Lovin’ from the Oven: Hosting a Holiday Cookie Exchange

By Mary Beth Schwartz

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed baking Christmas cookies. Sugar cut-outs, gingerbread men, jam thumbprints, oatmeal raisin, Snickerdoodles, Hidden Kisses, Spritz, criss-cross peanut butter, Tollhouse. There is nothing like a warm cookie just out of the oven with a glass of cold milk. Or the wonderful smells that waft through the house from the warmed kitchen. Or best of all, sharing those little baked delights at a holiday cookie exchange.

A cookie exchange is essentially a gathering of close friends where everyone swaps cookies and goes home with a variety of them.  Hosting your own cookie exchange can be done easily thanks to Robin L. Olson, The Cookie Exchange Queen. In her book The Cookie Party Cookbook: The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Cookie Exchange, she offers page after page of helpful tips, some of which are:

• The hostess should start planning her cookie exchange by sending invitations a month before the party.

• Devise a theme for the event. Olson suggests some fun themes – Ugly Christmas Sweater Party, Victorian Christmas Party, Christmas Luau Party, to name a few.

• Select a cookie theme. Do you want guests to bring cookies made from family recipes? Cookies made with just fruits and nuts? Shaped cookies such as cut-outs, molded, or pressed? Sandwich cookies?

• Create a menu. Buffet style is usually popular for cookie exchanges, but fancy formal also is acceptable. (Fancy formal is where everyone wears formal holiday attire and fine dining includes linens, china, stemware, etc.)

Additional things to consider include holiday decorations, icebreaker party games, prizes for contests, party favors, holiday attire, and parting gifts.

According to Olson, when guests RSVP, that is the perfect time to discuss guidelines for the cookie exchange. Some of her personal rules include the following:

• All cookies should be homemade. No plain chocolate chips are allowed.

• Indicate how many dozen cookies each person should bring.

• Ask how the cookies will be presented – on platters, prepackaged in decorative bags, etc.

• Request that the guest provide the name of  the cookie they are bringing to ensure there are no duplications.

• Last but not least, have the guest e-mail the cookie recipe before the party so it can be shared with the other guests.

The Johnsonville Cookie Club knows a thing or two about cookie exchanges. This Bangor-based non-profit organization is dedicated to friendship, fellowship, and community service through fundraising events and cookie exchanges. Started in December of 2004, the organization has over 30 members, ages 5 through 80. Their meals and cookie trays have been sent to the sick, needful families, even soldiers in Iraq.

According to President Beth C. Bell, the Club’s Annual Christmas Cookie Exchange, which takes place the second Saturday of the month of December, involves homemade cookies, as well as singing and crafts. “We have a potluck dinner. Everybody picks a cookie type to bake. We bag the cookies or place them on platters for distribution. Each member discusses why they chose the cookie baked. We all love to cook. It is a fun time,” Bell says.“We make our Christmas cookie batters in September. We like to freeze for only three or four months. We use fresh ingredients, fresh eggs, and butter is a must. All nuts and chocolate are freshly ground. Our Signature Cookie is a delicate shortbread with bittersweet chocolate through it. We also do a cranberry nut with white chocolate, along with Snickerdoodles, gingerbread cookies, molasses cookies, bar cookies, and Spritz. The junior members do the sugar cookie cut-outs,” Bell says. (Editor’s Note: For further information on the Johnsonville Cookie Club, check out the Holiday 2009 issue of Lehigh Valley Marketplace for our “Making a Difference” feature on this philanthropic club.)

Owner Amy Musser of Scrapbooking’s Inn has been holding cookie exchanges for three years. (The Hellertown business is a place for crafters to meet up and work on their own paper crafts, knitting, and other craft projects.)

Their next “Recipe Book & Cookie Swap” will be held on December 16. Guests should bring two dozen cookies to share. All recipes must be e-mailed to the store one week in advance  “Last year, we scrapbooked a recipe book that was ingredient resistant. It was tied together with ribbon. The women were able to give the recipe book as a gift,” Musser says. She also notes that, a cookie swap is a nice thing to do if you would like to start a tradition with family or friends. You can get the kids involved. It also makes a nice girls’ night out.”

For those who would like to  attend a cookie exchange but simply can’t find the time to  bake, Olson suggests heading to your favorite local bakery  since they can be excellent sources of homemade cookies. Granny Schmidt’s of Emmaus  bakes holiday cookie trays that combine high style and century-old goodness. The Flour Shop in Bethlehem uses organic and locally grown ingredients to create premium quality baked goods. And Connie’s Cakes and Cookies in Bethlehem has premise made and fresh baked goods, the aromas of which travel down Guetter Street.

Mary Beth Schwartz is a freelance editor who writes for several regional magazines. She thoroughly enjoys baking cookies for her family at Christmastime.

Recipe Exchange

Try some of these delicious cookie recipes from Lehigh Valley bakers.
Connie’s Cakes and Cookies’ Orange Dream

1 cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp. grated orange peel
2 ¼ cups flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups vanilla or white chips

In a large bowl cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in orange peel and vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda, salt. Gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Add vanilla chips. Drop by tablespoon 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.

The Flour Shop’s Flourless Chocolate Cookies

(We recommend using Breakaway Farms’ or Happy Farm’s organic eggs for this recipe. You can find them both at the Emmaus Farmers’ Market with us, on Sundays!)

½ cup plus 3 Tbsp. Dutch cocoa powder
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
Pinch of salt
2 ¾ cups toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract

(Spice this cookie up with cinnamon and cloves. Another option is a spicy glaze added after baking—made from a finely ground habanero pepper and bourbon. Finely grated orange zest also makes a nice addition.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. In an electric mixer bowl fit with the paddle attachment, combine cocoa powder, walnuts, sugar, and salt. Mix for 3 minutes. Slowly add in the egg whites and vanilla, and mix for 3 minutes. Over mixing will cause the egg whites to thicken the batter too much. With a 2.-oz. ice cream scoop, or a generous tablespoon, scoop the batter onto a lined baking sheet. The cookies will spread while baking to about a 4” diameter, so leave a few extra inches between cookies. Place the cookies in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 320°F, and bake for 14-16 minutes, or until small cracks form on the surface. You may want to rotate the pans part way through the baking to ensure they cook evenly. Slide parchment paper onto a wire cooling rack immediately after pulling cookies from the oven. They need to cool completely before lifting them from the parchment.

Granny Schmidt’s Carrot Cake Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup toasted chopped pecans
Cream Cheese Frosting
4 oz. cream cheese
¼ cup butter, softened
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
½ tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the cookie sheet. Beat butter on Medium/High for 30 seconds. Add sugars, cinnamon, baking soda, dash of salt. Beat in eggs and vanilla, then combine. Beat in as much flour as you can, then mix remainder with carrots and pecans by hand. Cover and chill for 30 minutes. Drop by teaspoon in pan and bake for 10-12 minutes until brown on edge. Keep on pan for 1 minute and then cool on rack. When completely cooled, top with frosting.

Johnsonville Cookie Club’s Signature Cookies

2 cups butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. vanilla
4 cups flour
½ cup corn starch, sifted
1 cup grated bittersweet chocolate
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, and vanilla. Gradually stir in flour and corn starch. Gently stir in chocolate. Refrigerate dough over night. Remove dough. Preheat oven to 300°F. Roll dough into ¾” balls. Place cookies onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten with a drinking glass dipped in sugar. Bake for 25 minutes, or until bottoms begin to brown. Cool on cookie sheets for 5 minutes and transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Makes 7 dozen cookies.

(From We’re More than Cookies: A Collection of Recipes from Johnsonville Cookie Club.)

Connie’s Cakes and Cookies
77 West Broad Street, Unit 10c
Bethlehem, PA 18018
The Flour Shop
2980 Linden Street
Macada Plaza
Bethlehem, PA 18017

Granny Schmidt’s
1449 Chestnut Street
Emmaus, PA 18049

Johnsonville Cookie Club
30 Lillian Lane
Bangor, PA 18013

Scrapbooking’s Inn
403 Main Street
Hellertown, PA 18055

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