Photo by GourmetBy Esther Sung, Epicurious.com
When it comes to traditional Christmas foods, it's hard to deny the cookie's rightful place at the holiday table. After all, cookies are Santa's snack of choice. For the rest of us, giving and receiving cookies is a delicious and inexpensive way to share the holiday spirit with friends and family. So why not make it even more fun by having a cookie swap party? A retro concept that's come full circle, the cookie exchange simply requires a host to invite guests, each of whom who bakes enough cookies to both share at the party and offer others to take home. For inspiration on hosting and participating in a holiday cookie exchange, we turned to Barbara Grunes, co-author of Very Merry Cookie Party: How to Plan and Host a Christmas Cookie Exchange (Chronicle Books). Grunes and her co-author, Virginia Van Vynckt, demonstrate just how easy this party concept is. With a little advance planning, everyone can walk away with beautiful edible presents.
Related: Easy Holiday Cocktail Party Bites
Hosting & Planning Tips:
Count Your Cookies
With a cookie swap, it's important to get a final head count as early as possible to determine how many cookies each guest should make. Eliminate paper invites and use free electronic invitation services (such as Pingg, Socializr, Punchbowl, or Evite) or use social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, all of which make it easier to keep track of who's coming.
Variety Is the Spice of Sweets
Prevent repetition-and competition-among the guests by asking them to let you know in advance what kind of cookies each plans to bring. If possible, keep the list public to all the guests via e-mail, online party planning tools, or social networking sites.
Balance It Out
When it comes to planning food and drink, remember that while the cookies may be the heart and soul of the party, people will probably also want something savory. At an evening exchange, "sliders, meatballs with marinara, crab cakes with mustard sauce, and crudités are party foods that will offset the sweet quotient," says Grunes. For a mid-morning swap, she suggests breakfast-type items, such as mini quiches, finger sandwiches, and a fruit salad. Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are good drink options, regardless of the time of day.
Make It an Even Trade
With a final head count and cookie list in hand, it's time to determine how many everyone will need to bake and be able to take home. If it's a small group of four, asking each person to bake and bring a dozen cookies will yield a manageable quantity. For a larger group, the number of cookies each guest needs to contribute goes down. Also, some types of cookies may be "worth" more than others. According to Grunes, one or two Stained-Glass Ornament cookies may be worth at least half a dozen butter cookies.
Bake for a Cause
The holidays are about giving to others, so add a charitable aspect to your cookie exchange. Have participants bring extra cookies that can then be sold at work, a parenting group, a nearby shopping center, or your house of worship. Some worthwhile charities to support include Cookies for Kids' Cancer, Heifer International, and Meals on Wheels.
Dough Boys and Girls
Adults shouldn't have all the fun. When preparing for the party, Grunes suggests getting the kids involved-and occupied-with "sprinkling, frosting, filling thumbprints, dipping in chocolate. Decorating is a fun activity and of course, it doesn't have to be picture-perfect when they're young."
See also: The Rules of Regifting
Create a New Signature Cookie
Even if you're making your famous, oft-baked brownies for the swap, dress them up in a special way for the holidays. Splurge a little on specialty or unusual ingredients such as fancy sea salt or pistachios, or add an unexpected decorative flourish like flavored icings, multi-colored sparkling sugars, or metallic dragées.
Another way to step things up for the occasion is to try a new type of cookie, something especially fancy or particularly appealing to the eye. We feature three recipes from Very Merry Cookie Party that are sure to make an attractive-and delicious-presentation at the party.
A Very Merry Cookie Swap Recipes
• Stained-Glass Ornaments
• Toffee Squares
When preparing these gems, be sure to use the right amount of crushed candy and place it in the center; otherwise, the candy will melt over the borders.
It's hard to beat a classic English toffee with milk chocolate and almonds. For a different take, experiment with ingredients: toasted hazelnuts and pecans; dried fruits such as cranberries and raisins; and dark chocolate.
Traditional fillings for this Central European pastry include apricot, prune, and poppy seed, but Grunes suggests changing it up with fig, date, or cherry preserves. Or, head toward savory with a honey walnut spread.
Inspired to host or attend a cookie swap? Explore our 25 Days of Christmas Cookies for more recipe possibilities such as biscotti, shortbread, and lemon bars.
More from Epicurious.com:
• The Ultimate Christmas Guide from Epicurious
• Mario Batali's Traditional Italian Christmas Eve Dinner
• One-Dish Wonders: Our Favorite Casserole Recipes
• Blue-Ribbon Chicken Recipes
Photo by GourmetBy Esther Sung, Epicurious.com