At the Table

How to Host a Holiday Cookie Swap

By: The Local Palate

As the holidays approach this year, greet the season with a function that’s better when kept small: the holiday cookie swap. Limiting the event to eight or so people lets you ease back into the social sphere and lets each guest’s contribution shine among the spread—not get lost among a sea of sugar.

To help pull off the event, we talked with Heather Martin-Regan, head baker of the Nashville-based cookie company Christie Cookie. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about cookies, she understands how to celebrate the treats without the spread getting redundant or stale. Martin-Regan shared suggestions of the essential kinds of cookies to include at the swap. And, she encourages home bakers to consider cookies beyond the recipes and offers easy, creative twists on the classics.


The Guest List

Your cookie swap guest list isn’t your usual dinner party crew. You want people who genuinely love to bake, not someone who may view it like a chore. It ensures you’ll have enthusiastic guests at your swap (and promises good contributions, too). Let guests know how many cookies they should bring. For a small group, one or two dozen per person should suffice.

Choose a Theme

We all know what the cookie swap entails, but you can take it one step further by picking out a theme, such as all the cookies must share a common ingredient, like chocolate or nuts. You may ask that guests bring only decorated cookies, or have everyone make a family recipe.

The Menu

Planning ahead guarantees a varied spread and avoids everyone showing up with only sugar cookies. You may delegate the type of cookie each person make or ask that folks give you a heads up of their plans. A few staples Martin-Regan recommends the swap includes are ginger molasses or another ginger-based cookie, traditional chocolate chip cookies with creative additions for a festive spin (Bacon! Potato chips! Crushed pretzels!), snickerdoodle or classic sugar cookies, chocolate cookies with a brownie-like texture (like crinkle cookies), and the classic peanut butter blossoms.

Keep It Simple, Sugar

You don’t need a complicated or extravagant recipe for a tempting contribution at the cookie swap. Martin-Regan suggests choosing a tried and true recipe that you can update with a few simple changes. “This way you’re baking cookies you know will turn out, but with a special twist for the occasion,” she says.

Swap chocolate chips for chopped-up candy bits or butterscotch chips, for example, or change up vanilla with another flavored extract or add citrus zest to your dough.

A little decorating also gives plain-jane cookies a holiday makeover. Martin-Regan likes sandwiching two cookies together with buttercream, Nutella, or jam. You could also dip half the cookie in melted chocolate and top it with crushed peppermint candies, sprinkles, mini marshmallows, or chopped nuts. Instant glitz!

The Party

With the cookies covered, you can focus on curating the rest of the event. Arrange serving platters, cake stands, or bread baskets on a long table to display everyone’s cookies. Supply various packaging for guests to wrap up their cookies, like bakery boxes, inexpensive cookie tins, parchment paper, or cellophane and ribbon, plus gift tags for labeling. You may even ask guests to bring their own old cookie tins for upcycling.

You may also ask that each person bring copies of their recipe, if they’re comfortable sharing, for people to take home along with the cookies.

Eat and Drink

Prepare appetizers and cookies in advance for easy day-of assembly. A few savory snacks balance out the sugary treats—and remember, people should take most of the cookies home, not eat them all at the party! Martin-Regan suggests serving a cheese and charcuterie board, party mix, veggie tray, or a hot and gooey dip.

For drinks, go for a selection that is both party-worthy and seasonal, such as sparkling wine, punch, mulled wine, hot chocolate, and cinnamon spirits.

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