While holiday traditions change over time, there are some through lines that many of us like to revisit year after year.  The traditional Cookie Swap is one of those evergreen traditions, a terrific way to share sweetness and celebrate community (and lighten our holiday baking loads!).  The premise is simple: each guest is tasked with showing up with a few dozen home-baked cookies.  At the party itself, everyone gets to sample and share. And then towards the end each guest assembles a container of assorted cookies from all of the bakers present.  The result?  A whole lot of different cookies for the price (and time) of baking a double batch of one recipe!

Best Soft Chewy Sugar Cookies

Here is how to put together a cookie exchange for your friends, work colleagues, neighbors, school community and more.

Invite your guests

8 to 12 people is a good ballpark for this type of cookie exchange.  This keeps the size of the gathering manageable, but still allows everyone to look forward to a wide variety of baked goods.  

You can send invitations via email (or use a platform like PlanHero, Evite or SignUp Genius), or if you have time, mail a paper invite.   Specify the details of the event: date, time, location, etc.  During this very busy time of year, give people as much notice as you can, and try to pick a time that slots into the hubbub of the season.  A Sunday afternoon might be a good choice, or perhaps even early on a weeknight evening. 

Also be clear on what people are expected to bring.  Specify a minimum number of cookies (2 or 3 dozen is a good baseline), and let people know that cookie selections are based on a first-to-call-it system (eg, the first person to claim gingerbread people, gets gingerbread people!).

Gingerbread Cookies

Create Variety

Websites like SignUp Genius and PlanHero are very handy for this. You can send invitations, reminders, any change of plans, and keep the cookie list public, all on one site.  Ask your guests to make sure they are not duplicating a previous sign up so you have a lot of variety.  (You may need to gently tell a guest that Nut-Free Snowball Cookies have already been spoken for, and ask them to pick something else).  Give people a deadline for signing up, so that everyone can lock in their recipe and shop for ingredients without a mad scramble.

How to Do a Cookie Swap: Before the holidays, gather some friends to bake and exchange cookies for nibbling and gifting! Fun and time saving!

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Be conscious of allergies and allergens

If you are not going to vet recipes for common allergens, like nuts and dairy, then mention that up front, so guests can decide if this is the right event for them.  If you are going to layer on dietary parameters, such as no nut products, be very clear.   Ask people to bring a printed out version of their recipe for reference. All of the recipes on this website are TREE nut free (I have tree nut allergies myself), so this is a good place to start!

Nut-Free Snowball Cookies

Think about Serving Platters and To-Go Containers

Let people know if they should bring their own serving platters and/or take away containers, or if you will be providing them.  Even if you tell people to bring them, you’ll want to have extra containers on hand in case people forget, or you are blessed with an overabundance of baked goods.

You may choose to put out some of each person’s cookie offering for sampling, and keep the rest for the second part of the party, where guests assemble their take-away containers.  This way you can be sure to have enough for the swap part!

You can keep the cookie buffet simple (using the containers people brought their treats in), or if you want to get fancier, put out the treats on plates, platters, maybe tiered stands.  Think about creating labels for each cookie offering.  You can ask guests to submit their cookie name and ingredient list ahead of time, and create the labels yourself (folding card stock labels are nice), or tell each person to bring a card with the name and ingredients clearly written out.  Again, this helps with allergy concerns.  Have some extra blank labels available either way.  

Offer Snacks and Drinks

Make sure to offer some other food or snacks.  It could be anything from a lasagna and salad to lots of veggies and chips and dips, to small sandwiches, or maybe a beautiful cheese/charcuterie or graze board.   One, most people are looking to nibble on something beyond sweets if this is a holiday gathering.  Two, you don’t want to run through too many of those cookies!  The goal is to lay in a supply for each home for the holidays – and maybe have some for gifting as well.

How to Make a Graze Board

Create a simple bar as well.  Perhaps wine and beer, some non alcoholic drinks, plus sparkling water.  This might be a good occasion to whip up a batch of eggnog!  Think about a warm beverage, such as mulled cider, mulled wine, hot cocoa, or even tea and coffee.  Set things up so that guests can serve themselves.

Share Recipes

Think about asking guests to share their recipes electronically; you can set up a shared google doc, FB group or other community portal so people can easily find the recipes from the other bakers.  

Here are a whole bunch of recipes to choose from:

Prepare Ahead of Time

And as with any party, do as much as you can ahead of time!  Set up the bar, put the platters on the table, set out plates, utensils, napkins, glasses, and so on.  You may want to bake and freeze your own cookies ahead of time, which will allow you to focus on the gathering itself, without over committing your time.  Keep things as simple as possible – the pleasure of this particular type of get-together is that it’s a chance to celebrate with friends and walk away feeling like you’re a step ahead of the holidays.  And that’s truly a best-of-both-worlds party.

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