It has become family tradition on Mothers Day for Your Humble Monarch™ to make finger sandwiches for her mom, sister and nieces—and now, for her Amazing Lover™’s mom, too.
Don’t ask me how this shit got started. It’s not that I don’t know, it’s that I really don’t want to talk about it. Suffice it to say that rather than take everyone out to brunch one year on Mothers Day, I decided I’d try my hand at finger sandwiches this one time, and, well, everyone loooooved them and now it’s A Big Fucking Thing. Relatively speaking, though, I’ll take making finger sandwiches for the moms in my life once a year over, say, bearing and raising actual children. Jeezus.
Yes, they are quite delicious and truly lovely. But beyond that, there is absolutely nothing to recommend finger sandwiches whatsoever. The process of making them is ridiculously time consuming, and that’s to say nothing of the work of gathering the ingredients in advance. They are also expensive, particularly if you’re an unrepentant food snob like I am and just have to use only the best quality ingredients one can find. They are neither vegan nor vegetarian, nor gluten free, nor dairy free, nor salt free—in fact, anyone eating them is practically begging for an instantaneous cardiac arrest. Furthermore, making these little fuckers unleashes an ungodly mess, transforming your once-tidy kitchen into what looks like the scene of several simultaneous biblical plagues (plagues, by the way, which you will have neither the time nor the energy left over to clean up). But in my opinion, the very worst sin of the finger sandwich, by far, is the enormous amount of food wasted: we are talking waaaay beyond mere decadence here, and into the realm of unforgivable evil.* So let’s get started, shall we?
First, one must decide on the sandwiches. There are plenty of books and online resources for amazing finger sandwich recipes, and I definitely don’t want to discourage you from exploring them. But I’m really more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-hey-I-wonder-if-pepperoni-and-cream-cheese-would-make-a-good-finger-sandwich-OMG-yum! kinda gal, so I’ll just take you through this year’s menu:
- pepperoni & cream cheese on semolina, roasted red pepper garnish
- cranberry almond chicken salad on raisin pecan bread, cranberry garnish
- egg salad on potato bread, parsley garnish
- ham & brie with apples on rye, parsley garnish
- pickled tuna salad on whole wheat, parsley garnish
- cucumber & cream cheese on white, parsley garnish
In general: consider different colors and especially textures of breads, and pair sandwich ingredients accordingly. For example, chicken salad is chunky and heavy so only a hearty and dense bread can stand up to it, whereas potato bread is very soft and delicate and can just about hold a thin layer of egg salad without collapsing. Likewise, multiple ingredients add up, so a stack of ham and brie and apples needs a much sturdier bread than a couple of thin slices of cucumber.
Advance prep tip: if you intend to trek all over your entire county procuring various breads from particular bake shops (see: “unrepentant food snob” above; see also: “idiot”), or worse, make these breads yourself (?!!! What.), you can freeze the loaves when they’re fresh and defrost them right before you’re ready to start assembling sandwiches. Do yourself a favor and request the loaves be machine-sliced if possible: that kind of slice uniformity is pretty much unattainable by hand slicing, and it will save you time.
CHOOSING SANDWICH INGREDIENTS
In general: Make sure to choose spreads, salads and sandwich fillings that you like, since you’re going to be eating most of it anyway out of the towering piles of scraps you will generate. You will require a metric fuckton of butter (I prefer unsalted but YMMV). For sandwiches that do not contain cream cheese, estimate about one stick (4 oz.) of butter per loaf of bread. You may also/instead find you need an equally absurd quantity of cream cheese; estimate about one package (8 oz.) per loaf of bread. In any event you will need a small amount of cream cheese in order to affix garnishes to your sandwiches. (Until, that is, you inevitably say fuck it and start “garnishing” your sandwiches with colorful cocktail toothpicks or whatever else you can scrounge up around your house. Candy corn? Wine corks? Origami paper? Get creative! Practically anything beats carefully selecting, cutting, dipping in cream cheese and perfectly applying fresh little parsley leaves to dozens of sandwiches. ffs.)
The magic key to this whole finger sandwich thing really is the butter and cream cheese. The critical property these substances share is their ability to create an impermeable barrier between the bread and the sandwich filling, such that no soggy bread shall mar your Mothers Day. Thus, the butter (or cream cheese) must be properly applied to your bread slices thusly:
Advance prep tip: If you do nothing else in advance, set out your metric fuckton of butter and/or cream cheese to soften overnight. Unfortunately, most of these sandwich fillings cannot be prepared very far in advance. Most do not survive freezing very well (except for the pepperoni and cream cheese sandwiches, which seem to do just fine). But what you can do the day before you assemble the sandwiches are things like buy fresh parsley, hard boil and peel eggs for egg salad, cook and dice up chicken for chicken salad, wash and drain fruits, vegetables and fresh parsley—anything you can think of, really. Tomorrow’s gonna suck.
ASSEMBLY & CUTTING
In general: This part will take all fucking day, so clear your calendar, make room in your refrigerator, and open a nice bottle of wine before proceeding. Pour a glass, and repeat as necessary throughout the day.
pepperoni & cream cheese on semolina, roasted red pepper garnish
- 2 loaves semolina bread (about 12 slices each)—I like LaBrea
- 2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese
- 1/2 pound slicing pepperoni (available at most supermarket deli counters), thinly sliced
- roasted red peppers, sliced into small strips (for garnish)
yield: about 24-30 finger sandwiches, depending on size and shape of bread slices.
Spread a layer of cream cheese evenly onto each slice of bread. Completely cover every slice of bread with one layer of pepperoni. On half the slices, spread a thin layer of cream cheese, then press them together with the remaining slices, lining up the crusts as much as possible (the cream cheese in the center will hold the two layers of pepperoni together). Slice off the crust and discard, then slice into shapes as desired. Thoroughly blot small strips of roasted red pepper on paper towels, and apply one to the center of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.
HOW TO CUT A WONKY-SHAPED LOAF INTO PERFECT TRIANGLES:
cranberry almond chicken salad on raisin pecan bread, cranberry garnish.
- 2 small loaves raisin pecan bread (about 10 slices each)
- about 1 ½ sticks (6 oz.) butter, softened
- 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked and diced
- 3 cups (12 oz.) sliced almonds
- 1 package (5 oz.) dried cranberries
- mayonnaise (start with two heaping tablespoons, and gradually mix in more little by little as necessary until ingredients stick and hold together well)
- salt to taste
- tiny amount of cream cheese for attaching cranberry garnish
yield: about 18-20 finger sandwiches, depending on the size and shape of bread slices.
Set aside some dried cranberries for garnish; chop up the rest. In a large mixing bowl, combine chicken, almonds and chopped cranberries. Mix in mayo in small amounts until the mixture holds together well. Add salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate.
Spread a thin layer of butter onto each slice of bread. Spread the chicken salad mixture evenly onto half the bread slices. (I find a fork to be helpful here.) Press the rest of the raisin bread slices onto the chicken salad, lining up the crusts as much as possible. With a sharp bread knife cut off the crusts and discard, then slice each remaining sandwich in half or thirds: I end up with diamond shapes, triangles and trapezoids. It doesn’t matter—they’re all pretty. Affix a cranberry to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese (NOTE: I use more cream cheese here than I normally would because I like the way the white sets off the color of the cranberry. I am weird.)
egg salad on potato bread, fresh parsley garnish
- one standard sized loaf of potato bread (about 14 slices)
- one stick butter (4 oz.)
- one dozen large eggs, hard boiled
- mayonnaise (start with two tablespoons, and gradually add more little by little as necessary until texture is creamy)
- salt to taste
- parsley leaves (for garnish)
- tiny amount of cream cheese to attach garnish
yield: about 14 finger sandwiches.
Chop the hard boiled eggs up into little pieces and put them in a mixing bowl. Add the mayo, and thoroughly mix it all up with a fork, adding more mayo gradually if necessary until the mixture is evenly creamy. Mix in salt to taste, cover and refrigerate.
Spread a thin layer of butter onto each slice of potato bread. Spread the egg salad evenly onto half the bread slices (I find a fork helpful here). Place the rest of the bread slices on top, and press gently. With a sharp bread knife cut off the crusts and discard, then slice the remaining square in half, either diagonally to make triangles or straight down the middle to make rectangles. Affix a leaf of parsley to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.
ham & brie with apples on rye, parsley garnish
- 2 loaves seedless rye bread (about 12 slices each)
- about 1½ sticks (6 oz.) butter, softened
- 3 packages (7 oz. each) thin-sliced deli ham—I like Applegate Naturals Uncured Slow Cooked
- 3 wedges of brie
- 3 green apples: golden delicious if you like sweet, granny smith for more tart
- fresh parsley, for garnish
- tiny amount of cream cheese to affix garnish
yield: about 24 finger sandwiches.
Spread a thin layer of butter onto each slice of bread. Core and slice the apples into thin sections, and cover half the bread slices with a layer of apples. Remove the wax coating from the brie wedges, and slice/spread/press a layer of brie more or less evenly onto each apple layer. The goal here is to make sure the apple slices are sealed between the butter and brie (take that, American Heart Association!). Thoroughly blot the ham slices on paper towels, and layer them evenly onto the brie. Place the remaining bread slices onto the ham, and press gently. With a sharp bread knife cut off the crusts and discard, then slice the remaining square in half. Affix a leaf of parsley to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.
pickled tuna salad on whole wheat, parsley garnish
- 2 loaves of whole wheat bread (about 12 slices each)
- 2 sticks (4 oz. each) butter, softened
- 2 large cans (12 oz. each) and 2 small cans (5 oz. each) of tuna, well drained—I like solid white albacore in water.
- 3 Tbsp. sweet relish
- mayonnaise (start with two large tablespoons, and gradually add more little by little as necessary until tuna/relish mixture holds together)
- salt to taste
- fresh parsley, for garnish (alternative: slice of baby gherkin pickle, thoroughly blotted on paper towel)
- tiny amount of cream cheese to affix garnish.
yield: about 24 finger sandwiches.
In a mixing bowl, combine tuna, sweet relish and mayo. Mix well with a fork, breaking up larger chunks of tuna and adding mayo if necessary until the mixture holds together. Add salt to taste, cover and refrigerate.
Spread a thin layer of butter onto each slice of wheat bread. Spread the tuna salad evenly onto half the bread slices. (I find a fork helpful for forming an even layer.) Place the rest of the bread slices on top, and press gently. With a sharp bread knife cut off the crusts and discard, then slice the remaining square in half, either diagonally to make triangles or straight down the middle to make rectangles. Affix a leaf of parsley (or slice of baby gherkin pickle) to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.
cucumber & cream cheese on white, parsley garnish
- 1 loaf white bread (about 12 slices)
- 1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese—at least.
- 1 large cucumber (or 2 small)
- salt to taste
- fresh parsley for garnish
- tiny amount of cream cheese to affix garnish.
yield: about 12 finger sandwiches.
Peel and slice the cucumber: slices should be just thick enough that they hold their form and are not floppy when you pick them up. Spread them out on paper towels, and press another layer of paper towels on top of them to blot thoroughly. Remove the top layer of paper towels and sprinkle the cucumber slices with a dusting of salt. Set aside.
Spread an even layer of cream cheese on each slice of bread. Completely cover every slice with a layer of cucumber. On half the slices, spread a thin layer of cream cheese, then press them together with the remaining slices, lining up the crusts as much as possible (the cream cheese in the center will hold the two layers of cucumber together). Slice off the crust, then slice into shapes as desired. Affix a leaf of parsley to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.
After you make each type of finger sandwich, cover them with plastic wrap, and store in sealed containers in the refrigerator until ready to plate and serve. I use plastic takeout food containers I’ve saved, and stack up the sturdier sandwiches in a cake storage container (with plastic wrap between layers). They will stay fresh for a few days.
Place paper doilies on a serving platter—this helps keep the bottom layer of bread from getting soggy. Make a first layer in the center of the platter with your sturdiest finger sandwiches, and build a pyramid with the rest of the sandwiches from the center up and out from there. As much as possible, try to keep the most delicate ones out from under heavier sandwiches or multiple layers. Pick a pretty one for the very top. A few berries (strawberries or raspberries) add a nice splash of color.
BONUS TIP: I’ve picked up some really nice platters at my local thrift shop very inexpensively. They add to the presentation and make a nice Mothers Day gift. Along with the fucking sandwiches.
Thrift shop platters: cheap, for realz.
*One of the best ways I’ve found to mitigate the unconscionable wastefulness of this craptastic undertaking is to have friends, lovers or kids around to nosh on the mountains of crusty scraps and delicious fillings you will inevitably end up with. It’s best to plan such visits in shifts, because as I said this will take all fucking day. If anyone asks whether they can help or bring anything, say unhesitatingly “More wine.” Alternatively, you can just toss the leftover scraps into a big bowl rather than into the garbage, and keep them covered and refrigerated. They’ll be good for a few days, and kids apparently enjoy picking through your garbage and eating it.