I just love canapes. They are, hands down, the best part of a wedding when they are done just right (aside from the ceremony of course!)
For this recipe post I thought it might be nice to let you in on a little of my process from designing the menu down to the dressing up of the board to really give you an understanding of what can be done, and what you can do too with a little imagination so here goes…
When writing a canape menu, and in fact any kind of menu, there are a few things to consider; Flavour, Texture, Variety, Appearance and Colour.
These two Christmas inspired canape ideas were created recently for a little event. I’ll take you through each of them exactly as I did in my head before I even ordered the ingredients.
Side note: Toast?
For both canapes I used baguette which I could have toasted, I certainly thought about it. That would have been a nice touch BUT it would have added extra faff to the service of them. Plus, I made those baguettes that day, so I wanted to celebrate the freshness of them, the softness of the crumb and the crunchiness of the crust, so I sliced them au natural.
This canape is all about the cheese. A decent (mini) wedge of soft Chaource placed on top of our bouncy crumb first and seasoned with a few Maldon salt flakes. Then, little green flecks of aromatic thyme leaves and a sprinkle of golden toasted walnuts for nuttiness and texture.
I chose the sweet element to be honey, a fragrant and subtle sweetness. Chutney did cross my mind, but I really wanted to celebrate the delicate flavour of the Chaource. Had I gone with chutney I fear it may have been a little too much, like “chutney and cheese” instead of “cheese and chutney”. Honey was the much better option.
Olive oil brings everything together and with honey, if you haven’t tried it before, it’s just delicious. Finally a little cracked black pepper to finish.
Speck is like a smoked version of Prosciutto that I’m in love with at the moment. With one cheese canape already done I wanted the second to be different, even though it was built on the same base.
I always feel that the smokiness of speck needs something cool and creamy to go with it, along the lines of mozzarella or crème fraiche. So, on the base of these just on top of the bread is a little piped mascarpone, not only giving us that creamy element, but also acting as a sort of “glue” to hold everything on the bread, it has to be practical after all.
Then I draped on the speck, three canapes out of a single slice. Next a carefully cut wedge of fresh fig and a little piece of orange segment are tucked up in the slice of salty speck to bring a fresh fruity flavour, acidity and sweetness. Also, a tiny basil leaf to act a fragrance booster.
Up until now, everything apart from the crust of the baguette underneath is a little soft, so to bring some crunch and to avoid it becoming too pappy when you eat it, I added some toasted seeds. A sprinkle of sunflower and pumpkin seeds toasted in a pan with a pinch of salt and a tiny splash of water to help the salt stick.
Just like the Chaource canape I finished this one with a little olive oil and cracked black pepper to bring everything together, no salt this time since that will come from the seeds and speck.
organisation is key
A lesson in preparation…
There is a reason why chefs don’t just rock up to work at 12 o’clock and start cooking your lunch. They have to prepare it first. Putting things in just the right place first is really important, because then when your order comes in it can be cooked efficiently. When you have guests over for Christmas, I’m sure you’d like to enjoy a mulled wine with them instead of getting sweaty and flustered in the kitchen, so make like a TV chef and get prepared first!
For canapes like these I like to set out the ingredients on a little tray just like in this picture, that’s the ingredients for the Chaource canape by the way. One tray per canape. That way everything is in one place, I won’t forget to put anything on the canape before it’s served, and I won’t have to go digging in the fridge drawer for that last sprig of thyme that I just know is in there somewhere!
It’s always best to build canapes as you need them to keep them fresh, if everything is already in place and ready to go you’ll be able to do it more efficiently and spend more time relaxing with your guests. As a bonus to building to order, your guests will become interested in what you’re doing too!
Fresh herbs keep well in moistened kitchen paper.
Make sure everything is “easy access”, like putting walnuts in an open ramekin.
Use piping bags. Dressings, sauces, mascarpone, and the honey in this picture can all be much less clumsily placed from a piping bag.
Think ahead about the tools you’ll need. A teaspoon for the walnuts and a knife to cut the cheese.
The little things make a HUGE difference
A lesson in presentation…
A couple of weeks ago I was hosting a Christmas bread making demonstration, and I thought it would be nice to build a beautiful cheeseboard together, you may have seen it on Instagram. As we went along we were discussing what it is that makes food so inviting and so beautiful looking.
A big part of plating up food in a restaurant, or styling food on a table is the time you put in. The time you spend tweaking what you see to get it just right, adding tiny details and touches. The time you took over preparing and presenting something always shows. Sometimes it helps to think of opposite ends of the scale; food thrown down on a plate canteen stylie, sauce sloshed on top and plate dumped down in front of you Vs. elements intricately placed down with a purpose, deliberately placed one by one with tweezers in a Michelin starred restaurant. The two are so far apart.
I’m not saying it’s time to bust out your tweezers for these canapes (although don’t let me stop you if you’re into it) but just take your time. Think about what you are doing, focus, be present because it always shows. It’s the secret. When you look at a beautiful plate of food and you can’t quite put you’re finger on the thing that makes it look so lovely, chances are you are looking at patience, attention and care every time.
Here’s a few tips to get that look just right:
Prepare and place everything with purpose – cut the cheese just right, drape the speck nicely, cut the fig all the same, pick out the tiniest basil leaves. Every element selected and placed with your full attention really makes the difference.
Oil your boards – See how the grain of the olive wood boards pop against the table in my pictures? That’s because I oiled the boards with a little olive oil and wiped away the excess just before I used them. It brings a soft sheen and really enhances the grain. Do it, it takes about seven seconds and you can do the same thing to polish up a piece of slate.
Go the extra mile – See that little piece of paper underneath the canapes? I put that there on purpose. There are THREE things to note here:
1. It’s just the right size
2. I scrunched It up a bit to look a little rustic
3. I tore the edges so it didn’t look too sharp
And here’s the point: I didn’t have to do it, but I did it. I didn’t have to make sure it was just the right size so the wood was peeping out from behind, I didn’t have to tear it, I didn’t have to scrunch it, in fact I didn’t have to put it there at all but I did all of those things and I believe that the thought and the effort makes all the difference.
I wrote this post a little differently this time around and I hope you find it useful. In 2019 I’m going to talk a little more here about the food that goes with the bread I make, to give you some ideas of what to have your homemade bread with, because that’s something I love to create too.
Have fun coming up with your own canape ideas and Christmas menu, and have a wonderful time this year whatever your plans.
See you in 2019 :-)