The holiday season is all about spending time with friends and loved ones. Hosting a cookie exchange is a great way to have an informal get-together, and end up one step ahead of your holiday baking schedule in the process!
How To Host a Cookie Exchange
Generally speaking, everyone who is attending a cookie exchange makes a dozen of one type of cookie for each person attending. So if you have eight people exchanging cookies, then each person makes eight dozen. It may sound like a lot, but most cookie recipes make at least three dozen cookies, so you'll only be making a few batches.
You can plan a simple drop-off where everyone meets at someone's home to exchange cookies and chat over coffee or organize something more elaborate. Consider making an afternoon or evening of it and include hors d'oeuvres, drinks, and dessert. You don't want to eat the cookies everyone has brought yet though!
Send out invitations or make direct plans with participants at least a month before the date of your cookie exchange, and send out a reminder at least a week beforehand. December is a busy month for almost everyone, and you don't want to be scrambling at the last minute for a date that works for everyone involved. You'll also want to specify the time that the exchange will start, and when it's over.
For best results, aim for 8-12 confirmed guests. Plan to invite more than that, because there will always be cancellations. Make sure you let everyone who is coming know how many people will be there, and how many cookies they will need to bring.
To keep things fair and ensure that everyone gets from the exchange the same effort and expense that they put into it, there are a few guidelines that you should keep in mind.
Make Christmas Cookies Your Theme, and Set Ground Rules
The idea behind a cookie exchange is to reduce the amount of time you spend making your own Christmas cookies. Since you'll only be making one type of cookie, you can also buy your ingredients in bulk and save some money. Make sure that everyone is aware that these are to be Christmas cookies—no oatmeal raisin cookies allowed!
To keep things fair, specify the types of cookies that may not be allowed. For example, no "no-bake" cookies is a good rule. The last thing you want is someone showing up with Rice Krispies squares and trading them amongst people who spent hours slaving over their baked goods. Decide whether or not you want to include squares as cookies, and make sure everyone knows the ground rules.
Ask your guests to RSVP as soon as possible, and to let you know what type of cookie they are planning on bringing. This way you can avoid duplication and make sure that their choice fits the exchange.
Stock Up on Containers, Bags, and Trays
You're going to need something sturdy and pretty to present your cookies on. Pick up some inexpensive trays, one for each person attending the exchange, and as they arrive give them a tray to display their wares. Each guest should also bring copies of their recipe to exchange with the cookies. Once the cookies are exchanged, your guests can take their trays home filled with different cookies. You should also have plastic zipper bags and containers available to transport the overflow, or ask your guests to bring their own.
Add to the Fun With Stories and Prizes
Pick up some fun and inexpensive Christmas items like ornaments, earrings, buttons, or candy, and offer prizes to your guests. You can have simple door prizes, or be a bit more original. Ask each person to tell a story to go along with their cookies or their recipes, and award a prize for the best, funniest, or most touching.
It doesn't have to be extravagant, but the more fun little touches you can add to the exchange, the more successful it will be. If everyone enjoys themselves and has a good time, this could turn into an annual event—moving from one participant's house to another every year.
Choosing Your Cookies
Don't forget that you're participating as a baker in all of this as well! You'll have to choose a cookie that takes some kind of effort, looks pretty, and isn't something that everyone else will want to bring. If you select a simple type of cookie, you can make it extra special with decorations and garnishes.
For example, a good, portable cookie is the standard chocolate chip variety; but that's not very festive. Make it seasonal by substituting white chocolate chips and adding about a cup per batch of dried cranberries. Once the cookies are baked and cooled, drizzle with a white chocolate icing in random patterns, and add carefully placed gold dragees (edible gold 'balls' that are used for decorating baked goods) to make them sparkle.
Other cookies that transport well and will impress your guests are flavored shortbread (in Christmas shapes), decorated gingerbread, Belgian Cookies (sandwich cookies filled with jam and topped with colored icing), and truffle cookies. Check the internet for recipes, or scour your old cookbooks, and recipe clippings for ideas.
With a bit of careful planning and a few hours spent baking and decorating, you'll end up having a fun and festive get-together with friends—along with dozens of different types of homemade cookies that you didn't have to make yourself. Bon appetit!