Photo: Silvia Jansen

Amid all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, from shopping for gifts to decorating the tree, you totally deserve a cookie break (and, honestly, a friendly pat on the back). But we know that spending all your time in the kitchen this season, whipping up several batches of delicious Christmas cookies isn’t exactly a fun way to deck the halls. So why not make baking a lot easier by hosting a cookie swap or exchange? It’s an exciting way to taste test homemade treats with a group of friends, and leave with an assortment of healthy baked goodies to keep you full of joy this holiday season.

December 07, 2016

The holidays aren't complete without baking. And by baking, we're talking cookies. We love pies, gingerbread, and cakes just like the next person with a sweet tooth, but there’s a reason why a plate of these decorated seasonal treats is constantly passed around at holiday parties and left out for Santa every Christmas Eve. Cookies are the best. Since you're already giving and receiving gifts this month, you should add giving the gift of a sweet bite to your list, too. Instead of a BYOB calendar invite to ring in the New Year, gather your family and friends together for a bring-your-own-cookies (BYOC) party.

At the party, your guests will sample a variety of Christmas cookies and then exchange them with each other. Everyone leaves with a full tummy, recipes, and an edible gift to take home. Sounds like quite the tasty trade-off, right? Here’s how to pull off the ultimate cookie fête and bake up good tidings at your very own cookie swap party.

Step 1: Send invitations about a month before the party.

A general rule of thumb is to give your guests at least three to four week’s notice to prepare. While it’s completely up to you as to what day and time you arrange the party, be mindful of your loved ones’ schedules and busy calendars during the holidays. Many of them may be booked for parties during evenings and weekends, so maybe a cookie exchange brunch on Sunday or a swap scheduled during the week might result in a better turnout.

  • Send invitations to no more than 10-15 people. Don't have the time or budget to mail paper invites? Evite is a popular service to use to send emails and digital invites. Of course, you can always use a social networking site like Facebook to send invitations and keep track of who’s coming. Along with the invitation, every guest should be asked to RSVP and provide information on the type of cookies they plan to bring. You don’t want three people showing up with the same sugar cookies, so keep record of the cookies each person plans to bake. In addition to bringing a large enough container to take cookies back home, make sure each guest brings a printed copy of the recipe and any notes on allergens included.

    Step 2: Start baking at least three days before the party.

    Photo: Jennifer Causey

    Once you start to receive responses, it’s time to start thinking of the cookie recipes you want to share. You should request that each guest make half a dozen cookies per person in attendance, plus an extra half-dozen for folks to sample at the party. You’ll do the same, but it’s best to bake cookies that don’t need to be refrigerated immediately after baking, and also ones that are firm, crunchy, and sturdy because they're typically easier to store in airtight containers until the day of the party.

  • Don’t feel like you have to go above and beyond to impress guests. Simplicity is key here. Besides, those classic, tried-and-true recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation come with a rich history and flavor, making those cookies all the more special to share among family and friends.

    Step 3: Set up display area and packaging station the day before

    Presentation is everything when it comes to food, and cookies are no exception! Create display or folding cards to place on the table in front of each baked treat for sampling. The cards will contain the information provided on the RSVP, such as the name of the cookie recipe, the person who baked them, and any food allergies (nuts, gluten, etc.). Again, you’ll want to make sure everyone brings a copy of the recipe to hand out to guests or to stack on the table alongside the cookies.

  • An easier way to let guests know what to expect is to create a menu listing all the different cookies that each person is set to bring. This is why the invitation phase of planning a cookie swap party is so important. Asking for as many details as possible on the RSVP will allow you to produce a display table that will wow (and inform) your guests! Just make sure the table is large enough to fit all the cookies and for more than one guest to fill up at one time. Cake stands or cupcake stands are your best friend, as they’ll allow you to layer cookies at a higher level to really catch their eye.

  • You can ask participants to bring their own containers, or you could get a little more creative and set up a packaging station full of boxes, labels, waxed paper or parchment paper, ribbons, twine, bags, gift tissue paper, tags, string, etc. Basically, any holiday trimmings and tools like scissors and hole punchers that will help your guests box up their cookies in style are up for grabs here.

    Step 4: Prepare for the day of the party.

    Cookie exchange day is finally here! It’s time to add any finishing touches to decorations, arrange snacks and drinks, and throw on your ugly Christmas sweater. Cookies are the name of the game, but even the most avid cookie fanatics need a healthy balance of eats and drinks. On the day of the party, make sure there’s plenty of hot cider, egg nog, coffee, or festive cocktails to go around. Light, make-ahead appetizers will save you some time in the kitchen, and bite-sized savory foods and dips will free up the hands of your guests for more cookie tasting. If it’s a brunch-style cookie swap, a menu full of quick and easy breakfast options, like muffin pan frittatas or mini quiches and finger sandwiches is the perfect complement to a warm batch of cookies.

  • Once guests have settled in and eaten, it’s time for party games. Make up your own activities for guests to interact with each other, or you can have them go around and tell holiday stories and share the reason they decided to bake a particular recipe or what it means to them. During the cookie-swap segment of the party, each person should pack up their share of holiday assortment to take home.By employing these four easy steps and strategies for hosting a Very Merry Christmas cookie party, you’re one step closer to putting more delicious treats right where they belong—on your holiday table. Need some inspiration? Look no further than these 70 Christmas cookie recipes. This collection features classics like chocolate chip and soon-to-be favorites like molasses ginger.