Tips for Cookie Planning and Hosting a Cookie Exchange

I love getting ahead on my holiday cookie baking, but somehow cookies take up an awful lot of room and they don’t always come out of the freezer tasting as delicious as when they went in. Here are my suggestions for making the most of your time and your cookies.

1. Make the dough ahead. Most of the work (and the resulting clean-up) happens when you make the cookie dough. And unbaked dough takes up far less room in the freezer than baked cookies do. Here are some quick tips for sweet and savoury cookies.

  • drop cookie doughs: shape into balls, chill for an hour (so the individual cookies won’t stick together) and freeze in resealable bags.
  • rolled cookie: shape into discs, wrap well and freeze in resealable bags.
  • sliced cookies : shape into a roll, wrap well and freeze in resealable bags.

2. Label everything. Use sticky labels or masking tape and a permanent marker to label each package. Note the name of the cookies and the date. Add any special instructions, plus the oven temperature and the bake time.

3. Organize by week. As you get closer to the holiday season, you tend to need more cookies. Pack a selection of cookie doughs into plastic containers, one for each week in December. Then all you have to do is pull out a container, thaw it overnight in the fridge, and slice and bake as you go. Each week, you’ll fill the house with the delicious smell of baking cookies, but all the work will have happened a month ago!

4. Freeze (only if you must). As a general rule, baked cookies with less sugar, such as shortbread, freeze far better than cookies with a lot of sugar. Once thawed, the sugar in baked cookies wants to liquefy, so they may become softer or stickier than when they were first baked (popping them back in the oven isn’t a predictable fix—and hence not a timesaver).

5. Host a cookie exchange. In addition to helping you get ahead on your baking, hosting a holiday cookie exchange is a great way to visit with family, friends and neighbours and to increase your cookie selection at the same time. Here are some tips for planning and throwing a fun party.

  • Plan the cookie menu. When you invite your guests, ask them to bring two different cookies: one recipe that you’ve planned and a second that they choose, perhaps a family favourite. (If you invite more than 10 people, each guest only needs to bring one type of cookie.)
  • Brief your guests. Ask each person to bake a dozen cookies per guest plus some extras to sample on party day. Ask them to bring a label for their cookie, and to list the ingredients so other guests are aware of potential allergens and can choose cookies that meet their dietary preferences. If you know there are nut allergies in your group, you can simply avoid recipes with nuts to keep it simple.
  • Prepare for the exchange. Along with their cookies, ask guests to bring some cookie tins or other containers to take home their selections. Or you can provide festively decorated jars or baskets. (Either way, keep a few extra tins ready in case someone forgets to bring one or in case you run out of space for cookies!) Provide tongs to pick up the cookies.
  • Provide drinks and snacks! Before you dive into the cookie buffet, have some treats on hand. Beer and wine are a natural but you can also offer hot chocolate, mulled cider or even eggnog. And don’t forget about the savouries! Put out a cheese board, a crudité platter with dips or even a few savoury squares to nibble on.
  • Let the exchange begin. Give guests time to walk around the cookie buffet table and load up their tins! Naturally, everyone should be fair and take equal amounts of each cookie, but arranging the plates and platters so they are all within easy reach will make that goal achievable. Tongs will keep the exchange food-safe and the cookies intact.
  • Decorate and play. If you are making your cookie exchange a truly social affair, plan an hour of cookie decorating. Put on inspiring music, have some baked cut-out cookies and piping bags of royal icing on hand, and let everyone get silly and decorate a few gems. You will definitely spend more time laughing than actually decorating—I speak from experience!—and isn’t that the point of getting together with friends and family?

Adapted from Set for the Holidays with Anna Olson, Appetite by Random House, 2018.