Cookie exchange: How to bake holiday treats that shine

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Looking for an excuse to stuff your face with cookies this holiday season? Of course you are. And the best way to realize your dream is by hosting a festive holiday cookie swap party for your nearest and dearest.

Holiday cookie swaps or exchanges have been taking place since the early 20th century and are still popular today.

The idea is simple: gather a few of your friends and family. Everybody bakes cookies, everybody gets to eat those cookies, and then everybody brings a box home to eat or give away as gifts. Pulling it off effortlessly so you are the host of the season just takes a bit of planning and know-how.

Here are some top tips on hosting your own cookie swap party, as well as recipes for a few of my favorite cookies to get you started.

First, determine your guest list. How big and what sort of a party do you want to host: an adults only evening or a kid-friendly weekend daytime gathering?

It’s a good idea to choose people who actually enjoy baking (and are good at it!). You can host a more intimate gathering with as few as 6 guests or scale up to 20 guests for a festive fête. Each person or family should plan to bring at least 6 to a dozen cookies per guest, which should leave plenty for sampling. Remember that the more people you invite, the more interesting your array of cookies will be.

Set a date. You’ll want to have your cookie party close enough to the holidays that the cookies stay fresh, but not so close that friends and family are already out of town or busy with last-minute everything. Check with your guests to find a time that works. A cookie party can really be any time of day — a weekend morning with coffee and cookies is just as much fun as an evening gathering toasting glasses of sparkling wine.

Send out invites. Make sure to send invitations as far in advance as possible so that everyone can get it on the calendar and start planning what they want to bake. And be sure the “rules” of the party are clear so there are no surprises (see the next tip.)

In the invite, ask guests to let you know in advance what they are baking so you don’t end up with too many of the same type of cookies. You can also choose to have each guest bring printed copies of their recipes — enough for each person — so that guests can take home the recipes of their favorites, or plan to have them email recipes to share after the party. Finally, you might ask everyone to bring their own containers to transport cookies home, unless you plan to provide boxes or plates.

Share your “rules.” The point of a cookie swap is to be able to exchange delicious, homemade cookies that you and your friends and family might not otherwise have the time or energy to cook yourself. So, my top rule is that the cookies should be homemade and never store-bought.

Choose cookies that are not overly delicate and therefore difficult to transport. The best cookies will hold up and not taste stale for at least a few days after baking. Finally, do you expect cookies only or do other homemade treats — think brownies, fudge, or rice crispy treats — make the cut? It’s up to you! Just make sure you share your wishes with guests in advance.

It’s party time! Prepare for the onslaught of cookies by designating a large table (or two) and setting out platters. You might also ask guests to bring cookies on their own platters if you don’t have enough. Put out a folding place card in front of each treat with the name of the cookies and who made them. And a bit of holiday flair never goes amiss when decorating for the party.

If you plan to provide containers, choose pastry boxes, cellophane bags, and cupcake liners (these are great for separating cookies), along with twine and/or ribbon for tying the boxes plus scissors and labels. This way, guests can package their own cookies with ease.

If you have kiddos attending, consider having one or two guests bring sugar cookie cutouts that are undecorated along with different colored frostings and sprinkles and set up a table for the kids to decorate their own cookies. It will keep them happily entertained while the adults sample the fancier fare.

Think beyond cookies. Remember, this is a party after all, and depending on your guest list and the time of day, you might consider providing some savory snacks and finger foods to offset the amount of sugar you will likely sample. Freshly brewed coffee and tea and even mimosas are great options for an early-in-the-day fête, while warm cider or sparkling wine bring extra holiday cheer in the evening.

With these tips in your back pocket, hosting a cookie swap party will be a piece of cake!


A swirl of color, a sparkle of sugar, and a hint of peppermint make these festive cookies perfect for the holidays. They look like they are difficult to make, but as long as you can roll out cookie dough, then you can make these. You can purchase natural red food coloring at Whole Foods.

Peppermint Pinwheels

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons milk

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon natural red liquid food coloring

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

— About 1/2 cup white sparkle sugar (or granulated sugar)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the milk, egg yolk and vanilla and beat until combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until evenly combined. Split the dough into two equal pieces. Add the food coloring and peppermint extract to one of the halves, stirring or kneading it into the dough until thoroughly combined.

Have ready 4 large pieces of parchment paper, each about 18 inches long. Spread the sparkle sugar on a large rimmed baking sheet.

On a work surface, shape each dough piece into a rectangle and place each on one piece of parchment. Top each with a second piece of parchment, then roll out each into a 10-by-12-inch rectangle. Peel off the top pieces of parchment. Sandwich the two doughs together, lining them up. Using the paper to help and starting at a long edge, roll up the dough lengthwise into a tight log.

Roll the log in the sparkle sugar (or granulated sugar), pressing slightly to make sure it adheres to the dough. Wrap the roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap the dough log and slice it into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Place the slices on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets, spacing them evenly. Bake until set but before they begin to brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.


Chewy almond crescents are loaded with toasty nutty flavor and then dipped in melted dark chocolate for a real holiday treat, and they are gluten-free. This recipe can easily be doubled.

Gluten-Free Chocolate- Dipped Almond Crescents

Makes 1 dozen cookies

1 cup sliced almonds

7 ounces almond paste

2 ounces almond flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large egg white

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the sliced almonds into a shallow bowl and lightly crush them with your hand.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the almond paste, almond flour, sugar, and salt on medium speed until the mixture becomes grainy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg white and beat until the mixture smooths out, about 2 minutes.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (each about 1 oz). Roll each piece into a log that is about 4 inches long. Roll the logs into the crushed sliced almonds, then place on the prepared baking sheet, forming it into a U shape. Space the cookies apart on the baking sheet.

Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool on the pan for about 5 minutes then transfer to a rack and let cool completely.

Melt the bittersweet chocolate chips (in the microwave or the top of a double boiler) and stir until smooth. Dip the ends or the base of the cooled cookies into the chocolate, then let dry on parchment or waxed paper.


These are the cookies you make when you don’t have a ton of time, don’t want a lot of fuss, and don’t want to use any specialty ingredients ... chances are, you have all of this in your pantry already. They also make a great addition to a holiday cookie platter or cookie exchange.

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at cool room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup smooth or chunky peanut butter

2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chunks or chips

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugars. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Add the peanut butter and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. Add the chocolate chips and beat until combined.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover, and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll tablespoonfuls of the dough into balls and space evenly on the baking sheets. Using the back of a clean, lightly floured fork, press down on the balls in a cross-hatch pattern.

Bake until golden but still chewy, about 10 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Kim Laidlaw is a Petaluma-based food writer, recipe developer and cookbook producer. Reach her at

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