Simplify your holiday baking by only baking one huge batch of one cookie and then swapping with friends so that you go home with a wonderful assortment for your family to enjoy or to put together cookie trays to give away. You can make this as easy and laid back or as high quality and structured as you want, therein lies the beauty.
First of all if you ever come across an article about how to host a cookie exchange that says start planning eight weeks ahead don’t even bother to read it. The whole point of this is to save you time and stress so who the crap wants to plan this thing weeks and weeks out?! Short story: all you really need to do is pick a date, invite people, make your cookies, and put out food/drink. DONE. Here’s the long story.
the most important thing
When you decide to host a cookie exchange the most important thing to figure out what you want to accomplish. This affects your guest list and how you choose your cookie exchange rules.
Are you looking for people to bring the best of the best; intricately decorated, the most incredible cookies you’ve ever tasted, cookies that go back generations of their family with a rich history to share? (Invite me!)
Or are you basically giving the girls an opportunity to hang out and drink wine? (Invite me!)
Make your guest list
- Intimate or a cast of thousands? Are you going to want to do a small group of five or six people and then have them bake six dozen so that everybody gets all of the different kinds of cookies? Or are you going to do a large group of say 20 people? People will still only make six dozen so then everyone will not get one of everything and this could cause issues. You know there’s that one friend, she’s gonna push somebody out of the way to get to that really good cookie or bitch about the cookie that’s not perfect. But we still love that friend. If you want a larger group, be sure to invite more than you want to attend so you end up with a good number of guests.
- Kids or no kids? Make it crystal clear if this is a mommy time out event.
Choose a Date and Time
If you are hosting a smaller group, talk to everyone and coordinate a date so that everyone can come.
- Morning/Early Afternoon – Stay at home moms with kids in school are available to do something during weekdays. Daytime parties also have less scheduling problems due to all the nighttime holiday parties in December. No one has to worry about getting a sitter or waiting for the hubs to get home to leave for the party.
- Evening/Night – If most of your friends work you might be better off to do it in the evening or on the weekend. Nighttime parties are also, well, parties. No one has to leave to pickup kids from school or take them to their basketball practice. Everyone can unwind a little more. If you decide on evening, make it as early in the month as possible to not conflict with all the work party commitments etc.
Regardless of when you schedule it, you will want to have it early enough in the month so that people can enjoy the cookies or give them as gifts before the actual holiday.
Things to include in your invitation
- Date, time, address, and a description of what a cookie exchange is.
- What date people need to RSVP by.
Paperless Post has a bunch of invitations to email specifically for cookie exchanges here and Evite has a couple here. Etsy has a ton of printable invitations you can buy if you’d like invitations to hand out or actually *gasp* mail.
It is important to set the expectations for your guests and that’s why cookie exchanges have guidelines or dare I say it rules. Be aware that the more rules you set, the harder it will be for people to attend.
Here’s a list of general things you will need to set guidelines about. Be sure to include clear instructions in the invitations.
- Whether or not you want them to provide their recipe. Should they email it to you? Then you will print out all the copies for everyone and this assures you will have all the recipes. Or should they bring copies? Someone will always forget. Do you care?
- How many cookies should they bring? Generally six dozen is a reasonable amount. You can either exchange five dozen and have one dozen out for eating at the party or exchange all six dozen. Regardless, everyone leaves with the same amount they brought. If six dozen sounds like too much, have everyone bring three dozen and just exchange six cookies instead of a dozen.
- Are store-bought cookies okay?
- This is like the Mason-Dixon line of cookie exchanges. Again, is it about the cookies or the party? If store bought aren’t allowed someone won’t have time to make cookies and so won’t come. Someone will have a perfect storm, a cookiegeddon if you will, and not come. Anyone who is not a good baker might feel like they can’t attend. If you’re fine with store bought consider specifying that they need to be high quality cookies from a real bakery, not a grocery store bakery.
- What about no-bake cookies? Or grocery store slice and bakes? Regular old chocolate chip cookies? Candy? Again, the more restrictions the less attendees but the higher quality of cookies.
- If you don’t want duplicate types of cookies have each guest RSVP with what kind of cookie they’re bringing so that you can tell people if they need to make a different kind.
- As far as allergies, it’s your responsibility as the hostess to let everyone know if allergies and dietary restrictions will be accommodated. Peanut free is easy to ask of people. Gluten-free, vegan AND no nuts is too much to ask of your guests, unless everyone has the same restrictions.
- Will you be hosting all the drinks and snacks or if you want to do it potluck style?
- How do you want people to bring their cookies?
- If you’re really into the cookie festive part of it they can bring their cookies loose on a tray. You put all the cookie trays out on a table or counter and then you go around and pick up your cookies and put them in your take home container.
- If you’re more into the party, have people package their cookies by the dozen and then you can just throw the dozens in your take home container and get on to the party!
If you’re going for the hostess of the year award
- Set up as a party to include the kids. Everyone can bring their cookies for the swap and then you can have an area set up with sugar cookies and frosting that they can decorate while they’re there and take home. We all know that can be kind of a beating with the kids to make the cookies, bake them, make the frosting, let the cookies cool, decorate them and all that jazz, so having it done and just getting to do the enjoyable part is a real treat for moms and kids. It also makes it easier for people to come to your party.
- You can have guests email you their recipes and you can put all of the recipes together in a little recipe book for the guest as a party favor.
- You can provide festive take home containers for everyone. Here are some from Dollar Tree, Sam’s Club and Amazon.
- Another way to be awesome person of the year is to have everyone bring some nonperishable food items to throw in a bag and then drop it off at the local food pantry. This is the best and sometimes only time people think about those less fortunate so make it easy for them. Practice being demure and saying “Really it’s nothing, I just consider myself a humanitarian. It’s a gift.”
Food & Drink
If you’re having a daytime party, lighter snacks and drinks are appropriate unless you want to host a luncheon. Skip the muffins and coffee cake if you’re going to be snacking on cookies and offer something savory like mini quiche and salad. Coffee, tea, and water are good for drinks. Mimosas can keep it festive without getting people hammered. Of course there’s still that one friend who skips the oj in her mimosas and then takes a nap at home and misses pickup. But we still love that friend.
Speaking of that friend, if you’re having an evening party you know your friends. Are they serious wine drinkers? Be sure to provide some bread heavy snacks like spinach dip in a bread bowl or mini sandwiches on those Hawaiian rolls ( I just did 36 of those today. I don’t mean ate! I mean made. They are super fast.). Have something with a good amount of protein like chicken satay or meatballs. Protein always seems to get overlooked in the appetizer milieu.
Don’t forget to make your cookies!
Or buy them from Cheryl’s. No one will everrrrrrrrr know.
On the day of your party
Or the day before if you’re super organized, decorate and lay out the area you are going to use for the exchange and/or have people relaxing. A long dining room table or kitchen counter will work the best for the exchange. If you are printing the recipes and having people pick them up as they pickup cookies, place them where you want each cookie tray to go.
Have plenty of foil, plastic wrap, Ziploc bags, or Gladware for people that don’t get it together and bring something. There’s always someone who’s having holiday trauma and you will be a rock star for doing them a solid instead of making them feel unprepared.
Be sure to show guests where to put their cookies when they arrive, either by the recipe you printed or remind them to put out their recipe too. If you’re setting out a dozen to eat at the party show them where to put those, and any food if they brought something. Most importantly show them where the wine is!
When all of the guests have arrived and had a chance to relax a minute, get everyone’s attention and direct them to the cookie exchange. Remind them how many to take.
A cookie exchange can be great fun to kick off the holidays and get a chance to see your friends before everything goes off the rails. Do yourself a favor, especially if this will be your first time, and keep it simple and make it super easy for everyone to attend. Just relax and have a good time.
Did I miss anything? Ask in the comments and I’ll answer your questions.