Cheddar scones with pickled celery and grilled figs

Party time: our top tips for creating canapés

by Great British Chefs 21 December 2015

Hosting a get-together in the run-up to Christmas? Stay away from the ready-made canapés; serving your own creations hot from the oven will wow your guests and secure your place as someone who really knows how to throw a party.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

Anyone who hosts a party with a selection of homemade canapés is certainly raising the bar when it comes to social engagements. While most people would leave it to either professional caterers or some oven-ready supermarket offerings, pushing the boat out and working from scratch will produce delicious, bite-sized morsels that blow the others out of the water. With hard work and effort, you can recreate the feel of a professionally catered party for a fraction of the cost.

Taste, colour and texture

If you’re creating your own canapés, then the most important things to remember are taste, colour and texture. Obviously they have to taste good, but don’t forget that each one has to look inviting as well. A contrast of textures is always more pleasant than a single one; if you’re serving something creamy, for example, adding a crunchy element will make the mouthful much more interesting.

There’s no need to serve more than three or four different canapés at a party – any more is going to be far too much work. A good number to aim for is around eight per person at an average cocktail party, although this depends on the size of your canapés, how large your party is and at what time of day you’re serving them.

Finger food

It’s important to make sure your canapés are bite-sized, or at the very least, if they require more than one bite they won’t fall apart. They need to be robust and compact, bursting with flavour and easily picked up in one go; no one wants to be constantly cleaning their hands or awkwardly eating something while they’re engaged in conversation.

If there are different elements to a single canapé, try serving them on a sipping spoon or skewered on a cocktail stick. These Roquefort and cranberry endives use the leaves as a sort of edible bowl, containing crunchy walnut, smooth cheese and sweet cranberries, which all contrast with the mild bitterness of endive. The same idea is applied to Theo Randall’s Smoked eel canapés and Nathan Outlaw’s Cheddar scones with pickled celery and grilled figs, which pile fig slices, pickled celery and slices of Davidstow cheddar on top of mini cheese scones.

Make-ahead ideas

A lot of canapés need last-minute preparation, so organisation is key to a successful party; take advantage of the many recipes that can be made well in advance, then simply reheated or given a final bake in the oven before being served. This will make life much easier, and leaves you more time to enjoy your own party rather than frantically trying to give thirty mini pies an identical garnish as they go cold and your guests go hungry. Cheese straws might not have the same dainty appearance as some more traditional canapés, but you can be guaranteed they’ll be the first to go. Once the dough is made and cut into strips, the straws can be left on a baking tray ready to pop in the oven at a moment’s notice, or baked earlier in the day and left to cool and turn extra flaky. The classic party favourite is given a very British twist in James Mackenzie’s Partridge, cranberry and juniper sausage rolls, while these Prunes and Gorgonzola wrapped in pancetta bites just need reheating in the oven right before serving.

Dishes for sharing

If you’re hosting a soirée that’s just for you and a few friends, then the food might not need to be as polished and dainty as traditional canapés tend to be. Dishes that are easily shared amongst a crowd are often the perfect solution for more informal gatherings, and give you a lot more time to enjoy the night. A fondue always goes down a treat when there’s around six people getting together for a chat over a meal, and this one with Cornish cheddar and root vegetables is seasonal, simple and very, very tasty. If you’re just looking for a light snack to serve alongside some drinks, then you can’t go wrong with Flatbread and dips – making your own rather than buying in plastic pots makes all the difference. And when you’re really ready to relax with just a few close friends or family members, you can ditch the cutlery entirely and get stuck into Alfred Prasad’s delicious Pepper chicken; just remember to put a stack of napkins on the table.