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With the winter holidays just around the corner, you may be feeling stressed already, sad and anxious, dreading travel and spending time with crazy aunt Millie… or you might be filled with the holly jollies, stringing lights everywhere, humming Christmas tunes to yourself, and dreaming of all the seasonal things you plan to do.
Hopefully, you have several things to look forward to this holiday season. Regardless of if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Quanzaa, the Winter Solstice, or anything else, the winter holiday season is always a season of joy, love, tradition, and generosity. And food. Lots and lots of food. Especially desserts.
If you don’t have holiday traditions already in your own family or friends group, might I recommend starting one?
There are a million and one ways to enjoy the winter, regardless of what you believe, what the weather is like, and where you live. But one of my all-time favorite traditions that I hope to start myself in my new home state is a Cookie Swap.
There are basically two ways to do a Cookie Swap.
- Everyone brings already-made cookies, in an agreed-upon amount, and each person goes home with some number of each kind of cookie
- Everyone brings a recipe and ingredients, and then you bake them all together; each person still goes home with some number of each kind of cookie
Obviously, the kind of party you could or should host depends upon who has the facilities. If you are all in college or graduate school or tiny one bedroom apartments, then baking six dozen of five kinds of cookies might be a stretch. But if you have a decent sized kitchen with lots of counter space, I’d recommend that route!
A cookie swap is an awesome holiday tradition for several reasons.
If your family is at all like mine, you used to spend a LOT of time making cookies. Like, weeks upon end of flour, butter, sugar, mix it all together. Add the eggs, add the milk. Roll, make sure they are all the same size, dust with flour, roll some more, preheat to 350. Set the timer, whip the filling, thaw the dough, chill the icing.
The time it takes to make each kind of cookie is quite nearly inversely related to how delicious it is. Sure, there are some exceptions (really outstanding sugar cookies? sure) but that’s pretty much how it goes. You know that those cookies only Nana knows the full recipe for and take 18 hours in total are damn delicious.
So imagine you wanted to have all those tasty cookies, which on your own would take about 96 hours of work to create. But then you get to have them all, after only one day. Magic and sorcery you say?
Nay. Only the magic of teamwork.
In a similar way that you can use the magic of scale to save yourself time making lots of kinds of cookies in one go, you can also use the magic of economy by purchasing ingredients in bulk. You can probably find a cheaper price per pound on sugar if you know you will need 30 pounds of it versus 3.
You can agree to buy all ingredients at once and then split it all ways, or assign specific ingredients to certain people. It helps to have at least one very organized person in the group to organize the little details like this.
It is also very likely that you will save money versus buying holiday cookies at the store. Sure, if you buy generic crap off the day-old bakery shelves, you definitely will find better deals. But for a homemade, unique, made with love dozen cookies? Those things sell for easily $5-$20 per dozen, depending on the intricacy of recipe.
Along with saving money on the actual cookies themselves, you are saving yourself some money by enjoying some frugal entertainment. Instead of going out to a movie and spending $15 on tickets plus $10 on concessions, a happy hour with $8 drinks, or dinner and maxing out your credit card, you can make new friends, and get closer to friends you already have in the comfort of someone’s home for almost free.
You can start many more traditions inside this tradition as well. Maybe make up your own words for traditional Christmas songs. Or have a theme, like a type of nut, a color, or “frosted” each year. One of the best ideas I’ve seen is to have everyone write down their recipe in a journal. Then each person gets to take home a copy, that will have all the cookie recipes each year.
Imagine a few decades from now, passing those books on to family or loved ones, and telling stories of holidays past. That time you spilled the flour all over the floor, the time your friend set off the smoke alarm because she got drunk and forgot to set the timer, or that time your cute neighbor came over to crash the party because it smelled so good.
If you think this sounds great, then now is your moment! Here is how to set up your very own cookie swap:
- Decide if you want everyone to bake at home, then just bring cookies and hang out, or if you will all bake together.
- Determine who would be interested in coming, and from there who could host the party and when.
- Invite a group of about three to seven people. That would be enough variety but not overwhelm most kitchens.
- Choose your cookie recipes. It could be a family recipe handed down for generations, or a new one you’ve always wanted to try. I wouldn’t recommend going too crazy your first year, unless you are already a pretty accomplished baker.
- Compile all the recipes and figure out your shopping list. Obtain all the ingredients. (And maybe a gallon or two of eggnog, wine, or whatever holiday beverage tickles your fancy)
- Show up! Make sure to have plenty of baking sheets, cooking spray, tin foil, wax paper, hand towels, a mixer, whether a hand mixer or standing like a KitchenAid, and plastic ware or tins for everyone to take home their bounty.
That’s all there is to it! If you are the host, be considerate of guests with little touches like holiday music, holiday scents, and having plenty of drinks and snacking foods. If you are attending, be considerate of your host and make sure you help clean up afterwards! Cookie baking does turn your kitchen into a flour-and-egg warzone.