How to Host a Cookie Exchange
Top 15 Tips
By Rosemary Black
Here are 15 tips on how to host a holiday cookie exchange this year, without breaking the bank:
1. Send Evites or emails to guests in order to save money on the cost of invitations and postage. If you ask each guest to bring six dozen cookies and there are ten people at the exchange that means you’ll have 720 cookies. Assuming each person takes home five dozen cookies, you will still have 120 leftover for tasting. It is important to let the guests know the exact amount of cookies to bring.
2. Invite moms, only if possible. This way, you’re not distracted by having to follow toddlers around, and you don’t feel compelled to serve snacks for kids of varying ages.
3. Nearly all types of cookies work well for a cookie exchange, though it’s best to avoid any that are extremely delicate as they can get crushed by the sturdier kinds. It’s also a good idea to steer clear of cookies that need to be refrigerated, such as lemon bars.
4. Stick to a budget when choosing what cookie to make. You don’t have to make pine nut cookies in order to impress. There are plenty of inexpensive and equally delicious treats to bake. Among the many budget priced cookies are: oatmeal drop cookies, sugar cookies, molasses drops, and peanut butter cookies.
5. You want to know the ingredients that raise the price of certain cookie recipes? Nuts, chocolate, and liqueur – just to name a few. Mexican wedding cakes are delicious, for example, but the pecans alone can cost $6 for half a pound. If you really want to make a pricey cookie like mini pecan pie tarts, go ahead, but just shape or cut them smaller.
6. If you don’t have the time or the inclination to roll and cut out dough, simply dress up old favorites like chocolate chip drop cookies by sprinkling them with red or green colored sugar. A bottle of decorating sugar costs under $3 and will last you.
7. Another budget-priced cookie is the bar cookie. These are easy to festively decorate for very little money. Make a batch of brownies from a mix, which can be bought on sale to save extra money, and add a teaspoon of mint extract. Make an easy icing (confectioners’ sugar, a tablespoon of butter, and milk) and tint it green using food coloring, with a dash of mint extract added for flavor. Spread the icing on the cooled brownies and cut them into diamonds. You can add red sprinkles or chocolate jimmies, just to add that little extra something.
8. Flavor extracts are inexpensive, but can add a lot of flavor. Make thumbprint cookies, but add a teaspoon of rum extract to the dough and half a teaspoon of rum extract to the icing. Or, add mint extract to your basic sugar cookie dough, roll out into candy cane shapes, and bake. After you frost them, top with candy canes that you have crushed in the food processor or blender. This will not only enhance the peppermint flavor, but will leave you with a beautifully decorated cookie.
9. Try putting a holiday spin on economical old favorites like Rice Krispies treats. Marshmallows cost under $3 a bag and you can get a big box of Rice Krispies for $4 (or less, if you don’t use a brand name cereal). When you stir the cereal into the melted butter-and-marshmallow mixture, add green, red, or a combination of both colored sprinkles to the mixture. Spread it into a greased pan and cut into diamond shapes when cool. You can also flatten these out, and use a cookie cutter to cut into trees, bells, or ornaments.
10. When it comes to inexpensive food coloring, a little goes a long way. Color basic snickerdoodle or sugar cookie dough green, roll them out into little balls, and place on a baking sheet – we use AirBake cookie sheets or Silpats placed over our baking sheets for even baking. For beautiful holiday thumbprint cookies, make a tiny indentation in each cookie before baking and fill it with raspberry or strawberry jam. Color the dough pink for candy canes and green for Christmas trees.
11. If you’re really pressed for time, to the point where time is money, don’t be afraid to buy the refrigerated rolls of cookie dough and infuse them with your own special touches. You can press a roll of chocolate chips cookie dough into an 8-inch square pan and bake until lightly golden. Top with some unwrapped, melted caramels, mini marshmallows, and chocolate coated chocolate candies, then bake another minute or until the marshmallows are golden – no one is likely to have also made this creative and delicious treat.
12. Keep the refreshments light. You don’t have to go overboard with expensive cheese platters and fancy salted nuts. For an afternoon cookie exchange you can serve tea, coffee (add a cinnamon stick to the coffee before you brew it), and maybe hot cider (buy the store brand by the gallon and warm it on the stove or in a slow cooker, with a couple of cinnamon sticks.) Have a bowl of seasonal fruit (grapes and clementines provide color) and maybe a wedge or two of a not so costly cheese for those that need a break from the sweets. Look for sales, and save $2 a pound when you buy store brand cheese.
13. Be sure to tell each guest to bring along copies of their recipe, and put them right on the table next to their variety of cookie. That way each guest can take home a mini portfolio of recipes and decide which ones to try next year.
14. This is a great year to think of others, and you can do so without a big output of cash. Have everyone in your exchange bring just one or two extra dozen cookies, and you can make up plates of cookies for homebound elderly or residents at homeless shelters, too. Encourage everyone to bring some canned food and you can donate these to a local soup kitchen, as well.
15. If ever there was a year to give homemade food gifts, this is it. Put some of those home-baked beauties into canisters (empty coffee cans or oatmeal canisters) that you’ve decorated with green or red felt, or even with wrapping paper. (Look, you’ve recycled, too.) Finish off the package with a bow. No canisters to use? You can buy some oversized latte mugs on sale, fill with cookies, and wrap in clear or red tinted plastic wrap.
After the party has cleared and you present your family with a huge tray of holiday treats, they will be thrilled. You’re giving them cookies that look and taste store bought, but were actually made with a secret ingredient: love. And that’s really what this holiday season is all about. Enjoy!