Now that winter is beginning to set in and outside is starting to look like the inside of a snow globe, it’s time to start preparing for the onset of another season: cookie exchange season.
Yes, it’s that time of year again when everyone comes over, cosplays as Martha Stewart or whichever other pastry chef, and brings boxes full of homemade cookies.
Loosely, the only rule is that the cookies taste good. But really, there are some unwritten guidelines you should pay attention to if you want to get it really, really right.
So, for your consideration, and for the sake of the holiday spirit, here are some tips on how you can throw a very successful holiday cookie swap party (and how to keep it open to your vegan and gluten-free friends, too):
Send the invites out early
The holidays are busy. There’s shopping to do, gifts to wrap, parties to plan, parties to go to, families to see, families to avoid, calls to make, invitations to decline, and all the other chaotic things that characterize the merry season.
All of that is to say that people’s schedules tend to get jammed up pretty fast. It’s inevitable. That’s why one of the biggest keys to making sure your cookie swap goes smoothly is making sure it happens at all.
Try to send out your invitations at least a few weeks in advance of the party date. This way, people have enough time to RSVP and to plan their lives accordingly. The average person probably can’t whip up dozens of cookies at the drop of a hat, so it’s good to keep that in mind when you’re getting into gear.
Determine how many cookies guests will make
Some things seem like common sense, but since common sense is — as we know by now — not always common, it’s worth saying this: there’s no point to a cookie swap party if not everyone gets to swap cookies.
Imagine you’re sitting there, on the couch or whatever other furniture you’ve decided to perch on, and you’re just sitting there sad and cookieless, since Jerry didn’t bring enough cookies to meet the cookie quota.
Most guests will bake anywhere between a dozen and six dozen cookies, but since you don’t know this for sure, and since Jerry needs some prodding, it’s important to communicate to figure out exactly how many cookies you’re going to be working with.
A few dozen is typically the standard here. You want there to be enough for each guest to taste, and to have more of throughout the course of a party. Come up with what you think is a fair number of cookies based on how many guests are coming, and be sure to communicate that number to everyone who’s planning on showing up.
Figure out who’s making what to ensure there’s no doubling up
It’s not that shortbread isn’t great (it is). It’s just that you really don’t want to end up with enough shortbread to feed a small army for three weeks.
It’s good practice to communicate with your guests from a couple of weeks before the big day to ensure there’s no overlap on the cookies.
If Jerry, Jake and Jarrel are all doing shortbread, it might be a good idea to ask two of them to try something else. (One of them is bound to be a more experienced baker, and likely won’t have an issue with a change in plans.)
Outline the terms of agreement in the invite
When you go to a costume party, you expect some guidance as to what you can and cannot wear. People like to know what they can expect before they arrive to a place, so they can adequately prepare themselves for what’s to come.
It’s no different in this case. If you’re planning on hosting an allergy-friendly cookie swap, for example, or a vegan-only recipe event, Eating Well says it’s important to clearly state that in the invitation. (A stipulation to consider adding: “no burnt cookies, please!”)
Plan out what else you want to serve (snacks and refreshments)
Cookies are lovely. They’re also the point. But if you’re throwing a cookie swap party, you don’t want to get sick of all the sweetness halfway through.
Try to offset those treats with some more savoury foods. Dips, cheeses and olives are always a good way to go, and there’s nothing wrong with keeping it super simple and ordering a pizza or something pre-made.
As for refreshments, hot tea and coffee are perfect if the exchange is going on in the daytime. But if you’re planning the swap for when the sky outside is dark, then think about bringing in some drinks with more kick, like a festive punch, some sparkling wine, or some cocktails. (P.S.: Never underestimate the power of a BYOB rule.)
Consider the possibility of kids
Some people have kids ... obviously. That’s how the world works.
And if you’re planning on inviting parents to your cookie swaps, you don’t want to make them feel as though they need to choose between their kids and their cookies.
If your space can accommodate it, consider carving out a little spot where kids can hang out. Some small, special preparations — a cookie-decorating station, gingerbread house building — can really grow a long way, and can alleviate some of the stress a parent might feel if they’re invited to a holiday party but don’t know whether it’s OK to bring their kid.
A low table with some undecorated sugar cookies, some candles, some icing and some candies can really make a difference.
Make sure there are take-home containers
While it’s customary for kids to do it, most adults probably don’t enjoy stuffing their pockets with cookies and other treats. First of all, pocket food just doesn’t work the same as non-pocket food, and second, it’s just not an efficient use of space.
Rarely will pockets have the volume to carry holiday cookies. Eating Well says you should make sure you arrange a way for guests to take home treats from the party. They can either reuse the containers they brought their own cookies in, or you can be the generous one and provide one for them.
Get the recipes later
Have you ever tasted something so good that you were brought to the edge of a sudden existential crisis? A crisis in which you feared that you might never taste something that good ever again, and that once the moment fizzled out, it would never again be repeated?
At a cookie swap, it doesn’t need to be that way. You can avoid the post-cookie swap sadness by having everyone share, in detail, exactly how they did it. Have your guests email you their recipes after the party, that way you can compile them into a master list and share them with everyone after.
Christmas is just around the corner after all, and it’s nice to have something to fall back on in the event that you suddenly need to whip something together to bring to one holiday party or another.