Tea sandwiches are appealing to three types of people: (1) old fashioned biddies, (2) people on diets who believe that the tea sandwich's smallness nullifies its caloric impact, as if you can "sneak the food by" your esophagus--these are the same people who cut food into miniscule pieces on the theory that you can eat an entire chocolate cake without gaining weight so long as you make the slices thin enough, and (3) grazers, who secretly dream of taking a single bite out of every item on the menu.
Kim Hendrickson, author of Tastefully Small Tea Sandwiches and Tastefully Small Savory Bites, who taught the Tea Sandwich class at the World Tea Expo opines that the tea sandwich is the most neglected part of the traditional tea service. Gourmet chefs don't respect it. Tea drinkers ignore it. (That neglect was one of the big reasons her cookbook sold well; there wasn't much competition.) But I disagree. I know girls who regard the tea as merely an excuse for the sandwiches. These girls love to eat more than they love to drink tea, though. So maybe they're not a representative sample.
Anyway, Hendrickson's class was packed. Here are a few of her suggestions for assembling better tea sandwiches:
1. Pullman Loaves - These are dense loaves of bread ideal for making small tea sandwiches. Ask your baker to slice them lengthwise instead of crosswise. Easier to put on the sandwich filling that way.
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2. Cucumber Slicing - Instead of using a knife, try slicing cucumbers into thin strips with a vegetable peeler. (Note: Hendrickson prefers English cucumbers.)
3. Jellyrolls - Roll the bread flat with a rolling pin. Then chill the roll in the fridge before slicing.
4. Cigarette Rolls - If you've only got regular bread and not Pullman loaf bread, make skinny cigarette rolls instead of fat jellyrolls.
5. Pastry Bags for Piping Savory Fillings - They're easier to use for spreading sandwich filling than knives. Invest in a quality cloth bag. Ditch the disposable plastic bags, which are more trouble than they're worth ultimately. They tend to split at the seams.