The Cookie Exchange

Cookie exchanges are a century-old tradition in which participants bake dozens of their favorite cookie, then take them to a party where guests trade their own homemade goods and wind up with a variety of cookies from everybody else. It is fun to meet up with friends and family, plus enjoy dozens of different cookies to have on hand for the holidays. Just think – bake one batch of your favorite cookie and go home with many different kinds.

The tradition of baking and sharing Christmas cookies stretches back for centuries with its roots firmly planted in Europe. As people migrated to America, so did their baking traditions. The earliest account of Christmas cookies in America came from the Dutch in the 1600s.

With an assortment of hundreds of cookies from Ginger Molasses Sparkles to Swedish Overnights to Mexican Wedding Balls, our Christmas Cookie Box is a melting pot of cultural flavors.

 

How to Have a Cookie Exchange:

  1. Set the Guest List
    When it comes to cookie swaps, the more the merrier! Invite between 10 and 20 friends who you think would be interested in making a sweet exchange. On each invite, ask each person to bring six dozen of their favorite cookies and to forward you their cookie recipe before the party.
  2. Pick a Day
    Cookie swaps should take place close enough to the holidays for them to be relevant, but far enough that people don’t have to feel rushed and stressed preparing for the swap. Try to send invitations a few weeks prior to give guests ample time.
  3. Establish the Rules
    With your invitation, it’s important to establish some rules. For example, cookies should be homemade, cookies should be made in certain quantities, and creativity is encouraged. After all, you don’t want 10 chocolate chip cookie recipes! Each person needs to ensure enough time and try to bake cookies a few days in advance (in case of cookie failure or lack of time).
  4. Serve Savory Treats
    To offset the sweet samplings that will inevitably ensure, provide hors-d’oeuvres and refreshments to make it a true party.

 

Molly Hays from Remedial Eating enjoys holiday baking for her family, with her thoughts of the traditional Gingerbread Cookie. She has found to adapt a traditional cookie for her children to enjoy.

 

“Gingerbread: Is there anything more iconic, more Christmas, than rows of grinning, gussied-up gingerbread men?  I wasn’t always of this opinion, mind you.  Like cut-outs, these are the kind of cookies a grown-up can pass right on by, before children.  I mean, given my druthers, I’d eat benne wafers and panforte and cardamom acorns and call it a Christmas.  But cue the big eyes and the tiny small fingers, and a few (hundred) readings of “run, run, as fast as you can!”, and pretty soon it becomes all but irresponsible not to bake up a batch of your very own.”

“And then, to watch as they all go uneaten.  In my case, anyway.”

 

“My kids, it seems, aren’t big traditional gingerbread fans.  Chalk it up to tender palates, or personal tastes, or being part of the chocolate generation, but their excitement always dimmed after decorating.  And, after several years of chucking stale cookies, my excitement pretty much followed suit.”

“Until, one year, I stumbled on ginger shortbread, and the solution to our longstanding gingerbread logjam.  The problem, as it turns out, was not spices per se, but the molasses the classic dough always calls for.  I myself rather love its dark murky mystery, but my kids, not so much.  Shortbread skips it.  That’s the first win.  The first among many…”

 

“Shortbread’s neat butter-sugar-flour backbone makes for pleasant rolling, a quality I deeply admire in a dough.  There’s a bit of chilling involved, a few hours or days, as suits, but beyond that, it’s user-friendly, neither sticky nor stubborn.  It’s rich enough to flour early and often, and can be re-rolled without compromise, right through the last scraps.”

“It holds its shape well, and doesn’t spread much, a boon to any dough destined for cookie cutters.  It bakes up into that storied crumb, that fine crisp crunch and crumble that melts famously on the tongue.  And because shortbread includes no eggs or leavening, the supply list is short and the shelf-life, long.  I love a cookie that improves with age, and shortbread’s the poster child, spiced shortbread most especially.”

 

“The taste!  Did we talk yet about the taste?  Eegads, so sorry.  I’m a bit of a baking policy wonk.”

“It’s the taste, after all, that first caught my attention, and that every year steals my heart.”

“Minus the molasses, the spices speak clearly, warm and rich and articulate.  Butter, being a fat, carries their flavor beautifully, somehow mellowing and encouraging, at the same time.  So while there’s ample ginger, plus cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, cardamom and pepper, the end result is not Spicy but merrily spiced, fragrant, well-rounded, ecumenical, right.  They taste like they were always meant to be.  Like Christmas.  Like more please.  Like something worth running after.”

“And when you return, and open that door, and BOOM!, well.  That’s just the baker’s bonus.”

“You’ve earned it.  Welcome home.”

 

 

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Gingerbread “Shorties”

8 ounces (2 sticks) salted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 very generous teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 generous teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 generous teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 generous teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
freshly ground black pepper, a few turns of the mill
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

sprinkles, dragees, and/or sugar, for decorating (optional)

 

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, brown sugar and spices until light and fluffy, scraping sides once or twice, 3-4 minutes. Add flour and salt, and combine on low, scraping once, just to combine. Knead dough a few turns in the bowl, to bring together, then turn out onto waxed paper and form into a disc, 1″ thick. Chill 2 hours, or up to 5 days, in the refrigerator.

When ready to roll cookies, remove dough from refrigerator 30 minutes before you wish to roll it, and preheat oven to 325°. Dough is ready to roll when you can make a gentle indentation with your thumb.

On a clean, lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/4″ thick, sprinkling surface with flour as needed and turning as you roll, to prevent sticking. Run an offset spatula underneath dough to release from surface, then cut into shapes, as desired, placing 1/2″ apart on baking sheet (these don’t spread significantly).  Combine scraps, and re-roll, until all dough has been cut.  Decorate with dragees, sprinkles or sugar, if using, then bake until fragrant, firm, no longer shiny on the surface, and darkening slightly around the edges, 20-28 minutes, depending on thickness.  Use your senses, here, and bear in mind shortbread’s always better crisp and browned than soft-centered.

Let cool on trays 10 minutes, then cool completely on racks. Packed in tins, gingerbread “shorties” keep beautifully for at least 3 weeks.

 

Photography: Molly Hays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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