The purpose of the canapé is to encourage drinking, so they are often salty or spicy, and should be manageable with one hand so the other is free to clutch a cocktail. The rule of thumb is that they should be eaten in no more than two bites.
The bread is usually cut into shapes using those little cookie cutter-like things you often see at garage sales and thrift stores. Diamonds, triangles, hearts, and circles are the usual shapes, in plain or fluted edges. The bread and filling can also be rolled in a spiral and jabbed with a toothpick.Canapé means 'couch' in French and it is said they got that name because the ingredients are couched on the bread. This makes sense because canapés were first served in France in the 18th century. Another theory is that the ingredients are draped or 'canopied' over the bread.
While the bread component is most typical, often any individual, toothpick-impaled concoction passed on a platter at a cocktail party is called a canapé. Check out a few recipes from The Canapé Book, above and below. They sure don't make them like they used to!
(Images: Dana Velden)