics, but I save those for the nibblers in my house.
Butter should be spread on both slices of bread regardless of the filling. In addition to keeping the sandwiches moist, the butter offers a barrier which will prevent the filling from leaking through the bread and making it soggy.
This is especially important if you’ll be making the tea sandwiches several hours in advance.
How to make cucumber tea sandwiches
For this recipe, you’ll want to use English cucumbers rather than the thicker skinned variety. English cucumbers do not require peeling. While regular cucumbers taste the same, I like to see a little of the darker green skin peaking out for contrast. I use a channel knife like this one, to make ridges along the cucumber before slicing it.
You’ll also want to make sure your slices are fairly thin, so if you don’t have a steady hand, use a mandoline I have a large one and a smaller one like this mandoline, which takes up very little space.
Butter all of the slices of bread. Lay one layer of cucumber over half the slices.
Top with remaining slices of bread. Trim crusts and cut into fingers or triangles.
You will get about 3 fingers or 4 triangles from each sandwich. If desired, butter one edge of each finger and roll in finely chopped chives.
Cucumber Tea Sandwiches with Chive Butter
- 4 ounces butter room temperature, (if using unsalted, add an extra pinch or two of kosher salt)
- 1 Tablespoon chives finely chopped
- 1 pinch kosher salt (not table salt as it's too salty)
- 1/2 English cucumber peeled or scored
- 6 slices white bread
Chive Compound Butter
- Blend softened butter with finely chopped chives and a pinch of salt. If using unsalted, check for flavor and add more if necessary.
- Peel or score the cucumber (see notes). Slice very thinly.
- Butter each slice of bread and lay cucumbers on 3 slices, slightly overlapping.
- Top with remaining slices of bread and trim crusts carefully. Cut into fingers or triangle.
- If desired, butter one edge of each sandwich and cover with finely chopped chives
Additional tea sandwich fillings
This is just a sample of fillings for tea sandwiches. The possibilities are endless!
Chicken Salad with Almonds and Tarragon
For the Chicken Salad with Apricots, Almonds and Tarragon, I used the same recipe, but chopped the ingredients much finer than if I were going to be serving it on a bed of lettuce. One half of this recipe makes about 12 tea sandwiches. For variety, I used one slice each of brown and white bread. Don’t forget to butter both slices of bread.
Ham and Irish Cheddar Tea Sandwiches
Use 3 slices each of light brown and white bread. Spread both sides with softened butter and a thin layer of Dijon mustard if desired. Fill with thinly sliced ham or prosciutto and a good quality Irish or English cheddar.
Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwiches
For contrast and flavor, I chose a dark rye which reminds me of the dainty sandwiches served in Denmark. Because rye has a stronger flavor, I made these sandwiches open-faced.
For the filling, I used softened cream cheese and to make it more economical, I used Trader Joe’s “ends and pieces” smoked salmon which is a few dollars less than premium smoked salmon.
Spread rye bread with softened cream cheese. Layer with smoked salmon
For the garnish, a tiny caper and a sprig of fresh dill. (Remember not to decorate or garnish anything that is not completely edible!)
Egg Salad with Microgreens
A traditional tea sandwich with egg salad would be made with watercress. Watercress is not as common in the US as it is in Europe, so I used microgreens which are about the same size and a similar flavor profile.
I use this Egg Salad recipe but instead of using dill, I substituted 1 teaspoon finely chopped chives. I used the chive butter recipe, above and added microgreens.