Looking for a sweet way to mingle with friends this season? Holiday cookie exchange parties not only provide a chance to unwind, they also help busy parents streamline holiday prep. Bonus: The entire family gets plenty of new tastes to savor!
Easy as pie
Throwing an exchange is simple. Its sole purpose, in fact, is to save you time and energy while still serving up a beautiful array of festive cookies.
St. Clair Shores mom Kathy Roe has used this technique for years. With her kids and job as a night-shift nurse, baking multiple recipes isn’t practical. So she and some colleagues at St. John Hospital in Detroit combine efforts: Each member bakes one dozen of her favorite cookie for each participant.
“You come in with one kind of cookie and leave with 10 different kinds,” she says. “It’s a good way to get a variety of baked goods, and you don’t have to make more than one kind of cookie.”
Plan and prep
Many swaps include an exchange party, where cookies are displayed and guests chat about their recipes (here are some cookie exchange recipe ideas to try this year). The parties don’t have to be long – some opt for work lunch hours, while others are more structured and include a storytelling session to discuss cookie traditions and recipe origins.
Give your group at least a few weeks’ time to bake their cookies before the exchange, and let new members know that their cookies should well-packaged, so they can be transported without damage.
“It’s all about the presentation,” adds Roe, suggesting dollar-store holiday tins as an inexpensive choice. For an annual swap at Angell Elementary School in Ann Arbor, PTA vice president Donna Friedman wraps cookie plates in festive fabrics, topped off with a bell and candy kisses.
Beyond a variety of tastes without all of the work, cookie exchanges add a recipe-sharing aspect to your circle that can help expand your baking skills after the hustle of the holiday season winds down.
“I think that it’s a wonderful way of sharing: filling a plate with cookies from many homes,” says Friedman, who previously hosted cookie exchanges in her neighborhood. “I just thought it was fun to see people’s traditions and creativity.”
That inspired Connie Carlson to hold exchange parties in her neighborhood years ago. She and friends on her block gathered at one of their houses each year to share a different type of holiday cookie.
“Usually, somebody has their own family recipe or a unique recipe that they’re known for,” she says.
Homemade or bust?
And although homemade cookies are typically required, Carlson – who now owns several Cookies by Design shops in metro Detroit – said some customers purchase treats for their exchanges at her stores.
But uniqueness still counts. Roe recalls one first-year member of her group who brought Oreos. “She got kicked out,” Roe laughs. “But whatever you like baking is probably the best thing, since you have to make so many.”
Roe’s specialty is brownies. Other popular choices include shortbread cookies, snickerdoodles and all varieties of chocolate chip cookies.
Variety and limits
To avoid repeats, it may help for members to coordinate what types of cookies they plan to bake.
“(They) don’t necessarily have to be Christmas cookies,” Roe says. “We just all make our favorite kind of cookie. I think that’s easiest.”
Also, alter the amount of cookies each member has to bring based on the number of participants. Roe’s group had 20 people one year, so each member only made six cookies per participant.
Others may choose to limit the number of guests, or encourage additional groups to form, when crowds get overwhelming. More friends means more variety, but it can also mean too much baking for everyone involved.
“People drop out, people quit. Every year there’s somebody new,” Roe says. “It’s just something fun to do.”
This post was originally published in 2009 and has been updated for 2015.