The holiday cookie swap is an evergreen tradition, a terrific way to share sweetness and celebrate community (and lighten our holiday baking loads!).
The premise is simple: Each guest is tasked with bringing a few dozen home-baked cookies. At the party, everyone gets to sample and share, and then towards the end, each guest assembles a container of assorted cookies from all of the bakers present. The result? A whole lot of different cookies for the price of baking a double batch of one recipe.
Some tips for putting together a cookie exchange for friends, work colleagues, neighbors, your school community and more:
Eight to 12 guests is a good number for a manageable cookie exchange with a wide variety of baked goods.
You can send invitations by email, online or, if you have time, mail a paper invite. During this busy time of year, give people as much notice as you can. A Sunday afternoon might be a good choice, or perhaps early on a weeknight.
Be clear about what people are expected to bring. Specify a minimum number of cookies (2 or 3 dozen is good), and tell guests that cookie selections are on a first-to-call-it system (e.g., the first to claim gingerbread people gets gingerbread people).
Websites like SignUp Genius are handy for this, and let you send invitations, reminders, and changes in plans, too. Ask your guests not to duplicate a previous signup, so you have a lot of variety. (You may need to gently tell a guest that Nut-Free Snowball Cookies have already been spoken for, and ask them to pick something else). Give a deadline for signing up, so everyone can lock in their recipe and shop for ingredients.
Be conscious of allergies. If you are not going to vet recipes for common allergens like nuts and dairy, then mention that up front so guests can decide if this is the right event for them. If you are going to layer on dietary parameters, such as no nut products, be very clear. Ask people to bring a printout of their recipe for reference.
Let guests know if they should bring their own serving platters and/or take away containers, or if you will be providing them. In either case, you’ll want to have extra containers on hand.
You might want to put out just some of each person’s cookies for sampling and keep the rest for the second part of the party, when guests assemble their take-away containers. This way you can be sure to have enough for the swap part.
Keep the cookie buffet simple, using the containers people brought, or if you want to get fancier, put out the treats on plates, platters, maybe tiered stands. Think about creating labels for each cookie offering. You can ask guests to submit their cookie name and ingredient list ahead of time, and create the labels yourself (folding card stock labels are nice), or tell each person to bring a card with the name and ingredients clearly written out. Have some extra blank labels available.
Do offer other food or snacks. That could mean anything from a lasagna and salad to veggies, chips and dips to small sandwiches, or maybe a beautiful cheese/charcuterie or graze board. One, most people are looking to nibble on something beyond sweets. Two, you don’t want to run through too many of those cookies! The goal is to lay in a supply for each home for the holidays – and maybe have some for gifting as well.
Create a simple, self-service drinks bar. Perhaps wine and beer, some non-alcoholic drinks, plus sparkling water. This might be a good occasion to whip up a batch of eggnog or coquito! Think about a warm beverage, such as mulled cider, mulled wine, hot cocoa, or even tea and coffee.
To share recipes electronically, you can set up a shared Google doc, Facebook group or other community portal.
Finally, you might want to bake and freeze your own cookies ahead of time so you can focus on the gathering and enjoy yourself. This kind of get-together is a chance to celebrate with friends and walk away feeling like you’re a step ahead on your holiday to-do list. And that’s truly a best-of-both-worlds party.
Katie Workman writes regularly about food for The Associated Press. She has written two cookbooks focused on family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman.