Kim Jordy, the proprietress of the whimsical Tea Leaves & Thyme tearoom in Woodstock, has mastered the art of the tea sandwich.
At afternoon tea in Jordy’s historic Victorian cottage-turned-restaurant on Woodstock’s Main Street, guests who come to sip tea from delicate china cups can also munch on ethereal little finger sandwiches that disappear in a bite or two.
Jordy, who learned how to serve a proper tea from her English mother, concocts traditional cucumber sandwiches from rounds of ultra-thin white bread layered with minty cream cheese, a curlicue of sour cream and a snip of radish. They are as precious and artfully constructed as sushi and petit fours.
Not that her tea-sandwich repertoire stops there, by any means.
She also slathers bread with ham salad, pimento cheese and chicken salad, trims off the crusts and slices them triangles and rectangles, some with multiple layers. For the children, there are bunny-shaped bites stuffed with a raspberry-cream cheese filling. “Its little bottom has been dipped in chocolate,” Jordy says of her lapine-wich, an image that causes me to giggle.
Over the years, I’ve taken the occasional high tea at frilly hotels like The Dorchester in London and The St. Regis Atlanta in Buckhead. But until just recently, I hadn’t put much thought into the diminutive sandwiches that appear on tiered trays alongside scones, tarts, macarons and other dainties wherever afternoon tea is served, from Manchester to Melbourne.
That is, until I espied the Deviled Ham Tea Sandwiches that chefs Kevin Gillespie and Andreas Muller have served since opening the doors of Revival, Gillespie’s home-style Southern restaurant in Decatur, two years ago.
When Gillespie created his sweet, mustard-spiked deviled ham, he wasn’t thinking of ladies in hats and white gloves. It was a tribute to the menfolk in his family.
“That recipe is one that my dad and his brothers would make to take with us when we would go hunting and fishing,” Gillespie says. “I always loved it, even though we only ever had it on saltines. I started to play around with it as a tea sandwich in an effort to church it up a bit more.”
Gillespie and his team dab the ham spread onto warm buttered rectangles carved from white pullman loaves. Sure enough, when I mixed up a batch of the devilishly delicious ham, it reminded me of the quick, pickup-truck lunches my dad used to scarf down on our South Georgia farm when I was a kid.
Though the Revival creation has been the gateway drug of tea sandwiches for me, I’ve since discovered other memorable versions all over town.
At Tipple + Rose Tea Parlor and Apothecary in Virginia-Highland, Chef Calavino Donati makes chef-y modern creations like the Tea-Brined Duck Salad Tea Sandwich she features on special holiday menus. She also whips up her own “Boursin,” a mixture of cream cheese, goat cheese, feta and herbs, and smears it on delicate cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches stuffed with arugula or watercress.
I thought the duck salad — made from a whole roasted duck that’s first submerged overnight in a bath of Lapsang Souchong tea, brown sugar and soy sauce — a bit too complicated for home cooks. But you can find it at Tipple + Rose on Easter, Mother’s Day and other special occasions.
I did try Donati’s Smoked Salmon and Home-made “Boursin” Tea Sandwich and her old-fashioned Deviled Egg Salad and found them both divine.
On a recent Sunday morning, I got in the kitchen and stamped out a bunch of Jordy’s cucumber sandwiches, plus her sweet little treat of pineapple, cream cheese and pecans spread on triangles of cinnamon-raisin bread. I put some of Gillespie’s deviled ham on circles of squishy white bread and dusted the tiny sandwiches with herbs.
And I remembered Jordy’s tea-sandwich tips.
Never put wet cucumber or tomato directly on bread, or you’ll make a soggy mess. Instead, use a fat-based spread (butter, cream cheese, mayo) to serve as a barrier between bread and wet ingredients. The sandwiches will travel better and last longer.
But not too long. They are quite addictive and tend to vanish quickly.
For parties, teas, ladies lunches, showers, funeral gatherings and afternoon snacking, there’s nothing like a good tea sandwich. You can keep it as simple as prosciutto and butter. Or doll it up with curried-chicken salad or chilled shrimp with dill mayo, and it will be fit for the Queen of England.
Just be sure to trim the crusts, make a pot of tea and hold your pinky high.
Here are recipes for three delicious tea sandwiches, plus two easy spreads for slathering on the bread of your choice.
Tea Leaves & Thyme’s Pineapple, Cream Cheese and Pecan Tea Sandwich
With a few grocery store staples — a can of crushed pineapple, half a block of cream cheese, a loaf of cinnamon bread — you can assemble these delightful, kid-friendly triangles.
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 8-ounce can (3/4 cup) crushed pineapple, well drained
Heavy pinch of cinnamon
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and chipped
1 loaf Pepperidge Farm Cinnamon Swirl Bread, or other raisin bread of choice
Blend cream cheese, pineapple and cinnamon in a food processor or mixer until fluffy. Stir in pecans.
Spread on bread; then top with a slice of bread. Place sandwiches on a tray. Cover with a damp paper towel, and chill in refrigerator for about 30 minutes. (Chilling the sandwich will ensure a cleaner cut.)
Remove from the refrigerator. Trim crusts, and cut into triangles, wiping your knife after each cut to keep things tidy. Makes: About 16 sandwiches
Per sandwich: 117 calories (percent of calories from fat, 35), 3 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 5 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 8 milligrams cholesterol, 92 milligrams sodium.
Tea Leaves & Thyme’s Cucumber-Mint Tea Sandwich
Kim Jordy, owner of the Woodstock tea room Tea Leaves & Thyme, knows of tea sandwiches: Her mother was English. Her classic cucumber nibbles are very easy and pretty to make.
1/2 cup softened cream cheese
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, washed and dried
2o slices of thin white bread (such as Pepperidge Farm Very Thin white)
1/2 English cucumber, unpeeled, thinly sliced and drained on paper towels
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 small radishes, thinly sliced
Place the cream cheese and mint in a food processor, and pulse to combine.
Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out two circles from each slice of bread. Spread the cream cheese-mint mixture on each slice. Top with slice of cucumber.
Spoon the sour cream into a pastry tube. (I used a small plastic Ziploc bag with a tiny hole cut in the corner.)
Squeeze a dollop of sour cream on top of each cucumber slice, and top with a radish slice. (You may cut radish into smaller pieces if desired.) Makes: About 40 small open-face sandwiches
Per sandwich: 46 calories (percent of calories from fat, 33), 1 gram protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 2 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 4 milligrams cholesterol, 70 milligrams sodium.
Tipple + Rose’s Smoked Salmon and Home-made “Boursin” Tea Sandwiches
Chef Calavino Donati serves this fashionable nibble at her Virginia-Highland tea parlor. The leftover “Boursin” makes a great cracker spread.
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 ounces feta
2 ounces goat cheese
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, finely chopped
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon smoked sea salt salt (or any salt, pepper or other seasonings to taste)
8 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon
2 cups watercress or arugula, washed and drained
24 thin slices of bread (such as Pepperidge Farm Very Thin white)
Place the cream cheese, feta, goat cheese, dill, tarragon and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. Mix until smooth and evenly combined.
Spread mixture evenly over each slice of bread. Top one piece of bread with a slice of smoked salmon and a layer of watercress. Top with another slice of bread. Trim crusts and slice into fingers or triangles. Makes: 24 small sandwiches
Per sandwich: 114 calories (percent of calories from fat, 46), 5 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 6 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 17 milligrams cholesterol, 278 milligrams sodium.
Tipple + Rose’s Deviled Egg Salad
Chef Calavino Donati uses this simple, super-creamy egg salad to build tea sandwiches with arugula or watercress. To flavor the spread, she uses her own Urban Cannibals brand seasoning, which can be found in the Virginia-Highland tearoom. However, you may use truffle salt, celery salt, paprika or any salt, pepper or spices of choice. You could also add olives, capers or pickles. Donati’s method of boiling eggs (or not boiling them) yields gently cooked, incredibly soft eggs.
6 large eggs
1/4 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper or any gourmet salt or seasoning of choice (Donati suggests 1/2 tablespoon Urban Cannibals Bodega Seasoning and 3/4 teaspoon Urban Cannibals Santa Fe Smoke Seasoning)
Place eggs in a pot. Cover with cool water by about 1 inch. Bring to rapid boil over high heat. Remove from heat, cover, and allow eggs to sit for 15 minutes.
Drain eggs from water, and cover them in ice until cooled. (If you do not have enough ice, run cold water over the eggs until completely cooled.)
Lightly tap the bottom of the eggs; then gently roll, adding a slight bit of pressure to crack the shells. Peel and rinse.
Chop the eggs, and place in a mixing bowl. Add mayonnaise, mustard and seasonings. Taste and adjust for seasonings. Makes: About 1 3/4 cups, enough for 6 to 8 finger sandwiches.
Per 2-tablespoon serving: 59 calories (percent of calories from fat, 81), 3 grams protein, trace carbohydrates, trace fiber, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 92 milligrams cholesterol, 59 milligrams sodium.
Revival’s Deviled Ham
Chef Kevin Gillespie serves this classic Southern spread on thick rectangles of buttered white bread. Smeared on saltines, it’s also a delicious snack with beer.
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons lager beer
1 pound ham (may be cured, smoked or baked), roughly chopped
1/2 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1/2 cut sweet onion, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons cane syrup
2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika (may use regular paprika)
2 tablespoons green onions, white and green parts, sliced
Salt and black pepper
Place the dry mustard and the beer in a small cup. Mix well and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
Place the ham in a food-processor bowl, and grind until coarsely chopped. (Don’t over process.)
Add the mustard-beer mix, mayonnaise, yellow mustard, onion, parsley, cane syrup, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, paprika and green onions. Blend until smooth. (You want a nice spreadlike consistency. Don’t over-process, or it will become soupy.)
Taste and season for salt and pepper. (You may not need salt, since cured ham tends to be quite salty.)
Place in a covered container, and chill overnight. Use to make sandwiches or spread on Saltine crackers. Makes: About 4 cups,or enough for about two-dozen finger sandwiches.
Per 2-tablespoon serving: 65 calories (percent of calories from fat, 67), 3 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 9 milligrams cholesterol, 229 milligrams sodium.