I know what you’re thinking – canapes! The effort! The pain! Or if you’re not making them yourself – the expense! And the latter is definitely true, because let me tell you something, canapes are where the biggest margins can be made in the catering world (when done in large quantity). They can also be rather costly for the individual when making them at home, because you’re not always going to keep in stock a fair amount of the items you need for a chicken mousse filled vol au vent.
It’s just, for all that, aren’t they so tempting to have a selection of them at your festive party? When you’re just as concerned with food as I am (or else why are you here?), then the image of your guests laughing and talking with a drink in one hand and a little morsel in the other, commenting on the food and no one going hungry, can be an alluring one. And then you find yourself falling into this rabbit hole of puff pastry, filo pastry or crostini? Skewers or spoons?
Tip: If you’re having a party in your own house, stave off skewers and spoons, because one gets left behind all over the bloody place and the other just means a hell of a lot more washing up.
Idea: Your guests are more than likely your friends and/or family, so let them use their fingers, just avoid canapes with sticky sauces and have plenty of napkins on hand. Pastry cases and crostini bases make ideal finger foods.
So now you’ve decided you’re going to make your own canapes, congratulations and good luck! I’m not going to give you a list of recipes and what not, because the internet is full of them. But I am going to give forth some tips and ideas to bare in mind before you plunge head forth into this endeavour.
Time is not money, it’s moments lost that can be spent with friends and family.
Tip: Choose recipes that can be made ahead of time! Split the selection into those that can be kept in the fridge and those that will need to be heated in the oven before serving. Ideally you’d only have one item that needs to be finished off last minute.
Idea: Smoked salmon and sour cream blinis are always a big hit – don’t knock it just because you think it’s over done. It’s NEVER overdone. They can be kept in the fridge for several hours and a blini base is very versatile. Swap out the smoked salmon for beetroot hummus to satisfy the non-fish eaters and vegans in your group.
How much pastry is too much pastry?
Tip: Balance is key. Filo pastry, puff pastry and shortcrust pastry – it’s still all pastry. Keep things varied by changing the bases and opt for alternatives like a sweet potato or cucumber slice.
Idea: Stacks are very attractive! A cucumber slice with sour cream, a bit of pickled beetroot and dill work an absolute treat. If you like a festive theme, just think of deconstructing some party favourites. Thin turkey breast slices, ciabatta base, fresh baby spinach and a dollop of cranberry sauce – open sandwich or festive canape stack?
Variety is not always the spice of life, it can be a real costly affair.
I am notoriously known for having too much food at my dinner parties/events. You’d think, working in catering, I’d know better. But just when I think what I have is enough, I start to fret that there isn’t enough choice and my guests will leave thinking there could have been a little bit more. That and I often have too many ideas to confine to one party (but I try).
Tip: If all you’re having are canapes and it’s going to be a minimum 3 to 4 hour party, then you’re looking at about 6 to 8 pieces of canapes per person. That, in theory, allows you about as many varieties as that number. Any more than that and you would be trying to feed your guests a five course meal and then some.
Idea: Depending on your friendship groups, you may or may not know people on a vegan diet or simply those that are dairy free. Therefore it’s always a good idea to keep a couple of vegetarian canapes, vegan suitable. Think hummus, babaganoush or mini falafel and tahini wraps.
I don’t like to try and turn something that is inherently all about dairy, into something completely non-dairy, like a puff pastry or a potato gratin. It’s often too difficult and you’re losing a lot of the essence of that dish. Instead, opt for recipes that are instinctively dairy free. A lot of middle eastern vegetarian dishes are vegan without intent or the cheese is an option. South-east Asian dishes hardly use dairy anyway, so a vegetarian won-ton for example can be perfect.
So whilst you’re trying to impress your guests with the skill, thought and effort it takes to pull off your Christmas party, don’t forget that it is still a party. And more than likely, people are there for you, not just the food. If you find joy in the kitchen, then no matter what you produce, your guests will always love it; but they’ll love it less if you’re not out there laughing and eating right along with them.