The perfect sandwiches for a perfect tea.
This is a traditional English cucumber tea sandwiches recipe, adapted from London’s Ritz Hotel recipe. Made with butter instead of cream cheese and the thin-sliced cucumbers for a delicate touch.
Meet this traditional cucumber tea sandwich recipe.
One of my favorite things in life is a formal afternoon tea. You know what I mean: The kind with tablecloths; tiered trays of scones, sandwiches, and petit fours; and the sound of tinkling china and soft conversation all around.
My favorite part has always been the sandwiches. I may have a pastry background, but my teatime heart beats for those dainty, savory sandwiches — especially the cucumber sandwiches.
Though sitting down to a formal afternoon tea might be an infrequent or special occasion indulgence, it is very possible (and easy) to bring some tea sandwich magic to your kitchen.
This cucumber tea sandwiches recipe is the real deal, adapted from an old copy of the London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea. In the book, the author writes: “The cucumber sandwich is the aristocrat of the teatable; cool, gracious, and impeccable.”
How to Make the Perfect Cucumber Tea Sandwiches
This is the best and most traditional recipe for cucumber tea sandwiches I have found. Some tea sandwich recipes call for cucumber and cream cheese, which is certainly a worthy and tasty option. But I find butter to be a little more subtle in flavor, which is a better complement to an also-subtle cucumber flavor. The main things to bear in mind when making your cucumber sandwiches for afternoon tea (or any time of day) are:
- Make sure the bread is soft and thin.
- Slice the cucumbers into very thin slices. A vegetable peeler can be used to create long, thin slices to layer into the sandwich bread.
- Season the cucumber in advance to add flavor and eliminate excess moisture.
- Use soft, room-temperature butter for even spreading.
- Serve immediately, or keep the sandwich bread from staling by covering it with a lightly dampened cloth.
Cucumber Sandwich Recipe Ingredients
The best part of this cucumber sandwich recipe — other than how good it is — must be its simplicity. You need only a few ingredients:
- An English cucumber (a standard American cucumber is fine, too)
- Thin, soft sandwich bread
- A splash of white wine of rice vinegar
English Cucumber vs. American Cucumber
English cucumbers are long and thin, with small seeds and soft, edible skin. This is why they come wrapped in plastic in the grocery store.
The standard American cucumber, on the other hand, is shorter and fatter, with a higher moisture content and bigger seeds. The skin of an American cucumber is thicker and usually coated in wax, so you will have to peel it before use.
English cucumbers are preferable here, but not required. If using American cucumbers, first peel the cucumber. Then, slice lengthwise into thin strips (I press hard and use a vegetable peeler), and stop when you hit the seedy, watery center. The same technique applies for English cucumbers.
Can I make English cucumber tea sandwiches in advance?
Yes, you can prepare your English cucumber tea sandwiches in advance — with caveats.
I like to make these no more than an hour or two in advance, and then keep them covered loosely with plastic or a very slightly damp clean dish towel to keep the bread from staling.
If you make these too far in advance, you risk the bread becoming soggy. No one wants a soggy tea sandwich! One time-saving option would be to prepare the cucumbers in advance, then refrigerate them in a small container until ready to use. This can be done up to a day in advance.
Enjoy a lovely afternoon tea or simple (and simply elegant) lunch with these traditional English cucumber sandwiches.
Have a taste for all things British? You’ll also love:
Proper English Cucumber Tea Sandwiches
- 1 English cucumber (or 3 small Persian cucumbers or 1 American)
- Kosher salt
- splash white wine or rice vinegar
- 4 slices thin, soft sandwich bread
- 1 tablespoon or so good butter, softened
- Peel and slice the cucumbers into very thin strips using a vegetable peeler or mandoline. Stop when you reach the seedy center.
- Place the cucumber strips in a colander and toss with a nice sprinkle of salt and vinegar. Let drain in a colander for 20 minutes, then pat the excess moisture off with a paper towel. TIP: Place a dish beneath the colander to catch the cucumber water, so you don't make a puddle on your countertop.
- While the cucumbers are doing their thing in the colander, generously butter one side of each bread slice and arrange butter-side up on a cutting board.
- Cover two slices of bread with two layers of cucumber. I arrange them in a closely-overlapping shingle format. If this seems too thin, add an extra layer.
- Top the cucumbers with the other buttered bread slices, butter side down. Press gently to adhere the sandwich together. Use a sharp knife to cut off the crusts. Slice each sandwich in half diagonally, then again with the opposite diagonal, creating an "X." Alternatively, slice the sandwiches lengthwise into fingers.
- Serve your cucumber tea sandwiches with a nice up of tea.