Participating in cookie exchange parties is a festive holiday tradition. Friends, neighbors and family take a break from holiday stress and bring several dozen baked cookies to share, as well as an empty container or two to be filled with others' confections. Here are some ways to make your own cookie exchange a standout event.
1) Think beyond the cookie. In your invitation, make it clear that all baked goods are welcome. Suggest brownies, macarons, fruit bars, meringues, nut breads or holiday-themed chocolates to vary this year's selections.
2) Say that store-bought is OK. Release your guests from the pressure of having to bake. Maria Ianiro, pastry chef at M&M Bake Shop, says that "consumers value products made by professionals who are passionate about their craft. Bakers take great pride in what leaves the store and want every cookie to be perfect." So even though slice-and-bake cookies are convenient and cheap, "with a bakery there are folks behind the scenes putting great care into make the freshest, most delicious, prettiest cookies possible. Obviously, cost is much different ... but you get what you pay for," says Ianiro.
3) Require recipe cards. When guests know that baked goods contains nuts, soy, gluten or any other ingredient that they can't eat, the entire exchange becomes a better one for all.
4) Serve cocktails and party fare. Make it a party with a selection of wines, mulled cider, a signature cocktail and some light bites for guests' enjoyment, perhaps taking the usual cookie exchange style your friends are used to a whole new level. Save money by offering a festive punch and buying light-bite fare on sale or with coupons or making your own.
5) Make it easier to share recipes. Rather than have guests need to make copies of their cookie recipes, invite them to email their recipes to you. After the party, you can email the compilation to all guests, including those who couldn't attend.
6) Invite new neighbors to the party. This is a great way for them to meet everyone, and the cookie exchange activity provides a natural and easy conversation point to help make them more comfortable.
7) Provide the number of cookies your guests should make. It can be disappointing to get an invitation that says to make 10 dozen cookies and only eight people can make it. Instead, wait until RSVPs are in, and then let guests know the amount they'll need to make. A good rule of thumb is providing five cookies per guest.
8) Set up a cookie decorating activity table for the kids, and have older siblings or baby sitters oversee the table. When kids are given a fun activity, they have a better time and don't wander through the house looking for something to do.
9) Don't wait until the end of the party to open the cookie room or table for choices. Some guests may not have hours to stay at the party, and having to wait to get access to the cookies can cause them stress.
10) Borrow cookie tiers and trays for presentation. While guests can always just line up the trays in which they brought their own cookies, it can improve the look of your buffet line to have some tall tiers filled with delicious desserts.
11) Have extra sealable containers on hand. Some guests may forget to bring the empty storage containers to take home their cookie choices, and you'll save the day by being a prepared and thoughtful host.
12) Set up a separate cookie room. This will help separate your entertaining space and foot traffic so that guests who wish to sit and talk in your cocktail party area can do so while others are choosing their treats elsewhere.