Jam sandwiches are the perfect afternoon snack or party food for anyone from a two year old to a queen of venerable years. Forget cucumber. Jam sandwiches are just the thing.
What is the first food we learn to make as a child? The first that we clamour for and the first about which we develop strong opinions on recipe and presentation? For many of us it must surely be the jam sandwich, jam butty or jeely piece.
- Cheese and tomato salad cream sandwiches are a classic
- No cheese? Make a tomato and egg salad cream sandwich
- A ham and cheese toastie is a classic full of melting cheese
The staple of the children’s party, the sustaining slab of sugar and carbs that got lively kids through a day of street football and the beloved essential of a royal afternoon tea, the jam sandwich can be remarkably controversial.
What sort of bread do you use? Is a robust white sourdough the only way forward or will nothing but pappy old-fashioned sliced white bread do? Do you want fine and dainty fingers or a substantial jam butty doorstep?
Does wholemeal work or is it the devil’s work? To butter or not to butter, leaving the jam to soak into the bread in a graduated spread of colour? And if you do indulge in this reckless luxury, is there a place for salted butter?
Crusts on, crusts off, what sort of jam and how do you cut your sandwiches? Is it a sarnie, a butty, a piece, a ‘bad hand’? And that’s all before we even think about the politics of jam sandwiches.
A national treasure?
Politics, you ask? Oh yes. Does anyone remember the divisiveness of the Marks and Sparks takeaway jam sandwich, back in 2009? With a price set lower than their foodhall’s norm, it was variously promoted by aspirational grocer Marks & Spencer as ‘the perfect credit crunch lunch’ and representing nostalgic ‘memories of yesteryear’.
The national newspapers were variously aghast at the nutritional content, the insult to customers’ ability to make a simple sarnie, and the politics of cheaper, sugary food for the masses.
This article from Tim Hayward certainly has a point, but there is a grander side to the history of the humble jam butty.
Jam sandwiches rarely feature on formal afternoon tea menus, simply because the sandwiches are usually savoury as a foil to the sweet cakes served with them. Not so in royal circles, however.
The jam penny, a circular strawberry jam sandwich about an inch and a quarter in diameter, was apparently a favourite of Queen Elizabeth II from early childhood.
It is well established that her enthusiasm for these dainty, comforting snacks never dimmed and they were a staple of her own afternoon tea throughout a long lifetime.
Rumours abound about her preference for that old-penny shape. Did the royal family really start avoiding triangular sandwiches because of a tradition that pointed food predicted an attack on the throne? Was Prince Albert really superstitious about ‘coffin-shaped food’?
Maybe the Queen just had a fondness for those dainty little child-friendly circles, reminiscent of the jammy dodger biscuit. Whatever the truth, the jam penny clearly held a place in her heart!
Why make jam sandwiches
- Really? Because you like them.
- Because your kid loves them and so do all the other kids at the birthday party.
- Just because!
Jam sandwich ingredients
- Bread – A soft sandwich loaf is ideal, and this can be white, brown, or lightly seeded. The key is fresh and soft, and I think medium sliced is best. My soft white easy yogurt bread is ideal.
I quite like to make jam sandwiches with one side brown and the other white, especially if you need to encourage children to eat brown bread. If you are taking the crusts off, try to find a loaf that is as square as possible, to minimize waste.
- Butter – I like butter on my jam sandwich, and I prefer salted butter. Bonus kitchen superstar points for using homemade butter, but most of us like an easier life when it comes to sandwiches.
Many of keep our butter in the fridge these days, so it must be softened to spread properly. I avoid the easy-spread butters, because they can contain as little as 50 % real butter. See the section below on how to soften butter.
- Jam – Your favourite! But you need a soft set for easy spreading that won’t tear at the bread. For the sake of an even sandwich, avoid jams with big chunks of fruit. The classic strawberry is ideal.
How to make a jam sandwich – step by step
Here is my recipe for the ideal jam sandwich. It won’t be everyone’s and it may not be yours, so forgive me this indulgence and if you have a better way, why not tell me about it?
Scroll down for the recipe card with quantities and more tips at the bottom of the page.
Step One – First, butter your bread. Be generous!
Helen’s Pro Tip – How to soften butter for spreading
One a warm but not hot day, leave the butter out in a covered butter dish to naturally soften.
Cut into cubes and put into luke-warm water.
Gently microwave – set power to about 20 % and give it 10 second bursts. There is a fine line between softening and melting.
Fill a large mug with boiling water, pour away and then pop the mug upside down over your butter dish.
To spread with ease, use a wide, flat butter knife, or a small pallet knife. If not using a sliced loaf, butter the end of the loaf before slicing.
Step Two – Spread jam over half the slices. If you are taking the crusts off, you don’t need to go right to the edge.
Step Three – Sandwich the slices together. Trim the crusts off and bag them up for bread and butter pudding.
Helen’s Fuss-Free Tip – Crusts on or off?
It depends. For a nice tea party certainly yes! Generally no, as realistically, I’m not always going to make bread and butter pudding and I hate food waste. Just like all those mothers who told us to eat our crusts in order to grow curly, lustrous hair!
Step Four – Cut to shape. Here we can get really controversial. Fingers, triangles or squares?
I think fingers are lovely for an afternoon tea, paired with cucumber sandwiches. If you are not removing the crusts, go for triangles.
Somehow a triangle with a crust on one side seems less crust than a square with crust on two sides – even though the amount of crust is the same.
Serving and storage
Jam sandwiches are best served immediately – after all, a sandwich is the original fast food!
If you are saving them for a party, you can cover them in cling film or a slightly damp tea towel.
I am sure that you can, but please don’t. Freeze the bread and then defrost that for your sandwiches!
The best jam for your butty is the one you like best! Though I think strawberry and raspberry jams look pretty and provide a better contrast in flavour with the bread if you are making them as part of an afternoon tea.
Really? Well, we haven’t had jam sandwich police cars for some years, but when I was a child, our police cars were white with a red stripe down the side, hence the name. Much more transparent than the nickname of the blue and white panda cars that preceded them.
Whether the police carried emergency jam sandwiches in their cars, like Paddington’s emergency marmalade sandwich stash, has never been definitively established.
More jam-related recipes
- Jam Margaritas – Serve with your sandwiches for the most grown up of tea parties!
- Blackcurrant and apple steamed pudding – a traditional family treat
- How to make rice pudding – always enjoy it with jam!
- How to make jam – a guide for beginners with tips for everyone
- The best easy recipes for jam and jelly – my favourite preserves recipes gathered together
- 2 tbsp butter (softened)
- 4 slices soft white bread
- 2 tbsp jam (strawberry or raspberry)
- First, butter your bread. You will need to bring the butter up to a spreadable temperature first.2 tbsp butter, 4 slices soft white bread
- Now spread jam on two slices.2 tbsp jam
- Sandwich the jammy slices with the plain buttered slices.
- Cut off the crusts and cut as preferred.