Who says tea sandwiches can't be exciting as well as refined? Zingy wasabi, rich salmon and cream cheese and cool, crisp cucumber slices give these sandwiches a perfect balance of flavor and color. Don't limit yourself when it comes to the bread. If brioche isn't available, try challah bread, a whole-wheat baguette, or party pumpernickel. I like wasabi from a tube but you can substitute powdered wasabi; the powdered variety has an even stronger bite so use just half the amount. And you can peel your cucumber or not, depending on your mood. If you leave the peel, be sure to scrub the cucumber and rub it well with a clean towel before slicing it paper thin. For this sandwich, I like to use English cucumbers - the ones that come wrapped in plastic - because they have fewer seeds.
1 Brioche Loaf (You'll use about half) 1 Tablespoon Wasabi from a tube ½ Cup Whipped Cream Cheese 6 Ounce Smoked Salmon (Thinly sliced) 1 Large Cucumber (Thinly sliced) 1 Tablespoon Fresh Chives (Chopped)
1.Cut the brioche in half. Cut a dozen 1/2-inch slices, and then trim the slices into even squares. If you need more bread, slice the remaining half loaf. Lightly toast the brioche using the lowest setting on your toaster or arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast in an oven set to 350°F for two minutes on each side. The bread should have barely any color after toasting. Set the toasted slices aside.
2.I like to leave on the cucumber peel for color; if you leave the peel, wash and dry the cucumber and then slice it as thinly as possible. Set the slices aside.
3.In a small bowl, combine the wasabi and the whipped cream cheese with a spoon, mixing until the wasabi is completely dispersed throughout the cream cheese. Spread about 1/2 teaspoon of the wasabi cream cheese in a thin, even layer on each slice of bread. Top with a slice of smoked salmon and trim off any excess so the salmon is perfectly even with the bread slice all the way around. Top with the cucumber. (See the note below.) Sprinkle with chives. Arrange on a large platter or tray and serve.
4.Chef's Touch: If you're feeling artistic, layer a few slices on top the salmon, overlapping the cucumber like the scales of a fish. Then cut off any excess with a sharp knife, slicing along the edge of the bread to make each sandwich a neat, even square with a beautifully scalloped top.
Budino in Italian means pudding but this is more like a molten cake, moist and almost gooey in the middle when served warm from the oven. I like to serve the budino with a scoop of homemade Banana Chocolate-Chunk Ice Cream (in my cookbook, Cooking From the Hip), but it's also great with creme anglaise and fresh raspberries or strawberries.