Monday, July 27, 2009

Holiday Cookie Exchange

I'm a little late for Christmas in July, but it occurred to me in going through my bucket list post that there are a couple things I've checked off but not featured on my blog. One was #36, be part of a cookie exchange for the holidays.

I think I first heard about this idea from my friend Al, whose family does one yearly and always sounded like great fun. I love to bake, though I'm not very adventurous and for some reason don't know how to bake most of my holiday favorites. A cookie exchange was the perfect solution - everyone can make their specialty, and leaves with a huge assortment!

I've apparently developed this motto in life, "if at first you don't get invited, then it's time to host your own!" This is certainly how I ended up hosting the big Halloween bash (years of scrambling for something fun, it finally became clear I needed to make my own fun!). Sometimes it gets annoying (doesn't anyone want to invite me to a New Year's Eve party, so I don't have to cook and clean on my birthday?) but usually it's a fun experience. It definitely was with the cookie exchange.

I started a few months before the holidays sending out emails to people I thought might be interested, and how I thought it should work. I asked everyone who wanted to participate to send me 2-3 types of cookies they'd like to make, and I'd choose the option that best fit the group in terms of avoiding repeats, etc. I ended up with a lot of interest - ELEVEN people!

I picked the date that worked for most of the group and was about a week before the holidays - this meant people would have their cookies for entertaining on Christmas and the week before. In retrospect, we might move it a little earlier next year, as more people wanted them for entertaining and the parties were generally in the week before that. But all groups will differ.

Everyone was asked to bring 10 dozen cookies (1 dozen for every guest other than themselves) packaged by the dozen in containers they didn't need back (i.e. saran wrap, pie tins, gladware). This didn't sound outrageous to me because I grew up with a mom whose basic recipes were all set for 12 dozen, but if that is more than you can handle you could always limit the number of guests, or bake only 1/2 dozen for each person. I also asked that every participant share their recipe, so we could each build a treasury of our favorites for future entertaining. For those who couldn't make it that evening, I asked that they send their cookies ahead of time, and they could pick up their assortment at the end of the evening or next day.

I got everyone a huge re-usable bag from Costco to take home all of their goodies, and even then they were very full bags! These are great if you haven't tried them - they come in a 3-pack for under $3, have two sets of handles, and are super durable. I use them all the time and I think we have about a dozen floating around out home & cars.
I tagged each bag with a name and set them up on two tables, so as guests arrived they could distribute their goodies into everyone's bags. Boy did it smell GREAT! We each introduced our cookie to the group, drank wine & cocoa, and enjoyed a few snacks and the festive mood. I was excited to show off my decorations for my first Christmas in our new home, and this was such a great opportunity!

As organizer of the exchange, I kept my cookie flavors a secret, and also made a few extra treats for everyone.

The cookies were linzer-style shortbreads, and it was my first time ever making them! This was quite an ambitious undertaking, not only are you making 10 dozen cookies (+ a dozen for yourself) but since they are a sandwich cookie you are really making twice that! I spent an entire day working on these, but they were worth it. There is a shortbread cookie on the bottom, raspberry or apricot filling, and a "window" shortbread cookie on top. I think they look like stained glass and are really beautiful.

And since I cherish my title as "hostess with the mostess", here are the extra treats I threw in for everyone:

Neapolitan cupcakes - two each of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla

Carrot Cake bites with cream cheese frosting and slivered almonds

S'mores on a stick, peanut butter balls, and dipped pretzel rods.

I probably won't be making quite as many side treats next year (sorry ladies!) but I've heard from several of the participants that they'd love to do it again, and a few who missed out were quite jealous! If you want to go all out, you can read this lady's guide on her crazy cookie exchange (it's apparently a competitive event!)For resources on recipes and ideas for cookies to try, I recommend Joy of Baking which is where I got my amazing peanut butter ball (AKA "Buckeyes") recipe.

We each went home with 10 dozen cookies + all the extra treats, more than enough to share at the office, relatives, and even re-gift. With so many different varieties, even if you didn't like one kind there were still plenty of other options. I know since I have very limited food likes, my husband certainly appreciated having goodies around I wouldn't normally bake.

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