I love cookies all year-round, but I especially love all the wonderful varieties of holiday cookies at Christmastime!
Hosting family and friends for a cookie exchange party is a wonderful way to start or continue a holiday tradition. A cookie exchange is a great way to host a party and get a variety of baked goods and some new recipes with the least amount of expense.
This party is a wonderful way to collect the personal stories behind the cookies. Sharing stories also acts as an ice-breaker and a way for guests to get to know each other.
You also can host a cookie "bake and exchange" party. Since everyone is so busy, buying good quality cookie mixes and having the guests come over to stir them up, bake and decorate them can become a party activity.
Here are a few tips for hosting a cookie party exchange:
• Invite eight to 12 people for the best variety of cookies and conversation. I suggest each person bring three to four-dozen cookies, two dozen to exchange and one or two dozen for the sample plate. Suggest that they wrap each dozen that they are bringing separately.
• Avoid duplication of cookies/recipes by sending out invites a few weeks ahead of time, asking guests to RSVP and tell you about the cookies they plan to bring, and reminding them to bring an empty take-home container.
• Ask each guest to bring a copy of their recipe to pass around with a little information about the connection to the cookie. Having a list of the ingredients also ensures that people with food allergies can protect their health. Keep each recipe on its own plate.
• Create a separate sample cookie and exchange cookie area — either ends of a table or on separate small tables — that provides easy access to the treats from all sides.
Here's a wonderful recipe for a basic sugar cookie dough that makes three to four dozen cookies. Use your favorite topping and filling to create your own signature cookie.
BASIC SUGAR COOKIE DOUGH
This cookie dough can be made three days ahead, wrapped tightly and chilled, or frozen for up to three months. The cookies also can be baked (left undecorated) two weeks ahead, wrapped tightly and frozen.
You can use the roll-and-cut-out cookies and sprinkle sugar, chopped nuts, mini chocolate chips, chopped candy canes, etc. on top. Use the slice-and-bake cookie variation to make sandwich cookies using Nutella, nut butters or jams as a filling. Or you can use a different topping or sandwich filling for each dozen.
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a medium bowl, whisk flour, salt and baking soda together. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar until well-combined and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until just combined. Reduce speed to low and gradually blend in the flour mixture; mix until just combined.
For roll-and-cut cookies:
1. Form dough into two equal-sized balls and flatten into discs. Wrap both in plastic and chill at least 1 hour.
2. Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat to 350 F. 3. Prepare a well-floured surface and a well-floured rolling pin to help keep the dough from sticking. Working with one disc at a time, roll dough to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out as many cookies as possible with cookie cutters (if dough becomes too soft, chill until firm). Arrange cookies 1 1/2 inches apart on two ungreased baking sheets and chill 15 minutes. Gather scraps, form into a small disc, and chill until firm.
4. Bake cookies until golden brown at edges (rotating baking sheets and switching position on racks halfway through), 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer to cooling racks to cool completely.
5. Roll out the second disc of dough and scraps (reroll scraps only once) and bake on cooled baking sheets. Transfer to racks to cool completely. Decorate, if desired.
For slice-and-bake cookies:
1. Halve dough and form into two logs, 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap logs in plastic and roll to form a more uniform round shape. Chill at least 2 hours.
2. Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat to 350 F. 3. Slice cookies into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and arrange 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake cookies until golden brown at edges (rotating baking sheets and switching position on racks halfway through), 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer to cooling racks to cool completely; decorate, if desired.