I thought it would be hard to top last year’s cookie swap, but last weekend’s event surpassed all previous. It really was the first party of the season and put us all in the holiday mood for the three week countdown to Christmas.
As I washed the serving platters and tucked dozens of shortbread, biscotti and gingerbread into various tins to be frozen, I couldn’t help but think a cookie swap is the ideal holiday party to host.
There is minimal prep, aside from your baking, of course; you can get by with a quick house tidy, brewing a big pot of coffee and mixing together a punch. At a cookie swap there are no expectations for a big meal or buffet spread, and the event can be condensed into a few hours if you’re the type who likes to be in bed with a book by 10PM.
ALL photos by Angela Chin of Tim Chin Photography
On the other hand, if you jump at any chance to entertain, the cookie swap can be expanded into a full-fledged Christmas party, as mine was. We sipped hot mulled cider (recipe coming on Wednesday!) and homemade eggnog while we sampled at least twelve varieties of cookies.
After the swap, we pulled up chairs around our long wooden table and I served up mini Tourtiere hand pies, shrimp cocktail and vegetable crudite to counteract the sugar rush. Small ramekins of French Onion Soup followed and for a few minutes there was hardly a word spoken around the table as we spooned it up.
I could try and blame Pinterest for encouraging me to pull out a few stops for my party, but I really just love to feed people. Still, Pinterest helped me come up with a few super simple decorating and menu ideas, which you can check out on my party board.
So what goes into a cookie swap and how do you make it great? Here’s the breakdown.
You’ll want to get your invitations out early so guests can save the date. Invite double the amount of guests that you feel you can accommodate and don’t stress about over-crowding; this is the busiest time of the year and not everyone will be able to attend. My ideal number for a swap? Ten. I invite 25.
Invite guests to prepare 8-10 dozen of their favorite or ‘most requested’ cookie to swap, plus an extra dozen for sampling. Specify that the cookies be well suited for traveling and freezing, and well-labeled if they contain nuts.
Invite guests via a private Facebook group and encourage them to share what variety of cookie they are making on the event Wall. This also serves as a good place to answer questions and keep track of the every-changing attendee list.
Bake cookies! Prepare a tried-and-true recipe that has proven to be popular among both young and old. TIP: In order to have my cookies be as fresh as possible, I prepare my cookie dough few weeks in advance and bake them off the morning of the swap.
Good examples include:
- Browned Butter Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookies
- Glazed Maple-Pecan Cookies
- Mayan Chocolate Sparklers (pictured above)
Prepare a simple party menu. Salty snacks, a seasonal punch ( I love a simple non-alcoholic blend of POM juice, cranberry ginger-ale, and sliced clementines), a bowl of fruit. and a pot of coffee.
Cut rectangles out of stiff paper for labeling the cookies. Locate a stack of napkins. Stock up on candles for ambiance. Go to town on Christmas decorations, if that’s your thing.
The Charity Opportunity
A cookie swap offers the ideal opportunity to give back. One can’t help but feel blessed when greeted with a cookie-laden table and it’s only fitting for a swap to have a charitable side to it.
At the very minimum, ask guests to bring a non-perishable item, which you can collect and donate to your local food bank. Other ideas include donating a dozen of each cookie to a family in need, or even just putting out a donation jar.
For my recent event, I had items donated for a raffle and sold tickets to my guests. We raised $250 for Cookies for Kids Cancer, funds which are matched by GLAD in the month of December. So our little group of 12 was able to send $500 to help with pediatric cancer research. Pretty cool.
Clear off your dining room table and add any leafs, if you have them. Decorate it with a simple, seasonal centerpiece and place all your cake stands and platters around the table.
As guests arrive, invite them to transfer their cookies to your platters. This frees up their tins or Tupperware to hold the cookies they will be selecting from the table. Tip: Now is a perfect time to snap a photo or ten!
As each contributor brought extra cookies for tasting, you should have ample baking to serve up to your guests, along with a mug of tea or coffee. After you’ve had time to catch up on your visiting and sample the cookies, it’s time to swap.
Start by everyone taking six or so of each variety, rotating around the table so everyone has a chance to reach all the cookies. Continue until all the cookies are gone. Guests take home as many cookies as they contributed.
It doesn’t take very long before there are just crumbs remaining.
Another year, another cookie swap, another group of girls with a delightful assortment of hand baked goods stashed away for the coming weeks of entertaining.
What kind of Christmas cookies are you baking this year?