Afternoon Tea: The Traditional Sandwich Platter

Afternoon Tea has been an English tradition since 1800. And though it’s famous for the scones, the first course of an Afternoon Tea is a selection of dainty sandwiches. They should be crustless, finger-sized, and served on an antique platter. The fillings should be quite light and delicate, in keeping with the nature of Afternoon Tea. If you want to recreate this lovely culinary tradition, here’s how…

What’s On The Traditional Sandwich Platter?

The most famous venues are agreed on the essential elements of a sandwich platter. Book a decadent Afternoon Tea at the Ritz in London, and your sandwich platter will feature neatly-cut sandwiches of chicken, ham, cucumber and smoked salmon. Sotheby’s Cafe will serve you British cheese or smoked salmon on brown bread. At the Dorchester, the cucumber is marinated and the egg mayonnaise accompanied by Shiso cress – but the elements remain the same.

Perfect Cucumber Sandwiches

The ingredient list for these refreshing sandwiches is very simple. But there’s a fine art in the preparation…

  • Slices of white bread, finely sliced
  • Salted English butter
  • Fresh, firm cucumber
  • Sea salt
  • Plenty of freshly-ground pepper

Before assembling the sandwiches, you must first deal with the cucumber. Slice the cucumber – which should be a bright, firm one – lengthways, then peel alternate strips (for a striped flesh) off the skin.

With a spoon, scoop out the seeds in the centre of each length, then slice the lengths into 1/2cm crescents. Spread kitchen towel on a worktop and place the slices on it. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and leave for 10 minutes while you slice and butter the bread.

The salt will draw out excess moisture, so the slices will dry out just a little. Pat them with more kitchen towel after their 10 minutes is up. Using good butter, spread lightly onto the bread. Make a single layer of cucumber slices, add some freshly-ground pepper, and top with another slice of buttered bread.

Cut off the crusts with a sharp knife and cut each sandwich into four triangles, so they may be easily eaten. Serve – naturally – with freshly-brewed tea.

Salmon On Rye Crostini

Smoked salmon can be served on wholemeal scones or fresh rye rolls, but our recipe offers a lovely contrast in texture. You could use the same elements to make simple rye sandwiches, but spread lightly with butter and go easy on the crème fraiche in this case.

  • Rye bread, sliced 1cm thick
  • Excellent smoked salmon
  • Crème fraiche
  • Fresh dill
  • Sea salt and peppercorns
  • Capers and dill fronds, to garnish (optional)

First make the crostini. Cut shapes or triangles from the rye slices, using a cookie cutter or sharp knife, and put onto a baking tray.

Place the tray in a low oven (140ºC) for 15-20 minutes, until the bread is crispy. Remove to a rack to cool. Meanwhile, beat the crème fraiche until soft and add 1tsp of fresh dill to every 100ml. Arrange small pieces of smoked salmon on the cooled crostini, rippling them gently. Finish each one with a teaspoon of crème fraiche, a scattering of sea salt and a grind of fresh pepper. If liked, garnish with a (rinsed and dried) caper or dill frond.

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