Friday, November 14, 2014

A Sandwich Tea Party

The story goes that John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, preferred to not interrupt his card games (or his paperwork, according to another version) with a sit-down meal, and asked his servants to bring him meat between slices of bread instead. His friends noticed this, and soon began to order "the same as Sandwich", which became The Sandwich. Of course, many bread-n-stuff consumption types previous existed, including stuffed buns, wraps, and folded or open-faced forms. Two slices of loaf bread with something between them, however, has always been the "true" sandwich, and this has even been backed up by a court case (White City Shopping Center, LP v. PR Restaurants, LLC).

Choosing the Nov 13th birthday of the Earl as the occasion to celebrate this format, I made one of my theme meals centered around his namesake: a sandwich tea for a party of 6. Few meals are as aristocratic as the sandwich tea, with the emphasis on delicate, refined preparations that are only fleetingly filling, and often contain little actual nutrition.

The savory menu consisted of four of the most classic tea sandwiches: the quintessential mild cucumber sandwich, the creamy egg sandwich, the sharp cheddar sandwich and the salty salmon sandwich.

I went shopping in the early afternoon to find the freshest fillings and bread. The only advance preparation was the mixing of the chopped dill and chives with lemon juice and zest into seasoned cream cheese, and the mixing of mashed boiled egg with seasoned mayonnaise. And the de-crusting of the bread, of course.

Another little prepping process I did was that of the two layers of sponge cake for the sweet "sandwich". I retained the classic sandwich shape here, by using a square baking tin. The preparation began with 200g caster sugar mixed with 200g butter, to which 200g flour and 2 tbsp baking powder was kneaded in, followed by whipping in 2 tbsp milk and 4 large eggs to get a smooth batter. I divided this in two, baking separately at 180C for two minutes to get two flat sponge cakes.

I assembled the sandwiches in two rounds: cucumber and egg in the first, cheddar and salmon in the second. For each cucumber sandwich, I buttered two bread slices on the inside, lay out freshly-cut thin slices of extra-long, seedless cucumbers to cover a buttered surface, and sprinkled on some finely-chopped mint leaves. I used similarly buttered bread to sandwich a dollop of the egg mixture topped with some loose arugula leaves (I could not find watercress anywhere, so this was the closest available substitute).

For the second round, I sandwiched a thick-cut slice of cheddar (had the cheese guy at the supermarket do it to my specification) with a spoonful of Branston pickle between buttered bread, and a generous amounts of smoked salmon between plain slices of bread that had been spread on the interior surfaces with the cream cheese and herb mixture.

I cut up and arranged the sandwiches, garnishing each plate with a few sprigs of the herbs/leaves saved from the preparation stages of the corresponding sandwiches. While the smoked salmon and the egg were received well, the cheddar elicited especially good feedback, and the cucumber was the surprise hit of the evening. All of it went down well with a few cups of hot Earl Grey tea (Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey and the namesake of this tea, was, for part of his life, a contemporary of Sandwich, which made this choice of tea all the more appropriate).

When we were done and ready for "dessert", I spread clotted cream and raspberry jam over the top of one of the (now cool) sponge cakes, placed the other one on top of that, and sifted icing sugar on top of the upper cake. This "Victoria Sandwich", named after Queen Victoria, was a delightfully indulgent end to a lovely tea party, despite being exceedingly simple to prepare.


  1. Lovely idea !

    Our sandwiches here are often made with the french baguette. The N°1 in France is the 'Jambon-beurre" / ham and butter :

    1. I did consider some global-influenced recipes, but given that this was intended to coincide with the Earl's birthday, I decided to stick to classic English tea sandwiches.