It's better to give and receive

Christmas cookie exchange parties allow bakers to try variety of treats

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CEDAR RAPIDS – Jennifer Schulte’s Christmas cookie exchange is an annual holiday tradition. But it didn’t start that way.

“I hosted my first cookie exchange in 2008,” Schulte says. “My husband and I had a new house, and around Christmas time, I said I want to have my friends over and show off the kitchen.”

She coupled the get-together with a cookie exchange and a tradition was born.

Christmas cookies are a staple of the holiday season. But mixing, baking and frosting dozens of different kinds of cookies is hard to squeeze into a schedule already packed with shopping and get-togethers. That’s what makes cookie exchange parties ideal.

Every party is different — from the number of guests to the amount of cookies each person brings — but the general idea is the same. Bake a large batch of cookies, gather with friends and walk away with an assortment of different cookies.

Rachel Kerns of North Liberty participates in two cookie exchange parties each year. The first is more of a family gathering with her mom and her aunts.

“Everyone brings their cookie dough, prepared, to my mom’s house and we all bake together,” Kerns says. “It’s more about the conversation than the goodies.”

Not that there aren’t plenty of treats at the end of the day. This year, more than 30 adults crowded the kitchen. Kerns says everyone is responsible for their cookies, from baking to decorating, but all finished goodies are divided among the family.

The second Christmas cookie exchange Kerns attends is through the Mothers of Preschoolers program at Grace Community Church in North Liberty. Designed more like a traditional cookie exchange, each mother brings a batch of two or three types of cookies, which are set up on an island of the meeting room.

“We make a circle around the island and take two of each cookie,” until all the cookies gone, Kerns says.

“It really helps for having an assortment of cookies without the mess in your kitchen,” Kerns says.

Schulte enjoys seeing what her guests bring each year.

“Everyone who gets invited is a baker, so it’s always fun to see what people are making in their kitchens,” Schulte says. “We’ve never had a repeat.”

At Schulte’s exchange, guests bring two dozen cookies, bars, brownies or candy. Her guests put their offerings in her kitchen, and then gather in the family room for mimosas and conversation. Later, they take turns going through the kitchen, taking two of each treat available. Copies of each recipe also are available for those who want to recreate the goodies in their own kitchen.

“Some have said they use this to test recipes,” Schulte says.

That’s fine with her — and her guests.

“A cookie exchange party is only bad for your waistline,” Schulte says with a laugh.


Cookie Exchange Party Tips

Interested in hosting a cookie exchange of your own?

Most party-planners suggest starting early, sending out invitations in November to beat the rush of other December obligations, but who doesn’t have time for cookies?

Here’s how to get started:

  • Vary your guest list. Jennifer Schulte’s Christmas cookie exchange party includes her mother and mother-in-law. The multigenerational guest list ensures a variety of treats.

  • Be flexible. Cookies are great, but they can be time-consuming. If your guests rather bake brownies or bars, let them. You don’t want to exclude someone simply because they avoid rolling pins.

  • Don’t go overboard with your expectations. Some cookie parties ask guest to bring 5 or 6 dozen cookies, which can be intimidating and discourage participation. Start small your first year.

  • Request that participants bring copies of their recipe to share with others. That will avoid the necessity of mailing out copies at a later date after everyone inevitably requests them at the party, but bear in mind some people will want to keep their family recipes a secret.

  • Offer snacks. As the host, you should provide drinks and appetizers. You may want to go with savory instead of sweet, given the treats everyone will take home with them.

  • Have room to display everything. People worked hard on their treats. Make sure you have enough space to display everything before everyone dives in.

  • A cookie exchange can be held any time of the day, but mornings an ideal time. By hosting it in the morning, your guests will have the remainder of the day for other holiday activities such as shopping, wrapping, their own decorating, or other parties.

  • Have fun! Remember, the goal of a cookie exchange is to decrease holiday pressures. Enjoy your guests and the goodies you will receive.


Cookie Exchange Recipes

Recipes that can yield many cookies are can be easily doubled or tripled are best for cookie exchange parties. Here are some tried-and-true recipes to get you started.

Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

Makes 4 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans, optional
  • Colored sugar, optional

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugars and oil. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add flour, salt, baking soda, cream of tartar and cinnamon. Stir in the pecans if desired. Cover and refrigerated for 3 hours or until easy to handle.

Roll into 1-in. balls. Place on greased baking sheets; flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Sprinkle with colored sugar if desired.

Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes or until set.


Chai Seed Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 3/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup Chia Seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Adjust oven rack to the middle position. Either butter a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.

Sift together the whole wheat flour, self-rising flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar; set aside.

With an electric mixer at medium-high speed, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, approximately 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and beat in the eggs until combined. Add the prepared flour mixture and beat until incorporated. Stir in the Chia Seeds.

Drop tablespoon-sized portions of dough onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart (this is important as the cookies will spread).

Bake approximately 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, about 15 minutes. The cookies may be stored in an airtight container.


Double-Chocolate and Caramel Bars

Makes 6 dozen

  • 3 cups Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup baking cocoa
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups firm butter or margarine
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
  • 1 12-ounce bag semisweet chocolate chips
  • 48 caramels
  • 2 140ounce cans sweetened condensed milk

For the chocolate glaze, you need 1 6-ounce bag of semisweet chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon shortening or vegetable oil

Heat oven to 350 degree. Line 15x10x1-inch pan with foil, leaving about 2 inches of foil hanging over sides of pan.

In large bowl, stir together flour, brown sugar, cocoa and egg. Cut in 1 1/4 cups of the butter, using pastry blender (or pulling 2 table knives through ingredients in opposite directions), until crumbly. Stir in walnuts; reserve 3 cups of the crumb mixture. Press remaining mixture firmly in bottom of pan; sprinkle with 2 cups chocolate chips. Bake 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in heavy 2-quart saucepan, melt caramels with sweetened condensed milk and remaining 1/4 cup butter over low heat, stirring constantly. Pour over crust. Top with reserved crumb mixture.

Bake about 20 minutes longer or until bubbly. Cool completely, about 2 hours.



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