I wanted to celebrate the holidays with friends in a way that was not stressful. Big fancy dinner parties? Stressful. 40 people at your house for appetizers and drinks? Stressful. 10–15 of your girlfriends for a holiday cookie exchange? Not stressful! Here’s why: nearly all of the food arrives with your guests! Read on for how to host a cookie exchange of your own!
For my holiday cookie exchange, I invited my girlfriends over and asked each of them to bake two dozen cookies. One dozen are for eating at the party. The other dozen are for exchanging.
For my competitive friends, I also made it a cookie competition. Each participant entered her cookie in one of five categories:
1) Most festive
2) Best in chocolate
3) Best gluten-free
4) Best non-cookie
5) Best use of an unusual ingredient
We voted on the winners for each category, and then my husband and his friends arrived at the end to vote for the “best in show”.
And you know what? It was SO fun! I even got a few non-baker friends to try their hand at cookie making. One of them even won her category! We feasted on cookies, cocktails, apple cider, and a cheese board (more on that in a minute) while listening to Christmas music and chatting the afternoon away. Credit for this whole idea goes to my friend Ellie, who started the tradition 7–8 years ago and recently moved out of state. I was happy to pick up the torch and chronicle how to host a cookie exchange!
Here’s what I did to prepare for the cookie exchange:
1) I made 2 dozen cookies. My friends had been asking for my Grandma’s Rum Balls, so I made those. I didn’t enter them into the competition though. Seems silly to enter to win your own prize!
2) I bought prizes—a set of adorable Magnolia bell cookie cutters from Target for each category winner. For the “Best in Show” winner, I found this gigantic cookie scoop and a snowman spatula. They don’t need to be fancy! You could go on the higher end or raid the dollar bins at Target for prizes.
3) I bought paper plates and napkins. I already had two dozen of these basic champagne glasses (they’re dishwasher-safe—a big bonus!). And I had plenty of mugs for hot apple cider. You’ll also need a few pitchers of water, because trying lots of cookies will make people thirsty. 🙂 I also threw a tablecloth over my dining room table for the cookies to sit on.
4) I prepared Cranberry Ginger Prosecco Cocktails. Get the recipe below!
5) I poured a gallon of apple cider into my slow cooker, and set it on “low” a few hours before the party. The newer slow cookers seem to run hot, so I turned it down to “warm” mid-party.
6) I created a cheese board. I don’t know about you, but sweets make me crave something savory! It’s nice to have a savory snack option for guests who don’t love sweets, too. I bought the following from Trader Joe’s and arranged it on a wooden board: Unexpected Cheddar Cheese, Lemon Ricotta Cheese, Cranberry Chevre, assorted crackers (including gluten-free), dried & sweetened orange slices, blackberries, dried figs, raspberry jam, and rosemary marcona almonds (<– a seriously amazing snack). These happen to be a few of my favorites, but choose what you like!
7) I set out 5 plates for cookie judging. I labeled each plate with the category name.
8) I turned on the Christmas music and waited for everyone to arrive! Actually one last thing: I turned on the Christmas tree lights and lit a few candles (including in the bathroom). Candles make everything feel more homey. 🙂
When guests arrive, I instructed them to place one of their cookies on one of the plates (see #7 above) for judging. Sometimes cookies will fall into two categories. If that was the case, I asked my guests to choose one to enter. Then I asked them to place the rest of their cookies on the dining room table for guests to nibble.
About 1½ hours into the party (it was 2 hours total), I asked the group to split into five teams for judging. I doled out the plates of cookies set aside to be judged. The only stipulation is that you can’t judge the category that you entered. Each team selected a category winner.
Then I collected five category winning cookies and placed them on a “Best in Show” plate. To ensure impartial judging, my husband arrived with a few friends to be the final judges. After about 10 minutes (these guys were serious about judging!), they selected the winner. “Best in Show” this year went to my friend Kelley, who made Cranberry Orange Shortbread.
So that’s how to host a cookie exchange! Below is a photo of a few standouts from the competition.
Which categories would you add to the mix?
Cranberry Ginger Prosecco Cocktails
- 3 cups cranberry juice
- 2½ cups sugar
- 2 inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced into ½ inch pieces
- 1 12 oz bag fresh cranberries, divided
- 3 bottles prosecco I used La Marca
- For garnish: fresh rosemary
- Place the cranberry juice, sugar, ginger, and half of the cranberries in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook until the cranberries pop, about 10–15 minutes.
- Strain the mixture using a fine mesh sieve. Discard the solids and pour the liquid into a small pitcher. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Place one sprig of rosemary and 3–4 fresh cranberries into each champagne glass.
- Fill the champagne glass ⅓ of the way to the top with the cranberry mixture.
- Pour prosecco in each glass to the top. Use the rosemary sprig to stir the cocktail. Serve immediately.
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