Enjoying homemade Christmas baking is highlight of the season for many families, but making everything from scratch can be time consuming and a lot of work. So how does you stock your freezer with a delicious assortment of cookies and bars without spending several days in the kitchen? By hosting an old-fashioned holiday cookie exchange!
Invite a group of bakers to come to your home and have each one bring 10-12 dozen homemade cookies. Bake up a big batch of your family’s favorite holiday treats and exchange baked goods together in a cheery, festive environment. Everyone leaves with a variety of goodies to stash away for Christmas entertaining – and perhaps a new recipe or two.
Is a swap really as great as it is made out to be?
A cookie swap is a social event with a practical side. For me, it marks the beginning of the holiday season and brings friends together for more than just cocktails and chit-chat.
A cookie swap also…
• Saves valuable time during the busiest season of the year. It is much faster to make multiple batches of the same cookie, than to track down ingredients for 7 or 8 different recipes and prepare each one.
• Provides you with a wonderful selection of homemade baked goods to serve your guests over the holidays.
• Introduces new types of cookies to your palate and unique recipes to your repertoire.
• Provides a fun, casual social event that is easy to host – the guests bring the goodies!
• Offers opportunities for a charitable outreach. Guests can be asked to bring non-perishable food items to donate to a local food bank.
What are you waiting for? Pull out that organized holiday calendar and pencil in a tentative date. Then use these simple and fun steps to plan a festive cookie swap your guests will remember well into the new year.
How to Host a Cookie Swap
All photos are by Aimee
1. Invite Guests
• Invite double the amount of guests that you feel you can accommodate. This is the busiest time of the year and not everyone will be able to attend.
• Ask invitees to prepare 6-10 dozen of their favorite or ‘most requested’ cookie or bar to swap, and an extra dozen for sampling pre-swap.
• Suggest that the cookies be well suited for traveling and freezing; meringues may not make it home, let alone being jostled around in the freezer.
• Request the swap be ‘nut free’, if this is a concern for you. I have done this in recent years as so many of my girlfriend’s children have severe allergies.
2. Bake Cookies!
• Prepare a tried-and-true, favorite recipe. You probably already have a family favorite in mind as you read this post. You know, the one that garners the most requests for the recipe, the one you couldn’t imagine celebrating Christmas without. Now you can share it.
• Make them pretty! Don’t be shy about showing off if you are gifted with decorating skills. Maybe you have a bit more time on your hands than some of your guests and the opportunity to exercise a piping bag. Trust me; guests will appreciate you making the extra effort to dress up those gingerbread men.
• Store the cookies in an airtight container in the freezer if you have made them in advance. Try and maintain their freshness until the big day.
3. Prepare to Host
This may be the easiest party to host over the holiday season; the guests bring the treats; all you have to do is put on a pot of coffee and open your home! Sounds simple? It is! If you’re the Martha Stewart type, here are a few extras touches you can add to make the event even more special:
• Plan a door prize. A cookie cookbook, a pretty apron, or a cookie jar — you decide how simple or elaborate you want it to be. One year I asked each person to bring a cookie cutter. They showed up with all different sorts of shapes –mittens, stars, and angels—which I placed together in a gift bag. At the end of the swap, I drew a name and one lucky lady went home with the whole collection of cookie cutters.
• Provide tea, coffee, and a festive drink such as hot cocoa or mulled apple cider. My guests have come to expect a pot of apple cider and spices simmering on the stove and it’s my most requested beverage.
• Make labels for the cookies. This is a practical ‘extra’ that identifies everything on the table and can inform guests who contributed which cookie.
• Set up a packaging station where guests can assemble and wrap small boxes of goodies to give away as presents. Provide Chinese take-out boxes (available at craft stores) for holding the cookies and items for dressing up the boxes such as tags, ribbon, and felt-tipped pens.
4. 1-2-3 SWAP!
Once all the guests have arrived and the table is laden with hundreds of cookies, invite guests to enjoy a hot beverage while you prepare a tasting tray. If each contributor brought extra cookies for tasting, you should have ample baking to serve up to your guests –and any husband that may have ‘happened’ to stroll through the kitchen.
I love the stories that emerge during this time of sampling and socializing; tales of failed batches of cookies, recipes handed down from grandmothers, and confessions of having felt the need to impress with their cookie contribution!
The formula to actually exchange cookies is simple, with guests taking home as many cookies as they contributed. Start by everyone taking a dozen each, rotating around the table so everyone has a chance to access all the cookies. Continue with another dozen and another until all the cookies are gone. This usually takes about two minutes!
Observe and enjoy the smiles all around as guests cradle tins stuffed with gorgeous baking; baking which they in turn will bless others with. It’s the holiday event that keeps on giving!
Do you burn out over the holidays trying to get everything accomplished? How important is homemade baking to you?