What is it about cutting off the crust that makes a sandwich irresistible?

Honestly, trim the bread into crustless little circles, squares or rectangles. You could put grass in between the slices, and people would snatch them up as if they were jewels off Her Majesty's crown. Cucumber sandwiches? Sure. Radish sandwiches? Absolutely. Strawberry sandwiches? Of course.

Although afternoon tea is as rare as a Victorian lamp shade these days, the need for little nibbles remains. So these easy-to-make and even-easier-to-eat items show up at bridal and baby showers, at brunches and lunches and in lunch boxes.

And they're no longer limited to white bread filled with cucumber slices or pimento cheese. Today's tea sandwiches rely on more contemporary flavor pairings and a wide variety of breads and filling ingredients. A thin layer of butter is a good start, but adding a little garlic, sesame oil or ginger can take the flavor to a higher level. In fact, if there's a lesson to be learned from tea sandwiches today, it's to not be afraid of letting your culinary imagination wander. If you like the taste of cranberries with turkey, there's a way to combine those two ingredients between crustless bread slices that you'll like as well.

There are a few "rules," both traditional and practical:

Tea sandwiches are customarily small, no more than two or three bites each. They can be savory or sweet. They're often crustless. However, if you make open-faced ones on thin slices of baguettes, you can get away with leaving the crust on.

Choose breads with a fine texture, so ingredients don't leak through. Use a variety of breads to add interest.

Grind meat fillings, so when you cut the sandwiches the edges are clean.

Butter- and cream-cheese-based spreads provide moisture, and you can add depth of flavor by adding pungent ingredients.

Tea sandwiches are best served the same day they are made. Fillings often develop better flavor when made a day ahead. (So make your fillings ahead of time, then wait until the day of the event to assemble the sandwiches.)

If using chutney, jams or other preserves as fillings, make sure they aren't so wet they'll make the bread soggy. Drain chutneys and finely chop the ingredients.

Cut the sandwiches after filling for a neater appearance. For best results, use a bread knife. Cookie cutters may be used to cut open-faced sandwiches into unusual shapes.

Strawberry Tea Sandwiches

Using challah for this recipe makes delightful little squares, but it also creates a lot of bread trimmings. Place the trimmings in a freezer bag and freeze to use later in making bread pudding.

1 (8-oz.) box cream cheese

1/2 cup orange marmalade

1 loaf challah, cut into 1/3-inch slices

1 quart fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and thinly sliced (see note)

Combine cream cheese and marmalade. Set aside.

Trim crust off challah slices to form rectangles. Spread each slice with cream cheese mixture. Top half of the slices with strawberries and the remaining challah, filling-side-down.

Cut sandwiches into squares.

Makes 24 sandwiches

Note: If strawberries are juicy, lay the slices on paper towels to dry them a little before assembling the sandwiches.

— Adapted from a recipe on the Fun Tea Party Ideas website.

Open-faced Salmon-Wasabi Tea Sandwiches

2 tsp. wasabi powder

1/2 cup mayonnaise

12 slices pumpernickel bread

8 oz. thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut into 36 pieces

2 tsp. grated lemon peel

Combine wasabi powder and mayonnaise and spread on bread slices. Cut bread into rounds with a 2-inch round cookie cutter.

Top each round with a piece of salmon and some grated lemon peel. Makes 36 sandwiches.

— Adapted from a recipe on Epicurious.com

Deviled Ham And Pecan Tea Sandwiches

1/2 lb. cooked ham, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1/2 cup pecans

3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard, divided

1 tsp. hot pepper sauce

1/4 cup mayonnaise

3 large gherkins, chopped

16 slices firm whole-wheat bread

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, for garnish

1/4 cup finely chopped pecans, for garnish

Place ham, onion, pecans, 2 tablespoons mustard, hot pepper sauce and mayonnaise in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and stir in gherkin pieces. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble sandwiches.

Spread ham mixture evenly on 8 bread slices. Top with remaining bread slices. Trim crusts, then cut sandwiches, vertically, into 3 rectangles.

Combine chopped parsley and pecans in shallow bowl. Spread a thin layer of Dijon mustard on 1 cut edge of a sandwich and dip into parsley mixture to coat. Place coated side up on a tray.

Cover sandwiches with damp, not wet, paper towels, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 24 tea sandwiches.

— Adapted from Epicurious.com

Radish-Chive Tea Sandwiches with Sesame And Ginger

4 Tbsp. butter, room temperature

2 Tbsp. minced chives, see note

1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

3/4 tsp.grated fresh ginger

1/4 tsp. Asian sesame oil

16 (1/4-inch-thick) baguette slices

10 radishes, very thinly sliced

Mix butter, chives, sesame seeds, ginger and oil. Spread in a thin layer on each bread slice.

Top with radishes, overlapping the slices slightly. Garnish with additional chopped chives.

Note: Save the top ends of the chives for garnish, if desired.

Makes 16 servings

— From Epicurious.com

Cucumber-Mint Tea Sandwiches

1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, rinsed, spun dry and finely chopped

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

2 Tbsp. cream cheese

6 slices of white bread

1 (3-inch length) seedless cucumber, cut into thin slices

Salt

In a small bowl, combine the mint, butter and cream cheese, and stir the mixture until it is combined well. Spread the bread slices with the butter mixture, top 3 of them with the cucumber, distributing the cucumber evenly and seasoning it with salt, and top the cucumber with the remaining bread slices.

Cut off and discard the crusts, and cut each sandwich into triangles. Makes 12 sandwiches.

— From Epicurious.com