I just love freshly made, petite sized and savory-tasting finger sandwiches with an afternoon tea menu. The search for great ones is part of what inspired my mother, Betty, and me to develop our own fillings and to experiment with breads and other “holders” of the fillings…this because it was and still is extremely rare to find high quality, savory finger sandwiches around where I live, outside of making them yourself. The predominant issues are getting them either served with dry bread or with too much bread to filling ratio. This savory course is traditionally served first in a three course tea menu. The intent of this course should be to whet one’s appetite (not to fill you up).
My take on the best finger sandwich is that it should be – fresh looking and fresh tasting with savory fillings where the flavors stand out versus the bread (or holder). The bread needs to be moist and thin. The Mission Inn Historic Hotel in Riverside, Ca. consistently serves beautiful and interesting finger sandwiches. Here are photos from our last visit:
Since we had difficulty finding finger sandwiches to our liking, we began making our own. My mother used petite pate choux puffs and mini cups made with cheese as holders for her favorite fillings (curried chicken salad with slivered almonds and celery and minced deviled ham). It has been a challenge to find suitable loaves of bread at our local bakeries for the sandwiches the way we like them. During the years of writing Tea With Betty, I did much research into attempting to achieve the right bread, sliced thinly – yet able to hold up to the filling and the “waiting” time until they are to be served.
The best bread to use is the French Pain de Mie (also called a Pullman Loaf in the U.S.). It is a typical sandwich shaped loaf (a rectangle with thin crust). The bread itself has few air holes – perfect for spreading or layering with your chosen fillings. It doesn’t tear easily when spreading butters, creamed cheeses or other fillings – finding this specific loaf around where I live has been a daunting task. So—I decided to make my own. Finding the correct pan was a story unto itself…these days, I see the pans a bit more available in food service supply houses. Here is my pain de mie loaf pan. I ordered it six years ago from a supply house in New York.
Now that I have my pan, I searched for a recipe that I felt comfortable making. Martha Stewart’s Hors D’oeuvres Handbook is the one I use most. King Arthur flour has a good one too; however, even though I’ve prepared the loaves several times, I am still not confident that mine will come out correctly until I cut into it…and by then, it is usually too late for me to adjust to another holder if I am preparing sandwiches for that day’s tea time. Candidly, I only make this bread and these finger sandwiches when doing special occasion teas such as for showers or friends gathering to celebrate life or birthdays. It’s become somewhat of my nemesis….this bread…this pain de mie has often turned out to be a “pain to me” in the end. Either the bread doesn’t rise high enough or it’s over cooked… My last loaf looked like this…
I resorted to an internet search to find a bakery somewhere who makes this particular loaf of bread. Over the years, I have desperately tried to get my local bakeries to make it…they don’t or won’t. I knew that highly acclaimed baker, Nancy Silverton, made it for her La Brea Bread Bakery in Los Angeles. I needed two loaves for my writing buddy and hype girl coach for Tea With Betty, Hils., big birthday a couple months ago. I made my own loaves a week ahead of time and froze them. Our chef friend, who used to make the most incredible tea sandwiches for the Savoy in London, was going to assemble my sandwiches for me the day of the surprise tea party. He uses the whole loaf, intact, to make this incredible five-layered sandwich. I will post about it next week. It is seriously the most impressive finger sandwich you will ever see (I don’t think I am exaggerating 🙂 ). A couple days before the party, I got shaky about my pain de mie loaves, telling my husband that I just wasn’t sure they were high enough or the right texture. He is such a wonderful guy that he told me to call La Brea Bread and order loaves from them…the next day we went to pick them up… soooooo…152 miles of driving and $18 for two loaves later…I had my back up bread in hand. Thank you Nancy Silverton and your awesome staff at La Brea Bread Bakery.
Ironically, my chef friend, Clive, preferred my loaves in the end…will show you how they turned out next week.
It was a fun adventure for my husband and me…I got a nice lunch out of the trip and a great cup of tea too.
Enjoy. Drink Tea…It’s good for you 🙂