I was recently conscripted to contribute a dish for an impromptu playground picnic as a summer farewell to our daughter’s play friend, who was graduating from exclusively at-home care and entering the world of pre-school, and the friend’s caregiver, who had, thankfully, landed another gig with a new family. The goal was to provide a one-container, transit-friendly food that both kids and adults could enjoy at the park. Tea sandwiches, a.k.a. finger sandwiches, made from ingredients already in our house were really the only solution since the request came to me the evening before the planned outing the next day. Tea sandwiches are a bit on the dainty and, for some, not very filling end of the potluck spectrum, but I think they are a pleasing, casual complement and daytime snack. Recall, the operative word is that the event would be a potluck, so we’re talking shared responsibility here; the onus to feed big and little tummies is not all on you!

Box of Tea Sandwiches

When I think high tea and sandwiches, I think of the charming, mostly feminine experience of afternoon tea at Lovejoy’s Tea Room, a local shop and restaurant here in San Francisco, or even the refined style of proper tea at an elegant hotel like The Palace. I think cucumbers. I definitely think cream cheese. But this picnic was going to be for a few toddlers and their moms and nannies and, for prepping at 7pm the night before, one of the sandwiches was—for sure—going to be peanut butter, fancy or not. (Note: We were certain there would be no picnickers with any known nut allergies.)

Here, essentially, are the steps to make these three kinds of fun, tasty (and vegetarian) finger sandwiches to satisfy the sweet tooth using uncomplicated ingredients:

peanut butter banana
honey cream cheese raisin
strawberry cream cheese

The foundational premise in make-ahead sandwiches is to keep them fresh but not soggy, and for the filling to be spreadable on a delicate slice of bread, from end to end.

Equipment + Materials

an electric mixer
a long serrated bread knife
a spreading knife or butter knife
an airtight container
wax paper
damp paper towels (soaked under the faucet and thoroughly wrung-out)

Ingredients (for 36 little sandwiches, 12 of each kind)

9 slices white bread
9 slices whole grain bread
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened at room temperature for 30 minutes
1-2 teaspoons milk
1-2 tablespoons honey, to taste
½ cup raisins
6-8 medium strawberries, sliced thin
½ banana, sliced thin
a few scoops peanut butter (or equivalent non-peanut/nut substitute)

Preparing the fillings:

  1. For peanut butter sandwiches, do nothing for now! These are, of course, pretty straightforward.
  2. For both varieties of cream cheese sandwiches, mix cream cheese on low to medium speed, slowly adding milk, until you achieve a silky texture. Set aside approximately ½ of the batch.
  3. With the remaining ½ batch in the mixing bowl, slowly add honey to mix. Then fold in raisins.

Preparing the sandwiches:

  1. You will need 6 slices of bread for each variety, for 12 sandwich quarters (shaped like triangles or rectangles, depending on the cut).
  2. In this recipe, I paired the peanut butter banana with whole grain bread for both sides, the honey raisin cream cheese with a slice each of whole grain and white, and the strawberry cream cheese with white bread for both sides.
  3. Cover one side of each slice with your spread from end to end. The spreads will serve as a moisture barrier from the more wet ingredients.
  4. For the sandwiches with fresh fruit, top with one even layer of fruit slices on one side.
  5. Neatly stack the 3 whole sandwiches and gently saw away the crusts on all four sides.
  6. Cutting diagonally or cross-wise to make finger sandwich quarters.

Preparing for storage:

Gently stack the sandwiches standing up, i.e. not flat on their sides in a container lined with wax paper. Top each layer with another piece of wax paper and, over that, with a damp paper towel. I recently found these nicely square 10” x 10” BPA-free plastic food containers at the local Dollar Tree that fit all of the tea sandwiches in the recipe. Refrigerate.

Other tips:

Be aware that the banana slices will turn brown if you are making your tea sandwiches ahead of time, but I wouldn’t worry too much, as taste is not affected, the brown bananas blend in with the peanut butter, and kids won’t care!

For a cute alternative, use sturdy metal cookie or biscuit cutters to cut out fun shapes. Beware of sandwich wastage and lower yield using this method, of course.

Other probably wiser sandwich-makers advise against using whole grain bread, but I find that, for the peanut butter and honey-raisin based sandwiches, the whole grain lends a nice nutty texture. Deploy alternative bread slices at your own discretion.

tea sandwiches

Making these finger sandwiches felt like an easy, yet creatively homemade endeavor and, I think, a nice fallback recipe for informal gatherings in the future. I am, however, fascinated (in the way watching a circus performer put his head inside the mouth of a lion or bear is fascinating) by the idea of making 800 tea sandwiches for a party of 250.