You spent some time decorating your apartment and it looks great – now it’s time to show it off! The holiday season is all about get-togethers: tree-trimmings, cocktail parties, gift exchanges, and my personal favorite: the cookie swap.
The best thing about a cookie swap is it requires very little preparation but features a big payoff. Sure, it’s nice to get together with your friends and neighbors, but unlike the typical party — where all you have are memories and a mess when it is over — at the end of a cookie swap you have a variety of wonderful, tasty cookies.
First, decide when you want to have the party. This isn’t a last-minute kind of party – guests will need time to shop and bake, so try to give them plenty of notice. The time is also important. If you schedule your party for later in the evening, guests won’t be expecting dinner. If you schedule it early in the evening, they may be expecting a meal, so decide beforehand on what you want to serve. (Remember – you will be baking cookies and doing party prep, so don’t overload yourself.)
Consider serving savory appetizers instead of sweets to balance the cookies – you don’t want guests going home on sugar overload. (I made this mistake one year. I was in a Bunco group and had the month of February, so I served chocolate – chocolate cake, chocolate candies, chocolate-covered fruit, everything was chocolate or chocolate-coated — and my guests actually began begging for pretzels.) You may want to serve these unique holiday drinks – also, find a great holiday playlist to get everyone in a festive mood.
Next, send out the invitations – I like evite.com because it’s fast, simple, and doesn’t require stamps. On your invitation, you’ll want to set a few parameters for the party. First, specify how many cookies each guest should bring. Figure at least one dozen cookies per person (including yourself!), so if you are having 10 guests, each person brings one dozen cookies, while 20 guests would require everyone to bring two dozen cookies. While it is unlikely everyone will show, you want enough cookies for each guest to have at least one of each. Remember: nobody gets past the door without cookies. If you invite a couple or a friend wants to bring her new boyfriend, they must each have a dozen cookies to contribute.
You’ll need a way to display the cookies. Before the party begins, clear off your kitchen table or counter and set out a tray for each guest (or ask each guest to bring a tray). The guests will put their cookies on their tray when they arrive (saving whatever they carried their own cookies to the party in for the cookies they will take home at the end of the party).
Be sure to specify that cookies need to be made from scratch – no cut-and-bake cookies allowed. Also, ask each guest to RSVP with the type of cookie they are planning to make. You don’t want five dozen sugar cookies, so make sure everyone is making something different. If you have too many guests planning to make the same type of cookie, the first person to RSVP with the cookie claims the cookie – the others will have to choose something else. Call them and suggest some alternatives. (Also, if someone chooses the cookie you are planning to make, don’t be afraid to call and ask them to switch. It’s your party, after all.)
If you want, you can ask guests to bring an extra batch of cookies to serve during the party – this will keep guests from sneaking off to “sample” the exchange cookies. The cookies for the exchange are strictly hands-off until the end of the party to ensure all guests go home with an equal number of cookies.
Here’s another reason I love cookie swaps – it’s very difficult for guests to overstay their welcome at the end of the night because they will be holding a container of cookies. When you are ready for the party to start winding down, call everyone into the area where the cookies are displayed. Some hosts like to go around the table and have each guest “introduce” their cookie. This is up to you – it can be fun, especially if there’s a story behind the recipe.
Have everyone line up with their containers and circle the table in the same direction. Ask them to take one of each cookie all the way around. If there are still cookies left after everyone takes one of each, continue circling the table until all of the cookies are gone. Everyone should leave with the same number of cookies they brought with them, only now instead of one type of cookie, they’ll have a beautiful variety.
After a cookie exchange, guests will want recipes. Plan for this ahead of time – you can either ask everyone to bring copies of their recipe to share, or ask everyone to email you their recipes after the party. You can then compile the entire list of recipes and send it out to all of the guests.
Don’t be surprised if friends start asking when you’ll host the next cookie exchange! This is a fun way to have a variety of cookies for the holiday season – without spending an exorbitant amount of time in front of the stove.