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This week on Shelly’s Friday Favourites: a guest post! 

I’m Erin, and most of my articles are about home theatre and televisions, but today Shelly asked me to write about an event I participate in each year: a Cookie Exchange.

The Cookie Exchange is a way to get dozens of different kinds of home baked Christmas cookies, while only doing the work of one batch yourself. Read on to find out more about the concept, how it works, and to see some of our favourite creative Christmas cookie recipes!

From peppermint patties to Christmas baking and fruitcake, making delectable treats for the holidays can be both fun and delicious, but it can also be quite the chore.
One of my favourite new Christmas traditions is only a few years old, but already it’s saved me time, and made me a holiday entertaining hero when guests arrive.

The cookie exchange; how it works

A few years ago I was invited to a relative’s cookie exchange. The concept is simple but genius; a particular number of invitees confirm their participation, then everyone bakes a dozen cookies of one type for every person coming to the party. Each dozen cookies is packaged up in a pretty holiday wrap, box, or package, then the group gets together and everybody gives everyone else one dozen of their cookies. When it’s all over, you’ll take home several dozen different types of delicious and home-baked treats and you only had to do the work for one of these types yourself!

There can be as many or as few participants as you like, but be warned, the larger the group, the more food you are going to have at the end of this, and the more work you will need to do to get prepared.

Typically our group of cookie exchangers is between seven and nine people. That’s an ideal number, because while you may have to make seven or eight or nine dozen cookies, you’ll only need to purchase the ingredients for one type of cookie, and do the work associated with making that single type of cookie. That keeps ingredients to a minimum, and saves you having to start several different batches of cookies over again (with cleanup in between), which could take a whole weekend or more.

One other word of advice, it’s worth everyone coordinating on what type of cookie they are going to make, and limiting cookies by only allowing one of each type. This way, you’re not getting five kinds of shortbread and three sets of chocolate chip. This is also great, because it forces people out of their comfort zones when it comes to holiday cookie favorites,  and lets you try new ideas. The truth is, at our cookie exchange, there are no basic chocolate chip or sugar cookies allowed. Everyone needs to get creative, and we do. (I’ll share some fun cookie ideas and recipes below)

Double or triple your recipe, don’t be a hero!pyrex princess nesting.jpg

My plan of attack is to select a fun holiday themed recipe, then I double or triple the batch. (Yes I could go right ahead and try and multiply all the ingredients by eight, but I don’t have bowls big enough, and I don’t trust the math on that kind of exponential mixing multiplication.) This way I only need to make two or three large batches of cookies in total. I use my vintage Pyrex bakeware I’ve collected, but you can use whatever you like, including one of my look-a-like picks below.

With each batch of dough mixed up, I tuck it into a bowl in the fridge until they’re all ready. I also try to time this: I mix up the dough a few days early, then wait until the day before to bake so the cookies are fresh. With some cookie recipes, thankfully, you can make up the cookie dough well in advance and freeze it, then thaw just before you’re ready to bake, which is another great pe-party timesaver.

Don’t forget pretty packaging

There’s something to be said for a gorgeously wrapped gift. I feel the same way about packaging cookies for the cookie exchange; the prettier the packaging, the more appetizing the contents.

I’m also a bit of a planner, so when it comes to packaging up the special Christmas cookies, I hunt for sales at the end of the previous Christmas season, and look for cute Chinese food containers with Christmas imagery, fun Christmas boxes, unique colours of Mylar paper, festive bags or even unique and cute bakery boxes that I can decorate. Another fun idea I found on a blog was to nicely wrap a Pringles can to look like a tree (photo below).I usually buy about a dozen of each type of container and then hang onto them until the next year’s cookie exchange. That way all I need to do is get them out of storage and I don’t need to fight traffic at the mall or grocery store trying to find ideal Christmas packaging.

cookie wrap ideas.jpgIf you want some cute ideas for unique cookie wrappings, click here.

Baking day

Usually the day before the cookie exchange I will take my bowls of cookie dough out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature. While they are acclimatizing, I prep the packaging or boxes. Tissue paper is also very handy, as it keeps cookies from sliding around and potentially crumbling or breaking.

When it comes time to bake, I prep the cookies and get at least two dozen into the oven at a time, then use two more cookie sheets to begin prepping the next two batches when the previous ones are done. In this way, assuming a 10 or 12 minute baking time, I can be done baking eight dozen cookies in just over an hour.

By splitting up the mixing days with the baking days, the kitchen becomes less of an assembly line disaster, and the task of baking several dozen cookies no longer seems so onerous.

Favorite recipe

snickerdoodles.jpgI’ve made a few of these over the years, and others are on my “to-try” list.
Last year I baked up batches of sweet cinnamon-y Snickerdoodles.  They’re a hugely popular cookie in the US, but less well-known here. I highly recommend them for beginners, because they’re tasty and simple, but look impressive when they crack open their cinnamon sugar shell.

Mrs Sigg’s SnickerdoodlesIngredients

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Cream together butter, shortening, 1 1/2 cups sugar, the eggs and the vanilla. Blend in the flour, cream of tartar, soda and salt. Shape dough by rounded spoonfuls into balls.
Mix the 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Roll balls of dough in mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until set but not too hard. Remove immediately from baking sheets.

 Other Great Recipes

 My brother and his wife have made Melted Snowmen before and they’re definitely on my list. These marshmallow and sugar cookie confections are simple to make, and are a huge hit with kids.

One of the women at our exchange last year made super cute little Twisted Melted Snowman Cookie 3.JPGCandy Canes, and they were among the first to be eaten from my stash because they look so fun and appetizing.

On the lighter side, Swirled Meringue Dollops are pretty simple but look very impressive (Thanks to pal Janice for this recipe), as are Swirled Icebox Cookies, where you colour two batches of dough (red and green or red and white) and roll them together for an eye-catching spiral effect.
A couple other recipes I’ve used in years past are these delicious Savoury Cheddar Jalepeno biscuits, which make a perfect appetizer (because it doesn’t have to be all about desert!) and Lemon Crackle Cookies. These light lemony bites are seriously addictive, and a nice alternative to all the chocolate and mint this time of year.

Another favourite from the cookies I received last year was Eggnog Cookies. You wouldn’t necessarily know that they’re eggnog unless someone told you, but the delicate creamy-crispy flavour melts in your mouth. These Toffee Saltines were also in one of the bags last year and were a sweet surprise; I had no idea they were made with soda crackers until I asked for the recipe (because they were so good!)linzer cookie.jpg

Finally, since we’ve developed kind of a competitive spirit at our cookie exchange, this year I may go all out and try Windowpane or Linzer Cookies, with shiny jam centres framed in delicious crispy cookie. For more “wow factor”, how about these Checkerboard Cookies?
And these fun Peanut Butter-Pretzel Reindeer Cookies are both cute and captivating, plus they could easily be made with Gingerbread, if that’s your preference.

I hope this will inspire some of you to try a cookie exchange, since it’s really fun, delivers fresh home baked treats, and saves a lot of work at a busy time of year.
What’s your go-to cookie recipe, or favourite childhood cookie?  Post in comments below, since I need suggestions to really up the ante this year.. or next!

 

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KitchenAid Mixer
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Nested Mixing Bowls
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Bakers Secret Bakeware