Monday, October 1, 2007

Ready, Set, Swap!

Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Baking and socializing are two of our favorite holiday pursuits. But as the season progresses and schedules get squeezed, it becomes just a bit challenging (face it: downright daunting!) to play hostess. That’s why we love the cookie swap, an easy and rewarding way to combine baking, fun, and gift giving.

At a cookie swap, or exchange, you and each of your guests bake one kind of cookie—a classic, a family favorite, a holiday–themed treat, or a tempting new recipe—in quantities sufficient to share with everyone else. Each guest leaves the party with a dozen of each cookie offering, ready to share right away or to freeze and enjoy later in the season.

How Did Swaps Start?

Cookie exchanges have probably gone on for as long as bakers have been sharing recipes. The 1963 edition of the Betty Crocker Cooky Book called the idea a “popular” one—which means it was already well known! Robin Olson, whose Robin’s Christmas Cookie Exchange is the oldest cookie–swap website on the Internet, has found newspaper articles about cookie swaps that date back to 1936.

The longest-running cookie swap in America, according to this online Food Timeline, is the Wellesley Cookie Exchange in Wellesley, Mass., which began in 1971 and is still going strong. In 1988 the Wellesley cookie–bakers published a cookbook based on their experiences. It’s out of print, but you may be able to find a used or library copy.

How Do I Host a Swap?

First, pick a date. Early December is the best time for most people—after Thanksgiving and before the really busy holiday season begins. Choose a weekend afternoon or weekday early evening when everyone can spend about two hours chatting and nibbling.

Cookie Swap

Send out invitations a month before your cookie exchange to give your guests plenty of time to schedule the event and do their baking. For sample invitations you can personalize and print, as well as other cookie–swap ideas, see the special Cookie Swap section of this website.

Keep your guest list to a manageable number—large enough to enjoy an interesting variety of cookies, but not so large that you and your guests feel overwhelmed. Between eight and twelve people is about right.

If you like, choose a theme. For example, make it a “generations” party by asking each guest to bring her mother, grandmother, sister, or teenage daughter (young children tend to be disruptive at cookie swaps—take it from those who know!); ask each guest to share a childhood photo, family recipe, or a beloved family story. If you work full– or part–time, consider hosting a colleagues’ cookie swap; if you’re self–employed, turn your cookie exchange into an informal networking party. For more ideas, see our Cookie Swap section.

Rules of the Game

Cookie swaps work best when the hostess has a firmly but amiably enforced plan. Many hostesses like to make assignments by cookie types (see below) so they don’t end up with 10 dozen brownies or eight dozen sugar cookies.

Hot Mulled Cider

Ask each guest to bake and bring one dozen cookies for each guest on the list, along with plates or platters on which to display them. (If there will be eight guests in all, including you, that means each guest will bring eight dozen cookies.) She should also bring copies of her recipe to share. And don’t forget containers for taking cookies home!

To sample or not? That’s up to you. Some cookie swaps encourage tasting; others are all about taking cookies home. Be sure, though, to provide light snacks such as raw vegetables, apple slices, or grapes. Coffee and tea are fine, but homemade beverages provide a special touch: Hot Mulled Cider and Spiced Cider Punch are the essence of holiday cheer, while Fresh Squeezed Breeze makes refreshing use of seasonal citrus fruits.

After fifteen or twenty minutes of socializing, start the cookie swap by ringing a bell or making an announcement. Then ask each guest to introduce her cookies with a story: how she learned the recipe, why she chose it, how she changed it. The cookie stories will enhance everyone’s experience of the event.

What to Bake?

One way to organize your cookie swap is by suggesting a cookie category to each of your guests. That way you’ll give everyone an enjoyable challenge—without being overly rigid—and you’ll end up with an attractive array of cookies.

Looking for ideas? Start here:

You’ll find even more cookie–swap recipes and party–theme ideas in the Cookie Swap section of our website. We’ve also created templates for invitations, recipe cards, recipe labels, and name tags—all ready for you to personalize on your computer and print out!

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