As Christmas canapé season creeps upon us, we speak to Lulu Jones-Fenleigh, who works in menu design and new product development at Create Food. Here she shares with us some of her top canapé tips – from the importance of colour and texture to eye-catching serves.
1. The Big Three: “Taste, Colour, Texture.”
When we’re creating canapes, the most important thing is that they must taste delicious, but there are a couple of other things we bear in mind. We try and make the colours as vibrant as possible. Tiny touches of green, like baby cress and foraged herbs always help in deep mid-winter. They look lovely against deep purple beetroot and orange squashes, and really lift a plainer background like white cheese.
It’s also important for a good canapé to have interesting textures too – after all, you only have one mouthful to impress. This could be anything from crumbs to croutes, dehydrated tomato flakes or popping candy. If you are serving a smooth canapé like our goat’s cheese pannacotta, then a couple of simple additions like a parma ham wafer or a peashoot curl can transform it into something really exciting.
The way that canapés are presented really can affect the atmosphere of a party. A beautifully-presented tray of canapés can put a smile on people’s faces. So try not to overload platters – it’s better to plate up trays in smaller batches and replenish them often with freshly-made canapés than have one large – and quickly emptying – sat on the side.
As a general rule, we don’t put anything on the canapé trays which isn’t edible, including flowers. At Create, we also have dedicated days where we hunt for design and presentation ideas which move away from plain trays. We look in books, on the internet, in cafes and restaurants for ideas – whether it’s a miniature shopping trolley filled with fish and chips, or tiny metal tins of potted quail, canapés can be a great way to bring a touch of humour to parties.
At Create we constantly remind ourselves that some people have smaller mouths than others! So dramatic towers, or big wide canapés aren’t suitable for everyone.
Imagine people picking up bites between their finger and thumb, and use that as a guide. Also try to vary how people might eat things. Use a combination of finger food, like quail’s eggs, croutes or scotch eggs, alongside things served on sipping spoons, like sweet or savoury panna cotta. And if you can, add a bit of food theatre with anything from mini glasses to tiered stands or pipettes.
Often canapés need building last minute – something like a croute or a seaweed cracker will go soggy otherwise. So have all the canapé components lined up in the kitchen, to make all last-minute assembly is as quick and easy as possible.
In a busy kitchen, consistency is really important, so we make sure that chefs have all the specifications and photographs of the finished canapés with them before they start assembling them at a venue.
Photography might be taking things a bit far, but if you’re doing a canapé party at home, then it’s a good idea to have a clear idea of what the finished canapés will look well in advance, so you can quickly plate them up and serve them once the guests arrive, rather than fiddling about with finishing touches.
5. Thinking Out Of The Box
We often start by picking out a single ingredient we like – something that’s seasonal or new to the market. Or sometimes it can be a new piece of canapé kit which inspires a creation like a Himalayan salt blocks or even just an egg box.
Inspiration also comes from reinventing British classics. I spend a lot of time looking at food-based historical archives. Some of the old words are amazing, and can spark ideas – like ‘sippets’, or ‘fruit cheese’. I also love taking ideas from quintessentially British recipes like Bakewell tarts, a Hot Toddy and Bullshot.
Create Food’s canapés, photographed above:
1. Hot toddy jellies with candied orange zest
2. Worcestershire parma ham and brioche toasted soldiers with hollandaise dip, served in egg shells
3. Tempura seaweed crackers with cured sea bass and sea beet leaves
4. Duck and cherry Bakewell tart with smoked almond frangipane