I’ve always had a sweet tooth and it rocks my world come Christmas. For this, I give credit to my mom. For years, she’s turned our home into Cookie Central during the holidays. You name it, Mom makes it and better than Betty Crocker. Then, she stacks her bounty of seasonal snacks in decorative tins, creating a display so tempting that some members of our family (ok, all members of our family) lose all dietary good sense. Night and day, we’ve been spotting trying to creep in stealth-like fashion to those tins to grab our favorites before they’re nabbed by someone else.
While I’ve always wished to make like Mom and produce cookies galore, I’ve never quite pulled it off until a few years ago. That’s when I hosted my first cookie exchange with four friends who also yearned for treats but without all the work. It was such a hit that we now meet at my house a few weeks before Christmas for an enthusiastic swap of home-baked goodies.
Cookie exchanges have been around for decades but are back in vogue as clever timesavers that reaps sweet rewards. They’re also easy to pull together, if you follow these five tips from Barbara Grunes and Virginia Van Vynckt, authors of the book “Very Merry Cookie Party…How to Plan and Host a Christmas Cookie Exchange:”
•Plan ahead. People are busy during the holiday season so the further ahead you can schedule your party, the better.
•As host, it’s up to you to coordinate the baking efforts of guests. Make sure each guest is bringing a different kind of cookie so ask each guest to confirm what they’re bringing to avoid duplicates.
•Set some ground rules to make your party as special as possible. Typically, all cookies should be home-made, except in an emergency (like if the dog knocks everything onto the floor the afternoon of the exchange). Or, if yours is a group that loves to eat but not cook, suggest that everyone buy pre-baked cookies, then customize with decorations.
•Encourage bakers to dress up classics. Add dried cranberries to oatmeal cookies or rim the edge of chocolate chip cookies with chocolate.
•Ask participants to bring a specific number of cookies so there’s an even number to split up. How many? Depends on the size of the guest list. If there are only four or five of you, it’s reasonable to ask everyone to bring a dozen for each person. If the gathering is larger (say 10 or more), ask guests to bring enough so each person gets three or so of each cookie to take home.
To get you started, here are two yummy cookie recipes and some party decorating tips, to boot!
SMALL BLACK & WHITES
These classic cookies become more comfortable to handle when they are made mini size.
Cookie Exchange Tip: You can sprinkle a little red or green decorating sugar on the white frosting to add a festive twist to these already-handsome cookies. Store them in a single layer on 1 or more plates or trays, covered with waxed paper, until serving, then present them in a straw basket with a large red bow tied around the handle for a splash of color.
4 cups cake flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
3 large eggs
¾ cup water
1 ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
3 to 4 tablespoons water or milk, as needed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
•Preheat the oven to 350۫F. Lightly grease or spray cookie sheets.
•In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
•In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat together the shortening and granulated sugar on medium speed until light, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the dry milk powder and corn syrup. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, gradually beat in the flour mixture, then the water and vanilla. The dough will be firm.
•Pinch off pieces of dough and roll between your palms into 1 ¼ -inch balls. Set on the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart.
•Bake in the center of the oven until firm when lightly touched with a fingertip and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 14 to 16 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
•Prepare the icing. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a medium bowl. Add the corn syrup, 2 tablespoons of the water, and the vanilla and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and creamy, adding more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed to make a smooth, spreadable icing. (Or, you can use a food processor to make the icing, omitting the sifting and processing until smooth and spreadable.)
•Transfer half of the icing to another bowl and stir in the cocoa powder, adding more water, ½ teaspoon at a time, as needed to thin to the same consistency as the white icing. Cover both icings with plastic wrap until ready to use.
•To ice the cookies, using an icing spatula, spread a thin layer of the white icing over half of the top of each cookie. Starting with the cookies you iced first (so the white icing has time to dry), spread the chocolate icing over the other half. Let the cookies stand until the icing dries.
Recipe courtesy of “Very Merry Cookie Party…How to Plan and Host a Christmas Cookie Exchange” by Barbara Grunes & Virginia Van Vynckt; www.Chronicle Books.com
CHRISTMAS MICE COOKIES
“’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house / Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse . . .” Children enjoy helping to make these no-bake cookies, which are similar to a macaroon—somewhere between a cookie and a candy. Green (sour apple) candy whips, also called laces, make nice mouse tails. You can also use red or black licorice whips, or any color or flavor you like.
Cookie Exchange Tip: When arranging the platter, include a small wedge of cheese and position the mice so they are facing the cheese. You might even place on mouse on top of the cheese. These are very child-friendly cookies.
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
Green food coloring
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
30 almond slices
15 currants or small red candies
Green or blue decorating pen
Green (sour apple) whips (laces) or other candy whips of your choice, cut into 6-inch pieces (15 pieces total)
•In a small cup, stir together the condensed milk and 2 or 3 drops food coloring, or enough to create a very pale green. Make sure the food coloring is completely mixed through the milk.
•In a food processor, combine the confectioners’ sugar, coconut, and condensed milk mixture and process until all the ingredients are well combined and the coconut is finely minced, about 1 minute. Remove the blade from the food processor.
•Scoop up a tablespoon of the coconut mixture, then gently push it out of the spoon with another spoon onto a work surface. Shape the mixture into a mouse, pinching a narrow nose on one end and a plump rear on the other. Using a spatula, transfer the mouse on a plate. Repeat until all the mice have been formed.
•Place 2 almond slices on each mouse “head” to create ears, and put a currant at the tip of the nose. Using the decorating pen, draw an eye on each mouse. Position a piece of candy whip for the tail on the plump rear, opposite the head. Cover the mice lightly with aluminum foil. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes 15 cookies.
Recipe courtesy of “Very Merry Cookie Party…How to Plan and Host a Christmas Cookie Exchange,” www.ChronicleBooks.com
Cookies look their festive best when displayed in a pretty container. Try the Gingerbread Cookie Surprise tin that also comes with a pair of cookie cutters.
Create an instant centerpiece with the Yummy Cookie Sculpture, Glitter Magic Trees, Ginger fabric sculpture figure and Cupcake Gingerbread Boy and Girl. At the end of your party, turn each into doorprizes that guests take home.