This year marks the 24th consecutive holiday season that Sandra Ventura will open her Pico Rivera, California, home to friends and family for her famous cookie exchange. The coffee and conversation are always warm and inviting, but the guests will tell you it’s the competitive spirit that keeps them coming back.
The rules are uncomplicated but strict. Sandra asks her guests to bring a dozen cookies for each of the 10 to 12 other participants, and one additional dozen for the “tasting panel.” Louis, Sandra’s husband of 26 years, serves as the panel’s unofficial chairman. After conferring with a couple of friends, Sandra’s brother and niece, and anyone else who wants to join in on the fun, Louis awards the top prize to the cookie that meets the panel’s toughest criterion: After you’ve finished it, how much do you want another one of those cookies?
“The judging is lighthearted, but everyone wants to win,” Sandra says. “And in the end, the competition encourages us to become better bakers.”
As a cookie-exchange veteran, Sandra shares this tip with novices: “Be sure your cookies can be easily transported to and from an exchange. Drop or bar cookies are the best because they don’t stick together or fall apart like frosted or delicate cookies.” Sandra prefers fine-grained C&H Baker’s Sugar because “it melts and mixes well into any recipe.”
If this season brings you to your first cookie exchange, Sandra has a foolproof recipe for Cowboy Cookies, her gift to you this season.