I’m going a little canapé mad at the moment, what with all the festive parties. These were inspired by some lovely canapés that the chef at work made for our Christmas party, which were wolfed down in seconds. Canapés can be, to my mind, the most exciting part of a meal – when you’re starving hungry they tease you with what’s about to come.
I made these for a New Year dinner party. The party had eleven guests (and five courses if you count the canapés) so I ended up making three different sorts, totaling around sixty. By the end of meticulously balancing tiny bits of fennel on top of minuscule dollops of crème fraiche, I was going slightly cross-eyed, and had lost count of how many I’d made. I also assembled grated beetroot, pesto and pancetta on circles of toast, and smoked salmon, cucumber and mustard mayonnaise on more blinis.
Blinis are small Russian yeasted pancakes (a bit like tiny crumpets) that are traditionally used as a vehicle for smoked salmon and caviar. But they work well with a variety of toppings, such as here with silky crème fraiche and crunchy fennel. Blinis take a couple of hours to make, as the batter needs to be left to rise, but they can easily be make a day in advance and kept in an airtight container.
The trick to a good canapé, I think, is to get a good mixture of contrasting textures and colours that work well together. This canapé would have looked and tasted a bit bland if it were not for the little segment of orange, and some bright green fennel fronds placed on top – at which point I almost resorted to using tweezers.
Makes about 40
For the blinis (recipe adapted from La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life by Beatrice Peltre):
1 tsp dried yeast
130g buckwheat flour (if you don’t have buckwheat flour just use plain white flour or wholemeal)
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs, separated
sunflower oil, for frying
For the topping:
1 fennel bulb
2 tsp whole peppercorns (I used a combination of pink and black)
juice of 1 lemon
glug of olive oil
250g crème fraiche
First, make the blinis. Activate the yeast by warming the milk to lukewarm (about 30 seconds in a conventional microwave should do it) and stirring in the yeast. Leave for 5 minutes until small bubbles start to form. Put the buckwheat flour into a bowl and mix in the salt, yeast and milk, then the egg yolks, to make a smooth batter. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave in a warm, draught-free place to rise for an hour.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C, and slice the fennel bulb into small pieces, reserving the green frondy bits. Put in a roasting tin along with the crushed peppercorns, lemon juice, olive oil and butter, then put in the oven for 20 minutes, until the fennel is starting to turn golden brown at the edges. Prepare the orange by peeling the segments away from the skin, and using a small knife to cut the flesh out from the white pith. Cut each segment into small pieces.
By this time bubbles should have appeared on the surface of the blini batter. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, then fold into the batter. Heat a non-stick frying pan and put a glug of sunflower oil in the bottom. Fry teaspoonfuls of the batter in batches for about 30 seconds on each side, then put them on a sheet of kitchen paper to let the oil drain off and allow them to cool.
Now to assemble the canapés. A good tip is to put all the components in separate bowls, making putting them all together easier. Top each blini with a small dollop of crème fraiche, then a few pieces of fennel, then a tiny piece of orange, then a bit of the green fennel frondy bit. Serve with an obligatory glass of Prosecco.