These dainty little bites travel in noble circles—with the likes of devilled eggs and petit fours. Their very presence lends an afternoon gathering of women (such as a bridal shower) elegance and panache.
Tea sandwiches were “unto the manor born.” The Duchess of Bedford popularized the idea in the 1800s when she noticed that a light bite in the late afternoon was just the thing to stave off that “sinking feeling.” She invited her lady friends to join her for a cup of tea and afternoon refreshments, and the ritual was born.
No wonder, then, that tea sandwiches came to represent the loveliest, most refined “ladies” food, the aristocracy of the snack queendom. They are delicate, tidy and crustless. The most classic tea sandwiches rarely contain meat; they consist of very thinly sliced bread spread lightly with butter or cream cheese (flavored or not) and filled with a spare layer of a fruit, vegetable, egg or sweet spread. The rule of thumb is that the filling should be no thicker than a single slice of bread.
The sandwiches may be made several hours in advance, arranged on a serving platter, and kept covered with a damp paper towel in the refrigerator. You can experiment with other breads, as long as they are thinly sliced, and fillings, which should always be delicate. Try, for example, date nut bread with cream cheese, or cream cheese and jelly on pumpernickel bread. Whether your gathering is in honor of a bride-to-be, a planning session for a fundraiser or political action campaign, or a book discussion group, tasty little tea sandwiches lend cachet and class—and, as the Duchess learned—vigor to afternoon affairs.
—By Marge Perry, a food writer in Tenafly, N.J.