Cookie swaps sweeten holidays

Cookie exchanges have grown in recent years to be a staple of holiday entertaining.

If you’ve never had the privilege, these parties are affairs where each guest brings a batch of cookies and the recipe. As the guests mingle, they get to take cookies from everyone else’s batch. Everyone goes home with a box full of sweets and a handful of new recipes.

The great thing about these parties is that they’re appropriate for all age groups and settings and are easily expandable. You can have the party at home, of course, but cookie exchanges also work well in offices, churches or schools or for neighborhood functions.

Maxine Lawson, of Prairieville, has been hosting a cookie exchange with her friends for about 30 years.

“A friend of ours started it,” she said. “She’s since passed away, but we continued on in her honor.”

Lawson and company will host anywhere from 30 to 70 people at a time at the party, which also features an ornament exchange. Some guests do either cookies or ornaments, but some do both.

At a large gathering, Lawson said, guests may take home up to six dozen cookies.

“For people who give cookies away, like I have neighbors I make baskets or trays for, I have a variety of cookies to give away. Or if you have family come in,” Lawson said.

The key to hosting a festive and fun cookie exchange is to get the ball rolling early, Lawson said. Holiday calendars fill up fast, and a good time to host an informal party like this is early December when revelers are just past Thanksgiving but the Christmas season hasn’t kicked into high gear.

“We’re all close friends, so usually if we meet for somebody’s birthday or just a gathering, we set a date and decide who’s going to bring what food,” she said. “Plan it early and get your invitations out early. Christmastime is so busy for everyone.”

Lawson added that they try to have their party on a Sunday because Fridays and Saturdays are usually full of holiday events.

The cookies, obviously, are the stars of this party, but you can choose a theme and ask guests to make their cookies and displays fit that theme.

Recipe management also will be critical to a successful cookie exchange; You don’t want guests to duplicate cookies. There are copies to be made and duplications to be avoided.

Lawson said that at her parties, it’s actually pretty rare for two people bring the same cookie. Most of the guests make the same thing every year, she said.

“I always make chocolate-covered peanut clusters,” she said. Sometimes, she threatens to do something different, but her friends always talk her into making the favorite treat. “I’ve been making them, I would say, about 20 years.”