Bakers are in full swing making up cookies, cakes, and candies for holiday get togethers. One of the most popular parties is a cookie exchange. Cloverfield Farm & Kitchen's Janine Washle says it is easy to put together with a few simple guidelines and great for groups that meet on a regular schedule anyway like book clubs, theatre groups, and civic groups.
It is also a nice way to mingle with families in the neighborhood or around the block or turn it into a kids cookie exchange by having the parents prepare the cookies for the children and then the kids select the cookies they want at the exchange venue. Before any exchanging can take place, it has to be organized. These 7 easy steps will make your cookie exchange a success:
1. Decide how many cookies each guest will bring. Typically, it is 2-3 dozen cookies plus 1 dozen for the tasting table.
2. Keep the guest list small so it isn't overwhelming but not so tight that there isn't a nice variety of cookies. About 8-10 guests is a good number and you will get a nice variety of cookies.
3. Decide if there will be a theme like Winter Wonderland, Babes in Toyland, or even Tropical Christmas. The cookies will then be decorated according to theme.
4. Decide where you want the exchange to take place in the dining room or around the kitchen island. Decorate the table and lay out the platters in advance according to the number of invited guests. This way you aren't scrambling for platters and trays while guest are arriving.
5. Decide if you will be serving any snacks or appetizers in addition to the cookie tasting table. Keep it simple; it's really about the cookies. Maybe offer a hot chocolate bar or a tea station with various teas, hot or iced, to complement the cookies.
6. Decide if you will be providing boxes or trays for guests to take with them or if each guest needs to bring their own container for cookies.
7. Send out an e-vite or phone call each guest since time is getting tight.
The best cookies for an exchange are bar, drop, formed/shaped, or cut out cookies. They travel well and there is a wide variety of recipes to choose from online or in cookbooks. Two types of cookies to avoid are oversize cookies and overly decorated cookies. It is confusing as to how many a guest should take home ie if someone brings two dozen oversize cookies and another person brings two dozen regular cookies and decides she wants all of the oversize cookies, there could be some unpleasant comments behind her back or creative math will take place ie 'that cookie equals about two cookies so she should only take 6 cookies to equal a dozen'. If you are a seasoned veteran of cookie exchanges, you've heard some whoppers!
If you as the hostess want to lay out some conversation cookies ie cookies that are intricately decorated, or dimensional, this will add a lot to the cookie table. You may even offer these specialty cookies as door prizes.
If you always host a cookie exchange and are starting to get bored with the theme, put a spin on it with a cookie platter exchange. Each guest brings a platter of cookies that represents a theme that they choose. Themes could range from tropical cookies, citrus cookies, chocolate lovers, tipsy cookies, filled cookies, or even a platter of traditional cookies. Most households make an assortment of cookies anyway. This way the guest is challenged to keep up with her baking and come up with a platter that is cohesive. Sweeten the challenge by offering a nice prize for best theme.
With this exchange the host decides on the number of cookies that need to be arranged on a platter. This way each platter has the same number of cookies and there is no disparity among platters. Again, 2-3 dozen cookies is very manageable and will work on an average platter. And, importantly, each guest brings along a dozen for the tasting table.
Each guests brings their cookies arranged beforehand on an inexpensive platter that will be taken away by another guest. Inexpensive platters are available at grocery stores, discount stores, and even party marts. The platters are arranged on a table, each guest takes a look at the offerings and takes away a platter of cookies. Beyond this twist on the traditional cookie exchange, everything else remains the same ie the host provides light refreshments and drinks and a table large enough to hold the platters and walk around while deciding.
If you have been invited to an exchange but haven't even started your cookie baking yet, no problem with these easy tips:
1. Gather all the recipes that you want to bake. Don't overdo it though or you will be overwhelmed and typically when that happens, nothing gets done. Choose up to six recipes, finish them, then if you have the energy, pick a few more.
2. Pull together all the ingredients for each recipe. First, lay each recipe on a surface. Go around to pantry, spice rack, and refrigerator and gather the ingredients for each recipe noting some recipes will overlap. Put the ingredients with the respective recipe.
3. Pull out the stand mixer which will make short work of this assembly line process. If you only have a hand mixer, it will take a little longer but you will get it done. Starting with the light colored doughs first, make each dough according to the recipe.
By starting with the light doughs first, each proceeding dough won't discolor the other and you can keep that mixer humming along. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, label, and refrigerate. Once all the recipes are made up into dough. You can bake a batch every night. By the end of the week, all the cookies will be done and you can make up trays, or store them in the freezer to keep them fresh until needed.
You may be skeptical about storing the dough in the refrigerator especially dough with baking soda or powder. This is actually a good baker's secret to let the dough rest in the refrigerator which gets the flour time to absorb the moisture and produce a more tender cookie. The baking soda and powder, if used, will be in a neutral zone (they will lose a little "pow factor" but not enough to worry about) and still have action to make good cookies.
You have gathered your recipes and taken a minute to read through them and familiarize yourself with the process. It suddenly hits you, 'Man, this is a lot of sugary stuff to have around'. Balancing sweet with savory is a great way to appreciate each for the qualities they bring to the table. Savory cookies are a creative way to offer something different at a cookie exchange.
These types of cookies can be set out with salad, offered with cheeses, even as part of an after dinner drink plate alongside spiced walnuts, a piece of fruitcake (don't wince), and a glass of port. Unless you have a reputation as the family prankster, don't set the savory cookies that look very much like traditional sweet cookies alongside the sweet cookies. You can rest assured someone will be annoyed to bite into a parmesan rosemary cookie that they mistook as a pecan sandie. If your intention is to have them near the sweet cookies, label each tray and make a distinction between the two. This way, your guests will be impressed not annoyed with your creativity.
A taste of sweet and savory will broaden your ability to create an interesting array of treats on your buffet. Whether you are hosting or attending a cookie exchange, don't be daunted that it is already mid-December. Remembering the above tips, you can churn out cookies by the weekend and they will be super fresh to boot!
Soft and Spicy Sorghum Cookies
2/3 cup shortening
½ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
½ cup sorghum
½ cup fresh orange juice
1 TB fresh orange zest
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger or 1 TB freshly grated ginger
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream shortening and sugar. Blend in egg, sorghum then orange juice and zest. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Gradually stir flour mixture into liquid mixture. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool slightly before removing from cookie sheet to cooling rack.
Sweet cookies that will make it through the postal system: Bars, Drop cookies, and fruit cookies. Avoid rolled cookies like brandy snaps or delicate cookies like meringues. You have to watch out for frosted cookies too. Soft frosting will stick and smear when the cookies are stacked.
Cloverfields Farm and Kitchen also has a special Cookie Exchange Recipe Booklet available by email. To ask for a complimentary copy, just email Janine Washle at firstname.lastname@example.org
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CloverFields Farm & Kitchen
3720 Mt. Olive Rd.
Hardin Springs Area
Big Clifty, KY 42712
About Cloverfields Farm & Kitchen:
Janine Washle and her family live at the Cloverfields Farm and Kitchen in Big Clifty, Kentucky in Hardin County. CloverFields Farm & Kitchen, part of a century old farmstead, is our home and business. The McGuffin house, the original farmhouse, is a registered state landmark. CloverFields Farm has a prosperous farming history. They are continuing this rural story in their own unique way by the addition of CloverFields Kitchen a place to explore the past through food and merge it with our modern lifestyles.
CloverFields Farm is dedicated to the preservation of southern, especially Kentucky, food traditions. The kitchen is commercially-outfitted compliant with Health Department standards. In this kitchen I develop new recipes based on original ideas, inspirations from my culinary research, and most often according to what is in season.
On the farm, they make many gifts and specialty items. She is currently working on her first cookbook, but she also has a long resume developing recipes for several companies. She has also won several contests and cook-offs with her original recipes.