Canapé cooking tips from the Akaroa Cooking School

Ant and Lou Bentley from the Akaroa Cooking School share tips on creating canapés for summer entertaining.

Words: Ant Bentley

This is one of my favourite classes to run as I love making gorgeous-looking small food. When I finished culinary school, a friend and I set up a small business doing little cocktail parties – it was loads of fun and we spent hours creating morsels of deliciousness. Hosting a cocktail party can be quite daunting so we get a lot of people along to this class who want a bit of inside info on what they should be serving, how much they should be serving and how to make an impact in one mouthful. A lot of people are just looking for inspiration to up their game and serve some-thing more interesting than the same thing they have been offering for years. Initially the class was called ‘Canapé Inspirations’ but a couple of years back we decided that maybe we’d throw in a couple of cocktails, and since then the classes have all been a sell-out. It just goes to show that we all love a cocktail! This class has a very celebratory feel to it and its format is quite different to the rest of our classes.

READ MORE: Three easy canapé recipes from the Akaroa Cooking School

The day starts with the cold canapés, which are prepared and then served with bubbly. We then move on to warm canapés, which are made and served with a matching cocktail. We then move on to more substantial canapés which are served at the table with matching wines, and then finally a sweet canapé served with a dessert cocktail.

Canapés with smoked salmon, cream cheese and avocado.

We cover the basics of hosting a cocktail party:

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1. Have a range of cold and warm canapés to serve, ensuring that some of the cold canapés are prepared and on platters ready to serve as soon as guests arrive. Have some warm canapés pre-made – little tarts, for instance, that can simply be warmed in the oven before serving.
2. In the summer have more chilled canapés and in the winter have more warm canapés on offer.
3. Always serve the cold canapés first followed by the warm.
4. As a general rule we would always serve five to six canapés in the first hour – you will find people tend to drink more in the first hour as they are excited to be there so you need to balance this with plenty of food. In the second hour serve three to four canapés. If a party is going for longer than two hours then it is a good idea to serve some more substan-tial canapés to ensure that people are eating enough. Sliders are great as they are filling and the bread helps soak up some of the drink. If you have an end time to your party then it’s a good idea to serve a sweet canapé and to get some coffee out to indicate to guests that the party is coming to an end.
5. Have a range of gluten-free, vegetarian and dairy-free options to cover your bases.
6. Make sure the food is easy to eat. Most people will have a drink in one hand so it’s important that the food you are serving can be eaten with only one hand. It’s also really important that the food you are serving isn’t going to drip down the front of your guest’s lovely new dress or smart shirt so put some thought into making the food as clean as possible to eat. Always offer a cocktail serviette when handing around canapés.
7. Don’t spend all night in the kitchen. Have someone on hand to help pass around the canapés, and as soon as they go out, head out too and spend time with your friends.
8. Have fun!

Strawberries dipped in dark chocolate and sesame.

Canapés are small so you only have a bite or possibly two to make an impact. They need to look amazing, they need to taste fantastic and they need to be interesting to eat.
Make sure that the food you are serving is colourful – no one wants to eat brown food all night. It’s amazing how a few fresh herbs and some edible flowers can make a plain looking plate of food into something beautiful.
The only way of knowing how the food is going to taste is by trying it at each step of the way. It’s one of the perks of being the cook.

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That way you can adjust as you go and you can be happy in the knowledge that everything you send out will be a taste sensation. Ensure that you have plenty of texture going on in each canapé – something crunchy or crispy paired with something creamy is always a winning combo. Creamy can come from something as simple as a flavoured mayonnaise. Microgreens taste delicious and they add a great finishing touch to food. They are really simple to grow at home on your windowsill but most super-markets and greengrocers have a good selection available these days. By keeping all of these things in mind your next cocktail party is sure to be a huge success.


Three easy canapés from the Akaroa Cooking School: Anchovy and Tomato Tostada, Poached Chicken Finger Sandwich and Courgette and Chorizo Slice


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