How to host a virtual French apéro this festive season

PUBLISHED: 18:09 14 December 2020 | UPDATED: 18:14 14 December 2020

Janine enjoys the French tradition of apero hour

Janine enjoys the French tradition of apero hour

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If you’re looking to make get-togethers really special this year, why not add some French flair to your celebrations by hosting an ‘apéro hour’? Expat and author Janine Marsh shares her tips

L’apéro, short for l’apéritif, is a French cultural and social ritual. Not just pre-dinner drinks, not just Happy Hour – it’s a chance to meet up with your favourite people, share a drink and some nibbles, wind down at the end of the day and enjoy a chat. It’s an event, and to the French it’s sacred. The challenges of 2020 have seen l’heure de l’apéro move online, with the go-to places for virtual get togethers being WhatsApp, Skype, Facetime and Zoom. The new trend of ‘Whatsapéro’ is growing in popularity across France and it’s a custom you can enjoy wherever you are. Ask any French person what makes a successful apéro and they’ll tell you it’s just as much about conversation, connection and conviviality, so with that in mind, here are my top tips for a merry virtual apéro.

HOW TO CREATE AN ATMOSPHERE

- You don’t want this to feel like an online work meeting so set the scene and make this an occasion.

- Send out invites in plenty of time so guests are geared up for whatever platform your meet-up will be held on.

- If you’re making cocktails, let everyone know what the ingredients are so you can all join in.

- If you hold a group apéro, make sure someone takes the lead in controlling the chat – less people talking over each other is good.

- Play a little French music in the background for authentic ambience.

- Steer clear of politics as a topic of conversation if you want to keep it fun!

- Why not play some games? Quizzes and charades are perfect for an apéro. Virtual karaoke is huge fun and easy to organise in advance and gets everyone talking about the event before they even tune in. YouTube has lots of karaoke options including Non, je ne regrette rien and I promise you, belting that out in your living room in your best Edith Piaf voice is a moment everyone will cherish.

Cheesy gougeres are the ideal apero nibbleCheesy gougeres are the ideal apero nibble

WHAT TO EAT

A great drink calls for great food. Nuts, olives and crisps are fine but the French have easy-to-make but irresistible party food down to a fine art. No one wants to be in the kitchen cooking for hours, so simple, quick and delicious mini mouthfuls are perfect. Mini croques (cheese and ham toasties cut into bite-sized pieces) and this cheesy gougères recipe are ideal.

To make 25 bite-sized gougères

125ml water

125ml milk

125g grated hard cheese – Comté or Gruyère is ideal

80g butter

140g plain flour

4 eggs

Generous pinch of salt

- In a pan bring the water, milk, butter and salt to the boil. Remove from the heat when the butter is melted and stir in the flour. It looks a bit like mashed potato at this stage and is ready when the mix comes away from the side of the pan and forms a ball. Leave it to cool for 3 minutes.

- Add the beaten eggs one at a time until you have a smooth paste. Stir in the grated cheese.

- Either pipe or use a tablespoon to transfer the mix into walnut-sized rounds onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Leave at least 2 inches between them as they puff up quite a lot.

- Bake in the oven at 200˚C/Gas Mark 6 for 20-25minutes, until they are a lovely golden colour.

The pomme cannelle spritz cocktail and the new Bardinet brandy bottleThe pomme cannelle spritz cocktail and the new Bardinet brandy bottle

WHAT TO DRINK

Though wine and champagne are traditional apéritifs, these days the emphasis is on whatever you like to drink, from spirits to cocktails. An online apéro provides the perfect opportunity for guests to practice their mixology skills and create cocktails together. One of my favourites was created by Arnaud Volte who works at The London EDITION hotel, called Pomme Canelle Spritz. Its festive apple and cinnamon flavours match really well with the vanilla and dry fruits notes of Bardinet brandy.

Pomme Canelle Spritz

35ml Bardinet brandy

15ml lemon juice

15ml cinnamon syrup

20ml clear apple juice

Top up with soda water

Glass: wine glass

Garnish: Lemon wedge & cinnamon stick

To make cinnamon syrup:

100ml water

100g caster sugar

2 cinnamon sticks

In a pan, heat up the water and sugar until the sugar is dissolved.

Cut and add the sticks, infuse for 10/15 min. Let it cool, strain and store in the fridge for one month.

Bardinet has launched a stylish new bottle in the UK in time for the festive season. Founded in 1857 by passionate young Frenchman Paul Bardinet, who had a vision of creating quality spirits for all to enjoy, Bardinet brandy is distilled from grapes, patiently aged in oak barrels and expertly blended at the House’s Domaine de Fleurenne estate, near Bordeaux.

Author and expat Janine Marsh lives in Pas-de-Calais and writes a bi-monthly column for the new Living France section in French Property News

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