Deck the halls and God rest ye merry gentlemen: Christmas party season is upon us! It sneaks up on you, doesn’t it? One moment it’s October, and you’re carving pumpkins, and the next we’re squarely in December, and a whole year’s worth of socialising is jammed into two weeks. That’s how I ended up at a party last week gold-fishing when people less socially awkward than I tried to make festive conversation.
But it’s a whole different kettle of fish if you’re hosting the party. It seems such a good idea in mid-November to host a little pre-Christmas shindig, returning the hospitality you owe before the year is out; lots of birds, one stone. But then the date rolls around and you’re stuck, racking your brains for appropriate nibbles.
What do people want at a christmas party? Well, they’re likely standing up, so something they can eat without a plate, ideally without a napkin, and one-handed, so they don’t need to set down their glass. In terms of taste: something salty and crisp, and just a little bit compulsive, maybe still warm from the oven. These cheese straws fit the bill, with a ripple of anchovy paste going through them. But best of all: they won’t chain you to the kitchen. They use shop-bought puff pastry, and are made in advance; then they can be plonked in receptacles (glasses or mugs work well) and dotted around the room, leaving you free to enjoy your party, stress-free. Perfect.
WHAT YOU NEED:
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 12 minutes
375g puff pastry
100g finely grated parmesan
1 heaped teaspoon anchovy paste or Gentleman’s relish
1 egg yolk
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Heat the oven to 200°C. Spread a thin layer of the anchovy paste across the pastry, going right up to the edges; I find this easiest to do using a spatula or the back of a spoon. Top with half of the grated parmesan, and a good grinding of black pepper.
2. Take the top two corners of the pastry and fold them down onto the bottom two corners, bringing them towards you. Using a rolling pin, roll the folded pastry until it is the thickness of of a pound coin.
3. Fork the egg yolk with a few drops of water, and brush this across the pastry. Sprinkle over the second half of the parmesan, and a final grind of pepper.
4. Cut the pastry into strips about 1cm wide. Carefully lift them onto a lined baking tray, stretching them slightly as you lay them down.
5. Bake for twelve minutes until the straws are puffed and golden. Allow to cool before lifting them from the tray; these straws will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container, but if they start to look a little sorry for themselves, pop them into a warm oven for 5 minutes, and they will crisp back up.