IN her gleaming kitchen at Edinburgh New Town Cookery School, Fiona Burrell is helping me get to grips with the art of Christmas canapes.

A reluctant cook at the best of times, when it comes to yuletide entertaining I tend to run around the supermarket throwing frozen sausage rolls, ready-made quiche and mountains of mini pizzas into my trolley. Think Kerry Katona with her prawn ring rather than domestic goddess Nigella Lawson.

But that's all about to change. Burrell, founder and principal of the cookery school, is running a series of festive-themed classes and demonstrations throughout December and has offered a sneak peek at some of the culinary treats that she and her team will be rustling up.

Today I'll be learning how to make a selection of sweet and savoury canapes with other Christmas courses on offer including easy entertaining, baking for children and a guide to festive fizz.

As I tie my apron, Burrell runs through the menu. First up we will be making meringue-topped mini mince pies. I try not to wrinkle my nose. I've never been fond of mince pies. At parties I tend to scoff the pastry and then hide the sickly-sweet filling in a napkin at the bottom of my handbag.

Burrell nods in sympathetic agreement. "I often find shop-bought mince pies can be too sweet and cloying," she says. Her own recipe doesn't use sugar for the filling.

She begins by grating the zest of a whole lemon and half an orange into a bowl. An apple – minus the core – follows suit. Burrell then adds sultanas, raisins, currants, dried cranberries and flaked almonds. Next comes some mixed spice, brandy, melted butter and a ripe banana.

Once it is all stirred together, we spoon the mixture into the pastry cases that Burrell in true Blue Peter-style has helpfully made earlier. To ensure the mince pies are bite-sized, as all good canapes should be, she uses a mini muffin tray instead of the traditional, larger version.

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It already smells delicious. Even more so once it comes out of the oven. I slowly sink my teeth into the buttery, soft pastry and brace myself. But there's no need. The filling tastes sublime: fresh and light. Burrell could make a mince pie convert of me yet.

We're not finished, though. Burrell demonstrates how to make a meringue topping. This has always been my downfall. My failed attempts at meringue are too copious to mention. Suffice to say it usually ends in tears.

It doesn't take long to pinpoint where I've been going wrong all these years. The egg whites, says Burrell, need to be beaten into stiff peaks. Once complete, she turns the bowl upside down to show that the contents are sufficiently firm. It sticks fast, seemingly defying gravity.

"But as soon as you have whipped it, you need to start adding the sugar," she says. "You can't let it sit." Ah, so don't answer the door, chat to a friend on the telephone or get distracted watching something on television? "Exactly," laughs Burrell. "Let the child carry on painting the wall …"

The meringue is then piped on top of the mince pies. Then it's back in the oven with them. With that canape almost complete, we move onto making goats cheese and herb truffles.

It's a wonderfully simple recipe. After combining soft goats cheese and cream cheese together, adding finely chopped parsley, thyme and chives, Burrell shows me a neat technique – to wet our hands – which stops the mixture from sticking as we gently shape them into smooth spheres.

The cheese balls are then put into the fridge to chill while the toppings are made. Burrell chops pecan and pistachio nuts. These are divided into two baking trays over which a mixture containing honey, Sriracha (or chilli sauce) and olive oil is poured.

The nuts are popped in the oven until they begin to caramelise then removed and allowed to cool. Afterwards the cheese balls are rolled among the pecans and pistachios to give them a light coating.

Burrell suggests smoked paprika, toasted sesame seeds and parmesan cheese as alternative toppings for different flavours and colours on the plate.

Our next canape – Asian beef lettuce cups – is another straightforward one to make. Burrell uses sirloin steak and explains about looking for the coveted "marbling" effect when selecting the meat.

"It is not so much the fat on the outside, it is the marbling within the muscle," she says. "You want to look for the little white threads going through the meat because that means flavour and tenderness."

Rather than pour the cooking oil into the frying pan, she instead rubs it directly onto the steak. The meat is then cooked medium rare. Once cooled, Burrell cuts it into thin strips. These are tossed in a dressing that includes soy sauce, lime juice, honey, fish sauce, peppers and chilli.

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The beef strips are individually placed on baby gem lettuce or radicchio leaves which Burrell arranges in a fan shape around the serving dish. Voila. Canape complete.

Other recipes featured in the Christmas canapes demonstration taking place this Friday include smoked mackerel pate with cranberry, lime and ginger on melba toast; crunchy spiced chicken bites with harissa yoghurt; blue cheese, pear and walnut in filo pastry; and jewelled rocky road.

One of the best things about plumping for canapes at a Christmas party is that much of the preparation can be done in advance. There's nothing worse than the host or hostess disappearing into the kitchen for hours on end, leaving guests twiddling their thumbs.

That said, Burrell recommends leaving the final assembly until just before you serve them. "The last thing you want with a canape is a soggy bottom," she quips.

When it comes to the serving order, Burrell suggests thinking of it like a mini meal. "I would start with fish, then vegetables, followed by meat and chicken, then cheese and finish with a sweet."

Her tip is to serve between five and seven types of canapes to ensure guests have plenty to eat, particularly when the Christmas spirit is free-flowing. "It is important to make sure that people have enough to sop up the drink," she says.

Burrell's own passion for cooking began in childhood, ignited out of necessity initially. "My mother died when I was eight," she says. "My grandmother came to live with us and she was quite a good cook and taught me how to make a few things. Sadly, she died when I was 14."

The youngest of four children, Burrell took over much of the cooking duties. "I remember when my grandmother died, ringing up an elderly aunt and asking: 'How do you make shepherd's pie?

"My father had very plain tastes. We had a roast on Sunday which we would have cold on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and, if were unlucky, on a Thursday. If not, then on Thursday we would have steak, Friday fish and on a Saturday shepherd's pie."

Born in Birkenhead on the Wirral, after leaving school Burrell gravitated to her mother's hometown of Edinburgh where she studied institutional management at Queen Margaret College. One of her early jobs was as assistant to the principal at Edinburgh's Woman and Home Cook School.

Burrell later spent 12 years working for Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith at the renowned Leiths School of Food and Wine in London, firstly as a tutor and then principal. She contributed to books such as Leiths Cookery Bible, Leiths Book of Cakes and Leiths Complete Christmas.

In 2009, Burrell opened the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School which offers professional courses as well as evening and weekend classes for those keen to brush up on their skills.

She smiles when asked about Christmas culinary traditions of her own. "My father used to say every year: 'You haven't forgotten the forcemeat balls, have you?'" says Burrell.

"They used to call stuffing 'forcemeat' and you would make balls from that. It was often sausage meat or something like that. My father died in 1977, but every year we still have them as a nod to him: 'We've not forgotten the forcemeat balls, dad.'"

The Christmas canapes demonstration takes place at Edinburgh New Town Cookery School, 7 Queen Street, Edinburgh, on Friday from 10.30am until 12.30pm. Tickets cost £45. Price includes canape tasting and glass of Prosecco. Booking is essential. Visit

READ MORE: Five tips for perfect Christmas party nibbles


For the pastry:

225g/8oz plain flour

140g/5oz butter, cut into cubes

Pinch of salt

For the mincemeat:

1 apple

85g/3oz sultanas

85g/3oz raisins

45g/1½ oz currants

85g/3oz dried cranberries

45g/1½ oz flaked almonds

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Grated zest ½ orange

1 ½ tsp mixed spice

2 tbsp whisky or brandy

55g/2oz melted butter

1 ripe banana

To serve:

Icing sugar


1. Make the pastry by sifting the flour into a large bowl. Add the butter and salt and rub in until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add approximately 5 tablespoons of ice cold water. Bring together to a ball of dough adding a little more water if necessary. Flatten into a circle and wrap in cling film. Chill for 15-20 minutes.

2. Wash and grate the apple, including the skin. Put into a bowl and add the sultanas, raisins, cranberries, almonds, lemon zest, orange zest, mixed spice, whisky and melted butter. Mash the banana and add to the mincemeat.

3. Roll out two thirds of the pastry and cut into medium sized circles using a pastry cutter. Line a 12 hole patty tin with the pastry. Place a spoonful of mincemeat into each pastry case. Roll out the rest of the pastry and cut into stars. Top each open pie with a star lid. Chill in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 190˚C/Fan oven 170˚C/gas mark 5.

5. Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.

6. Cool slightly and remove carefully from the tin. Dust with icing sugar just before serving.