I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to gorge on cookies and drink Champagne with some of my favorite people. At least that’s the vibe that inspired the start of my epic cookie exchange parties over a decade ago.
It’s a party that’s easy to put together and fun to host. Plus, you send everyone home with a ton of tasty cookies that they can share at their own gatherings, leave out for Santa, or freeze and nibble on for the next few months (or days!).
How The Cookie Exchange Works
First, create your guest list. I like to keep it to between six and eight people including myself, and that’s not because I don’t love a big-time cookie bash. It’s because the way I like to do it — there are other ways, of course, but this is mine — your guests will come with roughly a dozen cookies per party guest.
So, if there are eight people attending, that’s 96 cookies you’re asking people to bake. I like to tell everyone to keep their cookies a secret until arrival because I like the surprise element. Here’s how it works:
A Dozen Cookies Each
Each person bakes (or orders) a dozen cookies per person — including themselves, you’ll see why in a minute — and packages them in a jolly holiday tin or bag.
Take-Home Bags for Everyone
Once guests arrive at the cookie exchange, they’ll see you’ve prepared large gift bags labeled with each attendee’s name. They’ll put one dozen of their cookies into each of the eight bags (assuming there are eight guests). That way, once the party wraps up, everyone can grab their gift bag and go home with 96 cookies to enjoy or share as they please.
Cookies for Enjoyment
Now, the dozen everyone made for themselves will go on a table at the start of the event to be enjoyed throughout the party. This is where you can talk about the recipes and share tips and tricks — not to mention gossip!
What Else We’re Serving
We’re not eating only cookies at this shindig. I’m a big fan of an appetizer-heavy party with ready-made drinks. You can opt to make it potluck-style, but I’m a bit of a Type A control freak, so I handle it all.
My favorites include hummus, a dip (perhaps spinach-artichoke) served in a bread bowl for extra flair, a Douglas Fir–shaped charcuterie board, and a croissant-wrapped brie. Then fill the table with various veggies, chips, and crackers, and you’re good to go.
There’s a lot of room for personalization with these appetizers. For the croissant-wrapped brie, I use two tubes of croissant dough that I’ll open and knead together into a single sheet. Then I’ll place a medium-sized wheel of brie in the center and top with jam (I like apricot), a teaspoon or two or brown sugar, some chopped walnuts, and a touch of honey before I wrap it in the dough. Bake that on a cookie sheet at 350°F for 25 minutes and then let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Since there’s already so much going on, I like to keep the drinks classy and simple with minimal preparation. Step one: lots of Champagne. All you have to do is have a few glasses ready and an ice bucket to keep the bottles chilled.
I also like to make a batch of freezer martinis. These can be made ahead of time and just need to be poured into a martini glass. A simple recipe that uses the perfect amount of dilution (meaning you won’t even need to stir with ice before serving) would be:
16 ounces London dry gin
1 cup water
4 ounces blanc vermouth
4 ounces dry vermouth
¼ ounce orange bitters
Optional: lemon peels and green olives for garnish.
Store in a glass bottle — the gin bottle works perfectly!
And for one last bit of holiday flair, I like to have a batch of coquito on hand. A traditional holiday drink that originated in Puerto Rico, coquito is often compared to eggnog as it’s spiked with rum and is super creamy and delicious. Here’s what you need: 1 13.5-ounce can of coconut milk, 1 14-ounce can of condensed milk, 1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk, 8 ounces of dark rum, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Mix it all together and keep in the refrigerator at least two hours before serving. This is one of those things I usually order from a small local business to support them during the holiday season.
Extras for Added Cheer
My house is already decorated this time of year, but there’s always room for a few extra festive touches.
Party Favor Socks
As a no-shoe house, I like to order a few dozen pairs of holiday socks and stick them in a basket near my front door, so as guests arrive they can remove their shoes and pick a pair of socks to wear for the party — and then take home.
I have a few fun props laid out for photos. Think Santa hats, cheeky signs, reindeer noses. Order a banner or make one with a holiday message of your choice for a cute backdrop.
I like to light festive candles — one large one in the living room area and a smaller one in the guest bathroom. For music, crank up the carols or pick one of the crackling fireplace scenes that has holiday music in the background. Either way, congratulate yourself for hosting the coziest, sweetest party of the season.
Photographer: Paul Quitoriano
Food Styling: Lena Abraham
Art Direction: Sarah Ceniceros Gomez