A cookie swap is a low-key, low-budget way to gather pals for a holiday hangout, and you and your guests get to leave with a stockpile of finished gifts. Here's how it works: you invite a group of friends, each person makes a few batches of cookie to share. At the swap, you sample, trade and package cookies so everyone leaves with finished gifts and new recipes.
Simple, right? Well, ideally you, the graceful hostess, can make it appear so. Here are some cookie swap tips to help ensure your success.
First of all, get your numbers right: The ideal number of guests at a cookie swap is just under ten – you want to keep the event manageable, but ensure you get a decent variety of cookies. According to Martha, cookie swap best practice is to ask each guest to bake: "A dozen cookies for every person in attendance, plus an extra dozen for sampling; you do the same. This way, everybody will go home with several dozen in different flavors to give as gifts."
If it seems insane to ask your friends to realize such a large quantity of cookie from their tiny / shared apartment kitchens, then scale back. The point is for everyone to have a handful of ready-made gifts to go home with – even 5 or 6 dozen to swap still leaves you with a bunch.
Send helpful invitations: Be explicit In your invitations – include how many cookies your guests should bring (and if you're going for a theme, strictly seasonal or otherwise, state it), tell them to bring copies of their recipes, and some supplies for packaging (ribbons, boxes, etc.) Send your invitations well in advance (Martha recommends 3 – 4 weeks in advance, so … get at 'er), so your guests can prep sufficiently.
Table tips: Cookie swap hosts should ideally set up three different tables: one for serving refreshments, one for exchanging cookies and one for packaging cookies. If you can't, separate your table into two sections, one for swapping and one for packaging.
For your swapping spot, set out a few platters and cake stands, and have each guest put out a plate of cookies for tasting, with stacks of recipes beside. Make display cards for each cookie to let guests know what's what and who made it. Use your swapping table display cards to promote cookie lore, and ask your guests to invent the name of their cookie and share its origin story, real or imagined.
For your packaging table, set out everything your guests need to make finished gifts: twine, chinese takeout containers, cardstock boxes, cellophane, tissue paper, ribbon, scissors, tape, sticky labels, blank tags … get creative. (ie – check out this Pringle cookie tube hack.)
Prepare a simple party menu: Because binging on cookies without at least offering the option to eat something reasonable isn't adult-like (or is it?). Balance out a sugar overload with some salty snacks (think: festive pinwheel sandwiches, flatbread, etc.) , crudites, and a pot of coffee.
Bake smart: Even though you're the host, you're not exempt from baking cookies to bring to the table. To save time and money, make double / triple batches of cookies. Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar advises cookie swappers to go for bar cookies and drop cookies, which are the easiest to make large batches of – the classic chocolate chip cookie or sugar cookie multiplies nicely and always seem to disappear.
The definitive time saving tip when it comes to baking is to use good ingredients. When you use good quality chocolate, fresh nuts, new flour, etc. you can make simple, classic recipes that don't require hours of meticulous preparation or to be impressive. Check your spices. Most dried, ground spices are only good for 1 – 2 years. Generally, if you can't remember when you bought them, toss them and get new ones. You don't want your cinnamon snickerdoodles to have a hint of curry powder.
Now get thee to the kitchen! Or, if your style is a little more last-minute, here are 5 last-minute cookie recipes. Happy cookie swapping!