The clink of glasses, the low din of conversation, gentle holiday melodies rolling through the air...and banging, clanking and grumbling coming from the kitchen, where the hostess is buried under drink orders and appetizer platters and hasn't had a chance to have much more of a conversation than "Hi, how are you?"
You wouldn't think a party that centers around what your guests are bringing would be that complicated, would you? I didn't either when I first set out to host my own cookie exchange three years ago. It should have been as easy as it sounds, but when you realize that you're not just having people over to swap cookies, you're also baking your own cookies, serving refreshments and providing a space (and, therefore, cleaning house!), you can make more work for yourself than you need to.
What's so great about a cookie exchange? For just a little bit of work, you get many different kinds of cookies. Some people use the cookies plated up as gifts for friends and neighbors. Others like to have the extra cookies on hand for their holiday entertaining. And some, like me, just like to keep the cookies for themselves.
I'll admit, that first year I went a little overboard. I invited 30 people, outdid myself with fancy appetizers and cookies and didn't really get to enjoy the party. After several years, I've learned a few things. Number one, keep the guest list under 20. Your guests don't have to make so many cookies that way, and the atmosphere is more laid-back.
Hit recipes from years past
Mint Chocolate Truffle Cookies
from Bridget FitzGibbon
6 squares Baker's Semi-Sweet Baking Chocolate
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter
1 cup sugar
1-3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup candy canes, coarsely chopped
Microwave chocolate and butter in large bowl on high 2 minutes or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing until well blended after each addition. Add combined flour, salt and baking powder; mix well. (Dough will be very soft.) Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll heaping teaspoonfuls of dough into 1-inch balls. Flatten slightly, and press chopped candy cane pieces into the tops. Place, 2 inches apart, on baking sheets.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until tops are set. (Do not overbake.) Cool 1 minute on baking sheets. Remove to wire racks; cool completely. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Shortbread
from Theresa Cunningham
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1-1/3 c. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine butter, peanut butter, sugar and vanilla in large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add flour. Beat just until mixture forms a dough. Stir in 2/3 cup mini chocolate chips by hand. Pat dough evenly, to desired thickness, on a lightly greased 15" x 10" x 1" jelly-roll pan.
Bake for 12-15 minutes or until set and lightly browned. Immediately cut shortbread crosswise into 6 equal pieces; then cut 10 rows lengthwise. Cool completely. Remove from pan.
Place all coating ingredients in small bowl. Microwave on high until almost melted (30-60 seconds). Stir until smooth. Dip one end of each cookie stick into melted chocolate; place on wire rack over waxed paper. Let stand until chocolate is firm (1 hour). Makes 5 dozen.