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24 Chef Secrets To Making Festive Canapés

Be the host with the most.

Sian Butcher / Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

Christmas parties are great. Mainly because of Christmas canapés.

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Smoked salmon blinis. Caviar-topped morsels. The opportunity to sneak off with a whole tray to yourself.

But canapés can be tricky. They're fiddly and involve a lot of prep work. You could just not make them but WHAT IS A PARTY WITHOUT CANAPÉS? NOTHING, I TELL YOU, NOTHING.

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"Oh hey Mike, how are your 500 individually made tartlets going?"

*muffled sobbing*

So, we asked chefs Mark Hix and Kevin Gratton of Hix Restaurants for their tips on how to make great, no-fuss canapés:

1. Six canapés per person is a good number to aim for, unless you're serving dinner.

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MH: "If it’s just a canapé party then I would say you want about six pieces per person. But this number also depends how long the party goes on for, i.e., if it’s a very short, hour-long event or something that’s going on all evening.

"We also vary the size of the canapés depending on how hungry people will be. If people are coming expecting to be fed, we’ll make canapés that are two bites rather than one bite."

2. Five to six different canapé options is good for a medium-sized party.

3. In general, canapés should be only one mouthful.

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KG: "It should be a one-stop shop. A canapé should be one bite, rule of thumb. But you also dictate your canapés both in size and style to your guests."

4. Canapés can be a substitute for a meal.

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MH: "If it’s a substantial party with lots of drinks, we’ll introduce a few miniature dishes, like a mini bowl of risotto with two or three spoonfuls. Then if you’ve got eight or ten decent-size canapés, and you include dessert canapés, it’s like having dinner in snack form really."

5. Don't spend too much time faffing with canapés. Keep things simple!

6. It's completely fine to cheat and buy ready-made things from the supermarket.

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MH: "You can cheat on lots of things. You can buy savoury tart cases from the supermarket, and put creamed wild mushrooms inside, or you could make mini shepherd’s pies in them. You can also get good-quality prawn crackers and put a little Asian salad on top. The tart cases can also be sweet – you could put lemon meringue pie in them, for instance. There’s a lot of things you can buy in supermarkets that you can convert into canapés.

"For instance, you can buy hash browns at the supermarket, cut them up, deep-fry them, and serve anything you want on them. We’ve topped ours with smoked salmon, capers, cream cheese and shallots, and it’s all good – no one’s going to complain it’s from the supermarket."

7. If you're stuck or feeling very lazy, you can just buy dim sum from Chinatown.

8. Festive canapés are all about sweet-smelling spices and little touches of luxury.

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KG: "Having a bowl of mulled wine on the go at your party can be nice – nothing smells better when you walk into someone’s house this time of year than the smell of mulled wine wafting through the back door.

"Spiced Christmas chestnuts are great example of this. Then little touches of luxury are very Christmassy. Bit of goose, bit of caviar, bit of smoked salmon. Retro’s always fun at Christmas time too."

To make Christmas chestnuts, mix 20 to 30 peeled chestnuts with 2 tbsp rapeseed oil, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1/3 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/3 tsp paprika, sea salt and black pepper, and 1 tsp caster sugar. Transfer to a baking tray and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, turning them as they are cooking. Leave to cool before serving.

9. Prep as much as you can beforehand.

10. Always have a few "static" bowls of things like crisps on hand to complement your canapés.

11. Good-quality ingredients are most important.

12. If you want to make your own canapé bases, a clever twist is fried plantain.

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MH: "You can just slice up the plantain, deep-fry them the day before, then all you need to do is make a bit of guacamole to put on top. There are lots of things you can physically buy that are ready-made bases, but if you want to make one, deep-fried plantain is great."

13. Always go the extra mile to make your canapés look beautiful.

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KG: "Canapés have got to look great. If you’re at a dinner party, you’ll have a menu telling you what you’re getting, but that’s not the case with canapés. At canapé parties, people eat with their eyes; you’re going purely on what’s on the tray in front of you. Go the extra mile, even with simple things, to make them look visually beautiful. For instance, if you're making a shepherd’s pie canapé, pipe the mashed potato on top and do a cheesy breadcrumb with chopped parsley on top."

MH: "When you’re doing lots of different canapés to present together, you want them all to be roughly the same size too, so they look uniform. You don’t want two small ones next to one big one that towers over the rest of them."

14. Use interesting trays or cocktail sticks to make canapés look prettier.

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MH: "What you serve things on can be interesting. For instance, I recently bought what I thought was a big mirror, and it turned up much smaller than I thought it would be, so now I use it as a serving tray for canapés. You could go to a tile shop and get some slate tiles. You could use a wine box. You could use a pot lid. Get creative.

"We also use really interesting little sticks in canapés. The minute you put something on a nice stick, it instantly becomes more visually pleasing."

KG: "This canapé is just ham and melon, but I've used a melon baller to create spheres, and put the ham on top with a nice skewer so that guests can see exactly what they're getting."

Wondering what to do with the skewers after you eat the canapé?

MH: "Have a little dish on the tray for used skewers, or a little glass."

15. Sprinkling herbs or seasoning will also make canapés look ~fancier~.

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KG: "Don’t put any herbs or seasoning on your canapés that don’t need to be there, but if the recipe calls for, e.g., chives, a few sprinkled on top to finish will enhance the look of the canapés. If I’m putting a little chilli in my guacamole, I’ll also sprinkle a bit on top."

16. Vol-au-vents are still acceptable.

17. Intensify your flavours to make memorable canapés.

18. Aim to get a good contrast on everything: contrast of colours, textures, even temperatures!

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KG: "Always aim for a contrast of everything: colours, flavours, hot, cold, sour, savoury, sweet. Contrast everything. Mark will sometimes say, “That’s a bit of a brown menu.” If your menu’s looking a bit brown, be sure to liven it up with a pop of colour."

The above canapés are potatoes that have been cut in half and baked. The insides are then scooped out, mashed up with some butter and seasoning, put back in the potato shells, and topped with cream cheese, caviar, and chives.

19. Stick to classic flavour combos. Canapés aren't the place to try anything crazy.

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MH: "Stick to classics. You could buy a duck breast, cook it and cube it, and put a little blob of apple puree on each one. We even do a version of cheese and pineapple on sticks, with feta and mint. Or you could use blue cheese for a nice twist."

KG: "Stick to what you know. Nothing more foolish than throwing a party for a group of people and going for a recipe that you’ve never done before."

20. If you're on a budget, make vegetarian canapés. You don't have to buy expensive foods: Anything can be delicious as long as the ingredients are high quality.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

KG: "If you’re on a budget, generally speaking, vegetarian canapés are a lot cheaper. Chestnuts are pretty cheap to get. Rather than spending hours peeling them and roasting them, do what we do and get good-quality vacuum-packed pre-peeled chestnuts from the supermarket.

"Our baked potato canapés don’t need to be topped with caviar; they can be baked potato with a bit of coronation turkey on top, and a few crushed almonds. Nothing has to be expensive; anything’s delicious as long as you get good ingredients."

21. If someone has dietary requirements, just make all your canapés suitable for them.

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KG: "I’ve been to parties where one of the guests has been gluten-free, and they’ve done, say, 10 parsnip croquettes which are gluten-free, then 50 regular ones. But why not just do them all gluten-free?

"Keep it simple. If someone has a nut allergy, then do all your canapés without nuts, so it’s uncomplicated and you don’t have to worry about it."

A great vegan canapé option is crispy kale hearts. Deep-fry kale hearts until crispy (you can find these in the supermarket), then toss in some sea salt and chilli before serving.

22. Don't bring out all your canapés at once.

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KG: "There’s nothing worse than going to a canapé party where they've just done one of everything – if a guest has two of a certain type of canapé, then any guests that turn up late won’t get any. So you should should always make sure you’re doing a fair few of each type of canapé so they get round the whole room.

"Stagger serving them too. I see it far too often in restaurants where they make the mistake of going, “Right, the guests are here!” and sending out all the canapés at once – but guests never all rock up at once.

"Go out with static, pre-made canapés and crisps at first, then the cold food, then the hot food, then pudding canapés if you’ve got them, so that any latecomers won’t go hungry."

23. Pair your canapés with champagne, or serve a variety of cocktails.

24. For dessert canapés, make half the amount of savoury canapés you're serving.

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KG: "For pudding canapés, neutral pre-made tart cases are great. A chocolate mousse is great all year round, piped into a case, with a little cracked honeycomb on top. Mini mince pies are lovely this time of year too. A lot of people don’t go for puddings, so don’t try too hard with them, or make too many. I’d only make half the number of savoury canapés you’re serving."

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