Festive nibbles to make at home

A tray of bowls of nibbles and canapes

However small your party this year serving nibbles is an enticing prelude to dinner - Credit: Frances Bissell

Bites, nibbles, amuse bouche,  canapés – whatever you call these flavoursome morsels, they are an enjoyable part of any festivities, however small your party this year, offering tantalising aromas when your guests arrive.

And even though supermarkets and delis have an abundance of ready-to-party eats, we might find, this year, we have extra time on our hands to get creative. I aim for a selection of items baked and bought. For the latter I like any or all of: nocellara olives, prosciutto wound around grissini, bresaola folded round chunks of taleggio, balls of mozzarella speared on golden cherry tomatoes with basil , a platter of manchego and jamon iberico bellota - especially if we have bottle of fresh fino or manzanilla  – and some good smoked salmon.

A particular favourite is the St James Scotch salmon sold by Hampstead Seafood. It is traditionally cut along the fillet, rather than the D-cut one finds in most supermarket salmon; the long slices are versatile. I cut strips of cucumber and apple, wrap them in smoked salmon, and then wrap the bundle in seaweed.

A salmon platter also works well, for which I use fresh salmon; some I cure as gravad lax, some I chop and serve as tartare on blini or toast. One portion of salmon marinated in soy, toasted sesame oil and lime serves as tiraditos, and the rest as sashimi, with pickled ginger. 

Quail eggs are the perfect size for appetisers. Although I have been known to bake a dozen in hollowed out and baked small potatoes, now I just boil, shell and serve lightly dusted with celery salt.

Something hot will be welcome too. Sausage rolls will fill the bill, especially if home-made, but I also  use my puff pastry to make other savoury parcels. My all-time favourite is snail puffs, combining a generous helping of butter mixed with garlic and chopped parsley with the well-drained mollusc from that tin purchased in France  (or from Phoenicia in Kentish Town) wrapped in puff pastry and baked to a golden brown. Miniature savoury muffins, scones and cheese puffs are some of the easiest of hot savoury recipes, very versatile, very moreish, very homely.

The French are keen on verrines for apéritifs; small glasses filled with soups, miniature salads and other savouries. A piquant ceviche works quite well, and oysters in ‘seawater jelly’ in shot glasses were a favourite of mine one year, but I prefer to keep them for the ‘farewell’ bonne bouche such as a chocolate pot or a posset; my pomegranate and lime posset has suitably seasonal flavours. Of course, this year there may be no parties with departing guests, so save my recipe for a pre-dessert before the Christmas pudding. And on the subject of ‘farewell’ let us look forward to bidding not au revoir but adieu to 2020 and wish each other a hopeful 2021.

A baking tin of savoury muffins on a t towel

Savoury muffins can be served as festive canapes - Credit: Frances Bissell

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Cheese puffs (makes 12)

100 g plain flour

2 eggs

Up to 200 semi-skimmed milk

100 g strong cheese, such as mature cheddar or pecorino, diced  or grated



Beat the flour, egg and enough water together to make a smooth batter. Lightly butter bun tins and put the cheese in the bottom. Pour in the batter, and bake in a preheated oven at 200 C/400 F, gas mark 6 for 15 to 18 minutes. They should be golden brown and puffed up when cooked, though will sink somewhat when removed from the oven. Serve as hot as possible.

Note: A ‘historical’ canapé, from the 80s, was miniature roast dinner, a tiny Yorkshire pudding with a sliver of roast beef and horseradish cream. This recipe works perfectly for the base.

Chorizo, fennel and Manchego muffins (makes 24)

350 g self-raising flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

100 g diced chorizo

100 g diced Manchego

3 eggs, beaten with

225 ml butter-milk

1/20th gram saffron filaments, soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water

5 tablespoons melted butter, or sunflower oil


Grease and flour a tray of 24 miniature muffin cups. Sift the dry ingredients together, stir in the fennel seeds and then add the chorizo and Manchego. Add the liquid ingredients, and stir together quickly. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tray or paper cases, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 C/400 F, gas mark 6 for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

Note: chopped olives and sun-dried tomatoes can replace the chorizo, or use  pancetta and pecorino, or shredded courgettes and parmesan.

Glass pots of pomegranate and lime dessert

Pomegranate and lime posset - Credit: Frances Bissell

Pomegranate and lime posset (makes 4-6)

1 pomegranate

1 lime

Caster sugar – see recipe

300 ml double cream


Squeeze four tablespoons of juice from the pomegranate, keeping some seeds intact for garnish. Squeeze half the lime. Pour the juices into a small saucepan and add an equal volume of sugar. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Pour the cream into a jug and slowly stir the fruit syrup into the cream which will thicken  as the acid goes to work but  will remain smooth. Spoon into shot glasses or custard cups and scatter with a few seeds on top.

Note: any acid fruit works well in a posset; citrus but also passionfruit, and in season, redcurrants.

© Frances Bissell 2020. All rights reserved