Make now to party later.
One of the smartest ways you can prepare yourself for a busy party season is with make-ahead holiday appetizers that can be stashed away days to weeks in advance. Some recipes you can keep in the freezer to be thawed and baked at a moment's notice. Other recipes actually taste better if you make them in advance and let the flavors develop in the fridge. Either way, a little advance work pays off throughout the season.
We'll share tips for make-ahead holiday appetizers, plus 10 of our favorite recipes to try.
Top Tips for Make-Ahead Appetizers
- Freeze now, thaw later: Flash-freeze or individually quick freeze foods for best results—and to prevent all of your beautifully prepared appetizers from freezing together into one big clump. To flash-freeze foods, arrange your prepped appetizers in a single layer on a plate, pan, or baking sheet and put in the freezer until at least mostly frozen. Then, transfer them to an airtight labeled storage bag or container and return them to the freezer. A quick freeze will reduce large ice crystals from forming, which can destroy texture once thawed. Learn more about how to freeze foods the right way.
- Thaw safely: Always thaw your foods slowly in the refrigerator, not on the countertop or in the sink (which can lead to harmful bacteria growing and a mushy end result). Many recipes can also go straight from the freezer to the oven; just increase the baking time to make up for the frozen start.
- Heat and eat: In addition to your oven, many items can be reheated in a slow cooker, microwave, or on the stovetop. Once those items are reheated, be sure to keep them at safe temperatures and eat them right away.
Ready to start? Here are 10 of our favorite make-ahead holiday appetizers:
1. Cranberry Brie Bites | Make and chill for up to 3 days
These creamy-tangy little bites are essentially a tiny baked Brie—and we promise no one will be able to resist them. Prepare up to 3 days in advance, wrap well in plastic, then refrigerate before baking, as Julie Hubert suggests. Best of all? After they're baked, they taste great at room temperature so you don't have to worry about having to serve them immediately.
1. Chef John's Party Cheese Puffs | Make and freeze for up to 1 month
Also known as gougères, these simple cheese puffs can be prepared up to one month in advance. Homecook nightfall used a plastic storage bag with the end snipped off to "pipe" the dough onto parchment before baking. Be sure to cool these completely before placing them in the freezer. Rewarm as many as you need on a baking sheet in a 325°F oven.
Video: Chef John's Party Cheese Puffs
3. Cocktail Meatballs | Make and freeze for up to 1 month
Cook up a batch of these popular appetizers in advance, let them cool, and then flash-freeze for easy storage. Simply reheat with their sweet and spicy cranberry sauce in your slow cooker an hour before your guests arrive for an easy, popular appetizer. Allrecipes home cook pinksnowflakeliz says, "I made these for a Christmas party, and I think out of the whole spread, these were THE BEST thing at the party! Perfect amount of sweet and tangy."
4. Traditional Christmas Cheese Ball | Make and chill up to 1 week
Love2Cook87 looks forward to this "simple, traditional cheese ball every year." Better yet, this is one of those recipes that's best to make in advance. The trick to keeping your cheese ball fresh in the fridge for up to 1 week is to wrap it well. Start with a layer of plastic wrap, then wrap in aluminum foil to preserve both the shape and flavor. Remove the cheese from the wrapping, roll in your crunchy bits, then let sit at least 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.
5. Pesto Puff Pastry Pinwheel | Make and freeze for up to 2 weeks
This beautiful-looking puff-pastry pinwheel only calls for four ingredients, but makes a spectacular addition to an appetizer table. Magda notes this holiday appetizer just "begs to be pulled apart!" You can bake this pinwheel, cool, and freeze. When your guests arrive, you can take it straight from the freezer and place in a preheated oven until warmed through. It tastes great at room temperature, too.
6. Marinated Olives | Make and chill for up to 2 weeks
Esmee Williams points out that these are "better than what you can buy at the store and much cheaper." Experiment with your favorite flavors or follow the recipe as-is to enjoy Mediterranean-inspired flavors of fennel and rosemary. If you choose to use fresh garlic in the marinade, add it a few days before you plan on serving.
7. Crab Rangoon I | Make and freeze for up to 2 weeks
Anna uses crispy and creamy rangoons as "a conversation piece while the guests are trickling in," as she enjoys frying them fresh and serving them piping-hot. You can form the wontons around the filling ahead of time, then freeze them before frying. Pop them straight from the freezer into the hot oil, drain, and serve hot.
8. The Best Smoked Salmon Spread | Make and chill for up to 2 days
Smoked salmon spread develops an even better flavor when left to sit in the refrigerator for a day or two. Make sure to cover it, though, so the spread doesn't absorb other flavors from fridge contents. Note that if you make this in your food processor, it will turn out like a mousse; if you make it in your stand mixer, it will be a little more chunky. Your choice.
9. Easy Mini Quiches | Make and freeze for up to 1 month
Mini quiches are perfectly adaptable for every palate. Add spinach or mushrooms, swap out the cheese for your favorite variety, or omit the bacon for a vegetarian option. You can prepare and bake these as directed, then freeze them in a single layer in a covered container. Reheating them is as simple as baking in a 400 degree F oven for 7 minutes. MLK73 notes that these are also "easily portable" if you're traveling and need to bring an appetizer to share.
10. Olive Puffs | Make and freeze for up to 2 weeks
This easy two-ingredient recipe is just olives and frozen puff pastry. Recipe creator Syd says, "You can make these ahead, and freeze; allow 30 minutes for the pastry to thaw before baking." Use a variety of olives for an eye-catching presentation.
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