Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Afternoon Tea Sandwiches

Afternoon tea is a Great British Institution.  It is a Posh Thing.  It is something 'the Set' might have done 'properly' in the 17 and 1800s.  Messing it up is not done.

On the other hand, it is quite difficult to mess up afternoon tea.  There are only a few boxes to tick, and there are multiple acceptable ways to experiment with the content, theme and context of the event (cupcakes!  Steampunk! Picnics!  Booze!)  Here is what I reckon constitutes a 'proper' tea:

  • Teas, plural, available - preferably some to be served with milk (e.g. Assam) and some without (Lady Grey).
  • Scones, with real clotted cream, and at least two kinds of jam - a red/purple one and an orange one, minimum.
  • Cake - either individual chunks, such as Lamingtons, brownies, or other traybakes; or a single large and creamy edifice.
  • Finger Sandwiches.
    • Sandwiches must be able to be eaten in two bites or less.
    • They must have the crusts cut off, or it's not posh.
    • The shape of the eventual sandwich (triangle or rectangle) is immaterial.
    • Fillings may include spreads, but these must be savoury (not peanut butter).  
    • Faffless but uber-kitzch adornments such as cress should be rampant.
Of all the boxes, it is the sandwiches which are most often overlooked.  They do not make as photogenic an arrangement on the three-tiered stand as the cakes; it is the scones which are seen to be the true essentials, and 'tea and sandwiches' doesn't have the same ring.  Nevertheless afternoon tea is a Meal, a small meal but a Meal all the same, and all posh meals have multiple courses.  

The Approved Sandwich-Making Method (appropriated from Douglas Adams)
The chief among knives, of course, was the carving knife. This was the knife that would not merely impose its will on the medium through which it moved, as did the bread knife. It must work with it, be guided by the grain of the meat, to achieve slices of the most exquisite consistency and translucency, that would slide away in filmy folds from the main hunk of meat. The Sandwich Maker would then flip each sheet with a smooth flick of the wrist onto the beautifuly proportioned lower bread slice, trim it with four deft strokes and then at last perform the magic that the children of the village so longed to gather round and watch with rapt attention and wonder.  With just four more dexerous flips of the knife he would assemble the trimmings into a perfectly fitting jigsaw of pieces on top of the primary slice. For every sandwich the size and shape of the trimmings were different, but the Sandwich Maker would always effortlessly and without hesitation assemble them into a pattern which fitted perfectly. A second layer of meat and a second layer of trimmings, and the main act of creation would now be accomplished.

Suggested Flavours For Afternoon Tea Finger-Sandwiches

Roast beef / steak and mustard.
CurryNation Chicken: to make simple sauce, finely chop half an onion, fry in butter with 2tsp of cumin, coriander and a sprinkle of turmeric, and add coconut cream until spreadable.  Coat diced fried chicken in the mixture and assemble the sandwiches as above.
Smoked salmon, cream cheese and dill
Mackerel and horseradish
Cucumber.  N.B. I could write a whole post on the Correct way to make cucumber sandwiches; the key thing is to peel the cucumber, slice thinly and drain the slices before assembly in a colander, scattered with salt.  This stops them going soggy.  Dress with salad dressing to increase flavour.
Cheese and chutney.

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