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Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Buffy Hargett

How to Make It

Step 1

Opt for a rustic pumpernickel, rye, or sourdough--the bread lays the foundation and needs to be sturdy enough to support high-rise toppings. Trim the crusts and go bite-size, or indulge in full-on knife-and-fork dinner fare. Brush bread slices with melted butter or olive oil, and bake at 400° for 8 to 10 minutes or until crisp.

Step 2

Set out a few versatile spreads that guests can mix and match with different toppings; The New Egg Salad and Sour Cream-Herb Sauce are two of our favorites. Other great options include garlic-and-herb cheeses, flavored butters, rémoulade, and country-style mustards.

Step 3

Toppings can be minimal or lavish--anything goes as long as it looks great and the flavors play well together: thinly sliced meats and cheeses, bacon, pickled shrimp, smoked trout, hard-cooked eggs, crabmeat. Also consider condiments such as bacon marmalade and tomato chutney.

Step 4

Think color and crunch. Pickled squash and onions, julienned peppers, thinly sliced cucumbers and radishes, peppery watercress, fresh herbs, sprouts and microgreens, grape tomatoes, and slivers of fresh seasonal fruit.

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