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ELLEN'S KITCHEN

Tea Sandwiches for 250

For additional items (tea, scones and sweets) recommended for the party, see my article A History of Afternoon Tea.
For lovely scones, go to Golden Scones.
For help planning quantities for a dessert bar or reception, go to Dessert Bars.
A nice off-site reference Liane's Great Party Recipes.

Tea Sandwiches for a Crowd

When you need to make small tea sandwiches for a crowd, here is a general guide line. This makes enough sandwiches for about 250 people for a light tea, about 800 small sandwiches total. This is enough for an afternoon Tea for a wedding, funeral or church or social tea, bridesmaid's tea or shower, NOT a luncheon; it only makes about 3 small sandwiches per person. For a luncheon, you want 6 to 8 pieces per person, so this would only serve about 100-120 people- more about a tea luncheon at the end of this article. For a charming offsite link on afternoon tea etiquette, see Tea Etiquette at oldfashionedliving.com.

The Menu

Generally, sandwiches and scones with a third course of sweets or pastries are standard fare but choices can include muffins, crumpets, bread and butter, cakes such as pound cakes or sweet quick breads, cookies (biscuits), gingerbread, pastries, fruits, truffles and a selection of spreads including marmalade, jam and jellies, preserves, lemon curd, and clotted cream.

For a full blown afternoon tea for 200+, you will also need:

  • Small two-bite sized sweets such as cookies, cakes or squares (bars), three to four per person. Sweets/ baked goods might also include petite fours, cupcakes, sweet breads, pound cakes, gingerbread, strawberries dipped in chocolate
  • 1.5 scones per person, or 1 of each for 2 flavors. English muffins or crumpets are alternatives.
  • 1 1/2 gallon spread (1 tablespoon per person) or butter for scones, such as Devonshire cream, PLUS 1 1/2 tablespoons fruit preserves, lemon curd, jam, marmalade, etc.
  • Tea (15 gallons), coffee (15 gallons), and punch (15 to 20 gallons): do 8 to 10 gallons of each to start, then set up to make 2.5 gallon batches to replenish. The punch should be a light, mild choice, not too sweet.
  • 2 pounds tea, assorted flavors
  • 30 lemons sliced thinly (to serve with the tea)
  • 5 pounds sugar cubes
  • 1 pint honey
  • 200 packets artificial sweetener (Splenda)
  • 5 quarts of cream or whole milk
  • 1 quart soy milk creamer
  • 3 quarts tiny sweet pickles (cornichons)
  • 3 quarts tiny dill pickles
  • For a tea luncheon for 100-120, you might add cut fruit or English trifle. If added, you would need 6 ounces per person, roughly seven gallons of cut fruit.

The Setting

Although buffet service is attractive, the traditional way to serve afternoon tea is to place all the contents for the full event on each table. This allows the hostess to join her table and each group to settle in for conversation without interruptions. The place for a tea is best if large enough for everyone to be seated, preferably at a table or tables. Large size tea pots and plates of edibles on each table give the impression that the guests are invited to linger over the tea.

The tea

For a large party, several teas may be offered. For example, you might choose a light tea offering (green, English Breakfast); plus a moderate bodied (Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Keemun); and a dark, full-bodied tea such as Russian, Lapsang Souchong, Puerh or Yunnan Gold. In addition, a specialty tea such as masala chai or Morrocan mint might be offered as an alternative.

In a large party served buffet style, it is thoughtful to provide an urn of hot water with an assortment of herbal, flavored and decaffeinated teas.

Cups and Saucers?

Use china or glass. Styrofoam cups destroy the floral fragrances of teas. If you don't have enough cups and saucers, consider renting real cups and saucers, or perhaps purchasing/collecting inexpensive cups as take-home favors. Allow also 2 small plates and 2 napkins per person, plus 1.5 each of spoons and forks, if forks are indicated by your menu. You might need your small bowl for fruit if included- clear 8 ounce plastic tumblers are a possibility.

The Sandwiches

Tea sandwiches, sometimes called finger sandwiches, may be sweet or savory, or a mix, but have several things in common:
  • Make them small, only two or three bites. For tea, regular-size sandwiches are cut into 4 squares or triangles, or about 3 fingers. Rolls, decorative shapes and open-face sandwiches are also appropriate.
  • Trim off crusts. Remove the crusts after filling the sandwiches but before cutting the sandwiches into shapes. As a corollary, you never serve the crusty end slices. Using a long, sharp knife, trim crusts AFTER you fill the sandwiches for the easiest spreading and neatest appearance.
  • Make them tasty, not bland. Savory sandwiches may include fresh herbs, scallions, a touch of garlic, spices or peppery sauces, while sweet sandwiches have fruit and nuts included.
  • Make them tender, but never soggy. Spread both slices with soft butter or whipped cream cheese, or smooth nut butter, to the very edge of the bread before filling. Use room temperature unsalted butter or whipped cream cheese (you can use the cream cheese if they will not be frozen) to butter every slice completely. Yes, you can freeze the cream cheese fillings, but do use butter as the bread spread for best results if the sandwiches will be frozen.
  • Tea sandwiches are "dainty", with thin-sliced breads and fillings no thicker than the bread. These thinly spread fillings mean that you use less filling than for regular sandwiches. For seafood or meat salad, allow about 2 tablespoons per full slice of bread. Other common tea sandwich fillings include cucumber (5 to 8 thin slices per sandwich), or 1 tablespoon cream cheese with a single slice of lettuce.

The Shopping List for the Sandwiches for 200+, afternoon tea

16 2 pound loaves
3 pounds softened unsalted butter
4 dozen eggs
2 bunches fresh parsley
1 onion
OPTIONAL fresh mint, tarragon, chervil
2 pounds lean ham, chicken breast or roast beef, thin deli sliced
2 1/2 pounds full fat cream cheese, divided
18 ounces cherries, raisins, drained crushed pineapple or dates
1 cup pecan bits
1 pint sour cream
1 1/2 pounds Velveeta or mild cheddar or colby cheese
4-7 ounces canned pimento or chopped olives
18 to 20 ounces cooked or canned drained shrimps or crab
2 pounds canned salmon or tuna
1 bunch of celery
2 large burpless English cucumbers
OPTIONAL 1 bunch watercress
4 tablespoons white vinegar
4 quarts top quality mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
prepared mustard
Worcestershire sauce
lemon pepper

The Bread

As discussed above, the bread is thin-sliced, and the filling layer is as thin as the bread itself, only about 1/4 inch.

Use thin-sliced bread (Pepperidge Farm makes white and wheat commercially), or that sold as "cocktail slices". You can also make or purchase square-topped unsliced loaves of firm bread. Slice by hand (electric knife is handy for this) or have the bakery slice them thinly for you. The bakery can slice the loaves in the regular way or horizontally for ribbon type sandwiches. Each 2-pound loaf of bread makes about 20 thin slices, which is about 10 regular sandwiches, or 30 to 40 tea sandwiches.

Freezing tea sandwiches and Keeping the sandwiches fresh

To prepare for immediate serving, after making the sandwiches, cut the crusts off and cut into triangles, squares, or other decorative shapes (you can use a cookie cutter). If you need to make tea sandwiches in advance on the same day and need to keep them from drying out, cover them loosely with a sheet of wax paper and then place a damp kitchen towel layer of paper towels over the wax paper. Placing a damp towel directly on top of the bread risks making the sandwiches soggy. Refrigerate until serving time.

When ready to serve, remove from refrigerator. Uncover sandwiches just before serving. To serve, place the sandwiches on a iceberg lettuce-lined platter- the lettuce's water content which will keep the sandwiches moist during service.

There are several sandwiches you can freeze ahead for your tea party, but you must select your fillings carefully. Egg, mayonnaise or salad dressing-based fillings CAN NOT be frozen successfully. Rolling the sandwiches you plan to freeze and wrapping tightly in waxed paper before freezing, gives the best results for thawing. Roll up each slice like a jelly roll. Roll into waxed paper. Double wrap in plastic wrap; place in freezer for up to 3 weeks. Wrap tightly to prevent ice crystals.
The morning of the reception, you remove from the freezer,thaw them just enough to help you cut them in 1/2" slices, and with a sharp knife slice in 1/2 inch pinwheels. Place pinwheels on trays (they will still be partially frozen) loosely cover with clean wrap (a sheet of waxed paper under a slightly dampened tea towel is great) to prevent drying out. They will thaw in about an hour.

Freezing some sandwiches allows you to increase the assortment and makes the trays even more attractive. In addition, even if you are not going to freeze the finished sandwiches, freezing the bread before spreading and trimming makes for easier handling, especially if the bread is very fresh or tender.

Some ideas for freezable fillings include:
cream cheese and crushed pineapple, or any other fruit/nut combination
mashed shrimp with butter
deviled ham with mustard or pickle
olive and cream cheese
very thin slices of good ham or roast beef or smoked salmon with a bit of cheese and pickle
cheese spreads with butter base, not made with mayo. For flavor ideas, inspect those expensive little jars of cheese spread by Kraft and others.

Amounts of supplies that you will need for 800 pieces of Finger, Ribbon and Rolled sandwiches

BREADS: 16 large (2 pound) firm-textured Pullman, egg or sandwich loaves, 8 white and 8 brown loaves, preferably thin-sliced lengthwise by the bakery. Order ahead of time, and you can even get the white bread tinted to your party color scheme. You will get 6 to 8 long loaf-length slices from each loaf. If you have to slice the loaves yourself, you may want to order an extra loaf of each and to put the bread in the freezer for a few hours to firm it; an electric knife is also helpful.

You MUST spread each slice to the very edge with softened unsalted butter or cream cheese to prevent soggy sandwiches.

If you have to buy store bread, Pepperidge Farm Very Thin Sliced Bread in white or whole wheat works well for making tea sandwiches. Cocktail slices in rye or pumpernickel are also good choices.

FILLINGS: Any filling should be mashed until smooth and mixed with mayonnaise, cream or milk so that it can be easily spread. Wrap/cover in wax paper and chill for 2 or more hours.

Cut each loaf into 1/4 inch slices.

When spreading your filling or butter be sure to spread no thicker than the thickness of the bread, taking it to the edge and keeping it evenly thick. Do not run over the sides. If a recipe calls for the bread to be buttered before adding the filling, you should neatly and lightly spread with butter first.

Trim crusts after filling, but before cutting shapes.

The variety of fillings in this collection includes egg salad; ham, beef or chicken salad; cream cheese with fruit and nuts; pimento or olive cheese; potted shrimp or crab; tuna or salmon salad; cucumber with watercress. Nut butter with thin banana slices or jelly is popular for a child’s tea party.

SHAPES AND CUTTING IDEAS

Getting interesting shapes

Here is a good offsite link with pictures of tea sandwich cutting options.

  1. RIBBON: Remove crusts from whole wheat and white bread which have been sliced lengthwise. (Put 5 alternating slices together.) Spread both sides of the inner slices with softened butter, then each layer with one of the following fillings: 1. Deviled ham 2. Egg salad 3. Cream cheese mixed with chopped pimento 4. Cream cheese mixed with chopped parsley
  2. PINWHEELS:

    Ham and pickle
    2 loaves unsliced white bread, sliced lengthwise (16 slices)
    2 cups California dip (Lipton)
    16 thin slices cooked ham
    16 thin slices Swiss cheese
    4 large dill pickles, quartered lengthwise
    Trim crust from bread; flatten bread lightly with rolling pin. Spread 2 tablespoons California dip on each slice of bread; top with slice of ham and cheese. Place pickle across one end of bread; roll up, starting at pickle end. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap; chill.
    To serve, cut into 1/2-inch slices. Makes about 6 dozen sandwiches.
    may be frozen for future use.

  3. Other rollups: Cut crust off, white or whole wheat bread, which has been sliced lengthwise. Spread slices with butter, then with your favorite smooth spread. Just in from 1 end place sweet pickle, olives, strip of green pepper or carrot. Roll up tightly. Wrap and chill at least 2 hours. Cut each roll into 1/2 inch slices.
  4. Butter roll ups: Trim crusts off thin sliced white or wheat bread.
    Use a heavy rolling pin to slightly flatten the slice. Butter the entire slice with very soft butter. Trim the crust from the sides then spread the filling over all about 1/4-inch thick. Roll up the bread jelly roll style from the small end, into a tight roll. Wrap in foil or waxed paper and chill at least 1 hour. To serve, cut each roll into slices about from 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick, using a sharp serrated knife and slicing so as not to mash the roll. Before serving, tuck in sprig of crisp fresh parsley or watercress in each end.
  5. TWO-TONED: Have equal slices of white and whole wheat bread. Cut with round or fancy cookie cutter. Leave the bottom piece whole and spread bottom piece with butter, then with your favorite spread. Before covering, cut center of tops with small fancy cookie cutter. Place white bread center into whole wheat slice and visa versa.

    General Hints for All Tea Sandwiches

    Remember, the crusts should be cut off the bread with a sharp serrated knife before serving.

    If you're making the sandwiches in advance, chill the whole sandwiches on a tray lined with damp paper towels and a clean dish towel before cutting into serving pieces. Cover them with a second towel and more damp towels, and wrap with plastic. When ready to serve, trim and cut the sandwiches, then garnish them. They will be easier to cut neatly when chilled.

    If the sandwiches are made in advance, keep them fresh by covering with a sheet of wax paper and then lay a damp kitchen towel over that. Or keep them fresh by placing them in jelly roll pans and placing damp toweling, either paper or cloth, over them (being sure they are very well rung out) and then covering the whole thing in Saran wrap or foil. This prevents the bread from drying out and works best with sandwiches with filling between two slices of bread, or rolled sandwiches, allowing these to be made a day ahead and refrigerated.

    Filling recipes for the 800 tea sandwiches

    The thinly spread fillings mean that you use less filling than for regular sandwiches. For seafood or meat salad, allow about 2 tablespoons per full slice of bread. Other common tea sandwich fillings include cucumber (5 to 8 thin slices per sandwich), or 1 tablespoon cream cheese with a single slice of lettuce.

    CUCUMBER TEA SANDWICHES WITH TARRAGON BUTTER

    2 large English (burpless) cucumber, peeled, seeded, sliced paper thin 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons white vinegar 1 cup unsalted butter, softened OPTIONAL 1/4 cup minced fresh tarragon or fresh mint OPTIONAL 1/4 cup minced fresh chervil Watercress leaves, optional 1 quart dill pickles 1 quart crispy sweet pickles Put cucumber slices in large bowl. Toss with salt. Sprinkle with vinegar. Toss to mix well. Let stand 1 hour. Drain well in colander. You can score the peeled cucumber lengthwise with fork for decoration before slicing. Combine butter, tarragon and chervil. To assemble, spread butter over 1 side of each bread slice. Cover 15 slices with cucumbers, dividing evenly. Close sandwiches. Trim crusts. Cut into 36 rectangles. Arrange on platter, garnished with watercress leaves.

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    Egg Salad

    4 dozen eggs, hard boiled - make a filling with mayonnaise and seasonings. You can flavor part of the mix: for four eggs, mix in 1 teaspoon of curry powder and 1 tablespoon dried lavender buds. Spread on your bread and top each finger with a green olive slice.

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    Deviled Meat Sandwiches

    2 pound (4 cups)of ham, chicken or roast beef, ground - will be mixed with mayonnaise, ground sweet pickles and a little pickle juice, horse radish or mustard. 1/3 cup finely chopped gherkins 2 teaspoons prepared mustard 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 1/4 to 1/3 cup mayonnaise (about)

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    Sweet Cream Cheese Sandwiches

    1 1/2 pounds cream cheese - Mash with 1 pint sour cream until very smooth, spread on bread, sprinkle with well drained chopped dried fruits and chopped pecans. Make into rolls.

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    Cheese and Pickle Sandwiches

    1 1/2 pounds Velveeta or American cheese, ground - Mix with mayonnaise, make into rolls with dill slices

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    Pimento cheese

    8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
    2 tablespoons finely grated onion
    1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
    1/4 teaspoon celery salt
    1/8 teaspoon pepper
    2 cups (8 ounces) freshly shredded cheddar or colby cheese (pre-shredded is too dry for this)
    7 ounce jar pimientos, drained and chopped

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    Potted Shrimp or Crab Sandwich

    18-20 ounces chopped shrimp or crab - Mix with an equal volume of mayonnaise or whipped cream cheese and lemon pepper, spread on buttered, trimmed bread slices, roll. These should be tightly rolled in wax paper (it seems to keep them better than plastic wrap) and refrigerated until cut.

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    Tuna or Salmon Sandwich
    2 pounds (large cans) salmon or tuna - mix with
    1 cup very finely chopped celery
    1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    1 cup mayonnaise
    salt and pepper to taste
    Roll, centered with a well drained dill spear. These should be tightly rolled in wax paper (it seems to keep them better than plastic wrap) and refrigerated until cut.

    Some filling alternative ideas


    Celery-Nut: Whip a soft block of cream cheese with 1/4 cup of milk, add 1/2 cup of celery and 1/2 chopped walnuts and spread on your whole wheat bread
    Pineapple Cream: Thin a block of cream cheese with 1/4 cup of milk, and then add 1 cup of finely chopped pineapple and spread on Boston Brown Bread
    Apricot Ham Finger Sandwich: Mix 3 parts of cream cheese with 1 part of apricot preserves. Spread on your bread and then top with thinly sliced ham. Garnish with a 1/4 sliver of dried apricot. You can also use cherry or pineapple preserves in place of the apricot.

    More ideas for Fancying Up Your Tea Sandwiches and Trays

    1. Edible Flowers: Consider pansies, violets, Johnny-jump-ups, nasturtiums, and marigolds. All are edible with interesting flavors. Use only edible flowers that have not been sprayed with pesticides.
    2. Shaved Cheese: Hard cheeses such a parmesan or pecorino Romano take on an attractive lacy look when shaved paper thin and placed on an open-faced sandwich.
    3. Rolled Cheese: Cut cheese into 1/4" squares. Put one teaspoon of olive oil on your hands and roll cheese squares into balls. Then roll in cumin, curry, or finely chopped herbs.
    4. Piped Herbed Mayonnaise or Crème Fraiche: Use an icing flower tip. Then place a fresh or thawed frozen pea atop the piping.
    5. Layered/Stacked: Place a small spinach leaf, with stem, atop an open-faced sandwich. Place a thin slice of hard boiled egg on top of that and sprinkle with either nutmeg and sea salt, pickled ginger and a dot of wasabi, or a combination of crushed herbs.
    6. Chopped Egg & Asparagus: Finely chop hardboiled eggs, using only half as many whites as yolks, and press onto an open-faced sandwich with a mayonnaise based filling. Garnish with a short piece of cooked asparagus.
    7. Citrus, Herbs, & Spices: Cut small triangles of fresh lemon or orange, removing peel. Sprinkle lemon triangles with fresh basil or parsley and orange triangles with cinnamon or curry.
    8. Grilled Vegetables: Grill red and green peppers, zucchini, or pearl onions. Cut peppers into strips, zucchini into squares, and leave pearl onions whole.
    9. Hearts: Use a very small cookie cutter to cut hearts from thin slices of pickled beets. Or, cut small hearts from bread, dip in butter, and sprinkle heavily with curry or sweet paprika before toasting in a 350 degree oven.
    10. Herb or Nut Dip: Cut filled tea sandwiches into triangles and butter the long cut edge. Press this buttered edge into crushed herbs or chopped nuts.

    These ideas are from Laurie Nienhaus, the Director of The Ladies' Tea Guild and Editor in Chief of the Tea Guild's quarterly publication, The Gilded Lily. To learn more about this unique social club and tea society or to subscribe to The Gilded Lily, visit www.glily.com.

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