Tag Archives: baking cookies

Hosting a Cookie Swap Party

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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.

  1. Everyone brings already-made cookies, in an agreed-upon amount, and each person goes home with some number of each kind of cookie
  2. 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.

Saves Time

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.

My very scientifically accurate cookie vs time graph

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.

Saves Money

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.

Recipes to try:

Bonding

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:

  1. Decide if you want everyone to bake at home, then just bring cookies and hang out, or if you will all bake together.
  2. Determine who would be interested in coming, and from there who could host the party and when.
  3. Invite a group of about three to seven people. That would be enough variety but not overwhelm most kitchens.
  4. 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.
  5. 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)
  6. 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.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend a friends’ family cookie swap, and it was SO MUCH FUN! We drank wine, mixed, tasted, and talked about life. Grandma shared her wisdom, Grandpa was shocked that I could do shots of whiskey with him, we told stories and laughed a lot. I got to go home with a box full of 7 different kinds of cookies, but more importantly a bunch of fond memories, and the anticipation of doing it again next year!

 

Do you have any fun holiday traditions? Have you ever hosted or attended a cookie swap?

Easy Christmas Cookie Recipes

 

COOOOOOOKIES!!!

‘Tis the season to bake cookies, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. Then we eat them by the dozen, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

As December marches by and we scramble for last-minute gift ideas, deck the halls, and trim the tree, we also spend more time in the kitchen whipping up seasonal sweets and indulging in others at the office, family parties and get-togethers.

Some are ambitious and organized and already have seven dozen of seven different kinds stocked away in the freezer. Others whip out the plastic at the bakery to save themselves time and hassle. 

This tree gave its life to make our living room look awesome last year.

But if there’s anything my family rocks at, it is Christmas baked goods! I was raised in a sugar-filled, flour-covered kitchen during the holidays and would have it no other way. We have plenty of unique cookies due to our Hunkie heritage (is that a real word? It means Slovak/Polish/Hungarian) like the finger-scalding Lily my aunt and brother sacrifice layers of skin for each year, the much-fought-over Clothespins using actual wooden clothespins which have the spring air of yesteryear soaked up inside them, the hours-long, love-filled process in which you can NEVER have too much apricot filling that creates epic Kolachi rolls,  and my personal favorite sugar-filled and sugar-coated diabetes-inducing dream, the simple, buttery, Cracker Cookie.

Christmas dessert spread, awwyeah.

I personally have assisted in the making of each of these treats in years past as well as several others, and as I’m sure you know there is quite a variety of difficulty levels in cookie-baking. But let me assure you that no matter how pressed for time, nor how tiny your kitchen, you can create some Santa-worthy treats in no time.

Pre-mixed dough

Your first option is of course the pre-mixed dough you cut and stick in the oven. I am definitely not going to scoff at that, most are darn tasty, plus you can save some in the fridge to just nibble on. Chocolate chip is of course a favorite, but sugar and other types have a strong presence too. They have rolls of it, blocks, whole tubs if you have an appetite or lots of guests. You can get creative with cut-outs and shapes, add your own mix-ins like coconut, mint, or toffee, or just go old-school.

Brickles and Brittles

Brickles and brittles are typically any liquid syrupy mixture poured over a solid base. The syrup hardens, and you then break it apart into chunks. There are many variations, and most are quite simple and quick. Here are three favorites:

Saltine cracker simple brickle
This disappears faster at our house than the paper wrapping off of gifts. It is overwhelmingly rich and sugary. You might want to make two batches…

Ingredients:
1 box of saltine crackers
1 cup sugar
1/2 pound butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups chocolate chips

1. Line a pan with heavy-duty foil and preheat oven to 350. Lay out the saltines in a single layer.
2. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan, stirring constantly. Once smooth and bubbling, remove from heat and stir in vanilla, quickly pour over the layer of crackers. 
3. Bake for 7 minutes, the sugar and butter will melt and bake into the crackers. Spread the chocolate chips evenly over the hot butter with a spatula and it will melt. Bake another 2 minutes, then let cool. Place in the freezer overnight, then break into pieces. Store refrigerated or frozen.

Peppermint Bark
For those who like white chocolate and enjoy the minty symbol of the season, the peppermint, this is a perfect present. With only five ingredients and two steps, you can have a batch of this made in about two hours. Just in time for guests to arrive, or to wrap up some in pretty packages for a party hostess gift.


Ingredients:
2 tbsp oil, divided
8 oz semisweet or dark chocolate
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
8 oz white chocolate, divided
25 crushed peppermint candies or 10 canes

1.  Grease a 9×9 pan and line with wax paper. In a double boiler melt the dark chocolate and 1 tbsp oil until smooth. When completely liquid, add 1/4 tsp peppermint extract and pour evenly into the covered pan. Spread half the peppermint over the chocolate and refrigerate until hard. 
2. In a double boiler melt the white chocolate and other tbsp oil. When smooth, add the other 1/4 tsp peppermint extract. Pour over the dark chocolate layer, and add the rest of the peppermint and press in. Refrigerate until fully hardened, and break into small pieces.


Peanut Brittle
This one is a bit more time intensive, but still simple. It is also a great frugal gift, everyone loves homemade candy. Be sure to have all the ingredients ready and measured out, you have no time to waste once begun. From BettyCrocker recipes.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup water
3 tbsp butter
1 pound unroasted peanuts
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp water
1 tsp vanilla

1. Mix 1 tsp water, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 1/2 tsp baking soda and set aside. Heat oven to 200 and keep two cookies sheets warm inside the oven. 
2. Mix sugar, water and corn syrup in a pan. Stir over medium heat until 240 or a small amount dropped into cold water forms a ball. 
3. Stir in butter and peanuts, cook further until 300 degrees or a small amount dropped into cold water forms brittle threads. 
4. Remove from heat, and quickly stir in baking soda mixture. Pour half mixture onto each heated cookie sheet, and let cool completely. Break into pieces and store in air-tight container.

My favorite no-bake recipe:

This chocolate peanut butter no-bake cookies recipe from AllRecipes is one of my favorites.

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
4 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups quick-cook oats
1 tsp vanilla

1. Combine sugar, milk, butter and cocoa in a pot and bring to a boil for 1 1/2 minutes. The recipe cautions against boiling too long, or not long enough.
2. Remove from heat, stir in the peanut butter, oats and vanilla. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto wax paper and let cool.

Simple chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip, the classic all-American cookie. Amazing any time of the year, they are a crucial part of any holiday dessert spread. You can use semi-sweet, sweet- or dark chocolate chips, or get real crazy and use butterscotch, white chocolate, or a mixture. This quick recipe from Cookie-Smart makes about 2 dozen.

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup chips
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Mix the flour, sugars, chips, salt and baking soda in one bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the egg, melted butter and vanilla.
2. Mix both bowls together well, use your hands if you don’t mind. Dough should be slightly sticky yet firm. 
3. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a greased cookie sheet or wax paper. Bake at 375 for 8-9 minutes until golden brown.

Simple sugar cookies  

Endlessly versatile, sugar cookie dough can have any number of mix-ins added to it. But it is also a classic on its own. Adapting to cookie cutters as though made for each other, sugar cookies can become blank canvases for snowmen, Santas, wreaths, and tree creations. This recipe from RealSimple is real simple.

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups flour plus extra
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

1. In a bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar until smooth, then whisk in the egg. 
2. If you have a stand mixer, lucky you! Use that and slowly add in flour while mixing. Otherwise, loosen up those biceps and slowly mix the flour into the sugar/egg/butter mixture. Dough should be stiff. Refrigerate about an hour before rolling out to 1/4 inch thick and cutting into shapes.
3. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, until beginning to brown. Let cool and decorate.

Turn round sugar cookies into snowmen with big marshmallows and creative decorating!

What about vegetarian/vegan goodies?


In case you are vegetarian/vegan or someone in your family is, there is this vegan, gluten-free version from TwoPeasAndTheirPod. By using almond milk and coconut oil it eliminates the butter and dairy products. I think shredded coconut comes from the devil, but if that’s your thing then enjoy!

The website OhSheGlows also has oodles of vegan, raw, lowfat, gluten-free, etc recipes so check it out!


Do you have any simple to make holiday treats you wait all year long to indulge in?