Holiday Sweets, Treats & Gatherings

Host a cookie exchange and have fun while multiplying your supply of holiday treats

HOLIDAYS ARE THE PERFECT TIME for sweet gatherings with friends where the stars of the party are cookies. With a little forethought and a few tips from experts, you can make a cookie exchange get-together a satisfying success.

Gina Nistico, a recipe developer and food stylist who has worked on such television shows as “America’s Test Kitch-en,” and Taste of Home Magazine, recommends developing a timeline to keep you on track, and to begin planning weeks in advance so you won’t become over-whelmed during the busy season.

Next, decide the party parameters. Some hostesses might prefer only home-baked cookies, or they don’t want more than one guest to bring Toll House cookies, for instance. In that case, says Nistico, set up a shareable document (Google Doc, for instance) where guests can list the cookies they will be making.

Other hosts might take a more freewheeling approach to enjoying treats with acquaintances, but like the idea of a theme: Ask guests to bring cookies originating from another country or ones that were a favorite childhood snack.

Once you know how many guests you’ll invite, determine the number of cookies each person needs to bring. One rule of thumb is to allow each guest to leave with four to six of each cache of cookies brought, says Lee Clayton Roper, award-winning cookbook author and blogger.

Give people more lead time than you might for a typical party. Send out invitations at least four weeks in advance and be clear about the parameters you’ve set. Consider asking guests to share recipes with you beforehand so that you can print the recipes on cards. Tie the bundles of recipes with ribbons and give them to guests as they leave with their treats.

Roper also recommends recruiting a partner with whom you can split party duties. “As we get closer to the holidays, we have less and less time, and if you can divide and conquer, it’s more fun for the hostess.”

When possible, make cookie dough in advance and freeze until you are ready to bake. Nistico suggests storing the dough in air-tight containers with a note about baking time and temperature so you don’t need to pull out the recipe again.

Plan to provide savory foods with the cookies. Roper likes to prepare a salad, for instance, with a bread or scone, along with some fruit for a light lunch. An alternative is to serve finger foods such as a crudites platter or, says Nistico, tiny puff pastries filled with cheese and jam.

For beverages, provide both an alcoholic drink as well as a mocktail. Nicole Cruse, owner of Grace & Gather Events, suggests setting up a hot cocoa or coffee bar, where guests can choose a variety of items to add to their beverage such as marshmallows, cinnamon or flavored syrups.

Partygoers should choose recipes that are easy to make in bulk and that travel well: icing can smear or delicate cookies can crumble if they aren’t packed properly.

As guests arrive, provide place cards to identify the cookie name, guest name and a list of allergy-inducing ingredients such as nuts or gluten, says Roper. Also provide boxes or similar containers–available at craft stores or other merchants—in which friends can carry cookies home. You can decorate them or have guests decorate them with stickers at a decoration station.

Most important, says Roper, “Don’t stress out. Make it simple. The cookies overpower everything; the cookies are what people will remember.”

Gingerbread Cookie Edible Ornaments

3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1⁄2  cup natural unsweetened baking cocoa, sifted
1⁄2  teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1⁄2  teaspoon ground mace
1⁄2  teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1⁄2  cup packed dark brown sugar
1⁄2  cup unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1⁄4 cup unsulphured molasses
1 bottle decorative sugar crystals (optional)
Edible sugar pearls to taste (optional)
Edible gold dust (optional)

Sift the flour, baking cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mace, salt and pepper into a large mixing bowl. Beat the brown sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl with the paddle attachment for 2 minutes or until light and smooth. Add the eggs in a steady stream, beating constantly. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the molasses and mix well, scraping the side of the bowl occasionally. Add the flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Cut the dough into halves and shape into balls. Place each ball on a piece of plastic wrap and flatten slightly. Wrap with the plastic wrap. Chill for 1 hour or longer.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, moving the oven rack to the top position.

Roll each portion of the dough 1⁄4 inch thick on a lightly floured surface using a floured rolling pin; dough will be sticky at first. Cut using a 3-inch cookie cutter, arranging evenly spaced on a baking sheet using a spatula. Sprinkle with the sugar crystals, pressing lightly into the dough.

Make a hole at the top of each cookie using the flat round end of a wooden cake tester and fill the hole with an edible sugar pearl or leave the hole for adding a ribbon later for a table name card or an edible tree ornament. Chill for 15 minutes.

Bake for 7 to 8 minutes for ornaments, allowing less baking time for softer cookies. Brush with edible gold dust. Remove to wire racks to cool. Makes 6-7 dozen.

Recipe from the Junior League of Denver’s Centennial Celebrations cookbook.


Chocolate Pecan Toffee Bars

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
8 ounces milk chocolate (such as Hershey brand), broken into pieces
1⁄2 cup chopped roasted pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 15-by-10 rimmed baking sheet.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until well mixed and light in color. With the mixer running, add the egg yolk and vanilla; beat until blended. Add the salt and flour and beat just until blended.

Spread in prepared pan and top with a piece of waxed paper. Push down on the paper to spread the dough evenly in the pan. Remove the paper and bake for 20 minutes.

In a small glass bowl, melt chocolate using the microwave oven. (Do not overheat or it can turn white.) Remove cookie base from oven and immediately spread chocolate over top. Sprinkle with chopped pecans, pressing down lightly to make sure they adhere to the chocolate. Let cool until the chocolate hardens. Makes about 6 dozen.

Recipe from Fresh Tastes from a Well-Seasoned Kitchen by Lee Clayton Roper.


Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

1⁄2 cup butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
Zest from 1 large orange
1 large egg, beaten
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
11⁄2 cups quick-cook oatmeal
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add orange zest, egg, salt and vanilla and beat until well mixed. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the oatmeal and flour; add to butter mixture and beat just until mixed. Stir in chocolate chips. Using a small spring-loaded scoop, place balls of dough on prepared baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, remove from oven and cool on baking sheets about 5 minutes; remove cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. High altitude adjustments: Above 7,000 feet, add 1 tablespoon flour and reduce baking temperature to 325 degrees. Makes about 4 dozen.

Recipe from Fresh Tastes from a Well-Seasoned Kitchen by Lee Clayton Roper.


Almond-Cocoa Wedding Cookies 

11⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1⁄2 cup butter, softened
1⁄2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
11⁄2 cups almonds, finely ground and toasted
1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and the cocoa. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butters and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat until blended. Add one-third of the flour mixture at a time, mixing just until blended after each addition. Beat in the ground almonds (do not over mix). Using a small spring-release scoop (about 1 inch in diameter), scoop the dough into balls and place 2 to 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 22 minutes until cookies feel medium-firm to the touch. They will firm up as they cool. Cool completely on baking sheets. Combine the powdered sugar and cinnamon in a shallow bowl. Roll the cooled cookies in the sugar mixture, one at a time. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 4 dozen.

Recipe from Fresh Tastes from a Well-Seasoned Kitchen by Lee Clayton Roper.

Categories: Sip & Savor