John D. Ivanko
December 10, 2014

Hark, the cookie angels sing! There’s nothing like a cookie exchange to bring out the best of the holiday season. Gather with others who get excited about sprinkles and frosting, and swap goods so everyone goes home with a deliciously diverse assortment of cookies that would take forever to bake all on your own. Does anything epitomize community cooperation and peace on earth more than this sugar-coated bliss? We helped host our first cookie exchange this season, a fun and festive gathering for our local Wisconsin Farmers Union South Central Chapter. Here are some tips we learned along the way.

How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange - Photo by John Ivanko/farmsteadchef.com (HobbyFarms.com)

1. Gather Kindred Cookie-Baking Spirits
In order to pull off a successful cookie swap, you need a core group of enthusiastic bakers. We ended up with about 15 core bakers and over 30 people total, including family members and folks we still gladly welcomed who weren’t bakers (or are amazingly avoiding sugar this time of year!) to stop by and socialize. Most were fellow local farmers, all ready to kick back after the busy harvest and connect with old and new friends.

How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange - Photo by John Ivanko/farmsteadchef.com (HobbyFarms.com)

Each baker brought about five dozen cookies, so we had plenty of bounty for both sampling and swapping. The variety and flavors of cookies were amazing, including holiday classics like this tower of homemade shortbread.

How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange - Photo by John Ivanko/farmsteadchef.com (HobbyFarms.com)

We all gathered at an official start time of 6 p.m. to chat and taste, and then started the official swap officially around 7 p.m. We held the event at Cow & Quince, a new local-food restaurant in southwestern Wisconsin. Owner Lori Stern generously offered to host on a Wednesday night, an evening the restaurant was closed. This worked out to be a win-win all around, as folks could come and see and celebrate the new cafe and we had a beautiful, festive spot for the event.

How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange - Photo by John Ivanko/farmsteadchef.com (HobbyFarms.com)

2. Identify and Celebrate the Cookies
We gave everyone an identification card like the one above to write in the name of their cookie, key ingredients and any story or background they would like to share about their treat. This helped identify food allergies and also brought out lots of fun stories, such as how some of the ingredients were raised in one’s garden and a long family-recipe history. Next time we’ll make more of these identification cards. We thought we had enough as we made one for every baker who RSVPed with a few to spare. What we didn’t expect was several bakers brought more than one cookie and needed additional cards. What a merry, tasty problem to have!

Just for fun, we also gave everyone when the arrived a voting ballot to write in their favorite cookies as they sampled. We had categories like “Just like Grandma’s,” “Best Decorated” and “Most Unique Flavor.” This gave everyone a reason to try every cookie. That said, everyone wanted to try everything but not necessarily commit to a whole cookie, so we quickly made it official that you could break off pieces of cookie to try—with clean hands, of course.

How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange - Photo by John Ivanko/farmsteadchef.com (HobbyFarms.com)

3. Sample
Needless to say, sampling is what a cookie exchange is all about.

How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange - Photo by John Ivanko/farmsteadchef.com (HobbyFarms.com)

Expect some unexpected treats at a cookie exchange. These cupcakes were very popular.

How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange - Photo by John Ivanko/farmsteadchef.com (HobbyFarms.com)

A classic cut-out cookie always goes over well.

How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange - Photo by John Ivanko/farmsteadchef.com (HobbyFarms.com)

Treats everyone remembers from their childhood, like these peanut butter and chocolate thumbprint cookies, are always favorites.

How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange - Photo by John Ivanko/farmsteadchef.com (HobbyFarms.com)

4. Swap
Right before we started the official exchange, we gathered as a group for some announcements and welcomes and to briefly explain the exchange format. Folks brought tins and containers for their take-home bounty and we had some extra paper plates and foil in case they were needed. As a first round of exchanging, swappers took about six of each cookie. That ensured everyone had some of everything. After that, folks could go back and take more of their favorites (and keep sampling!) until everything was gone.

How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange - Photo by John Ivanko/farmsteadchef.com (HobbyFarms.com)

A large, deep container works best for your take-home cookies. We found it helpful to sort and better organize the cookies into smaller containers right when we got home, grouping things like crispy cookies together (to keep the crunch) and packing delicate varietals more carefully. Or better yet, just eat them right away!

As you probably sensed, we hit a high note first time out of the chute with this cookie exchange, and it now will be an annual tradition. Channel your baking moxie and come join us the next first Wednesday evening of December here in the rolling hills of Wisconsin. Or better yet, draw inspiration to host your own, and tell us how it went.

Going to a cooking exchange? Try these cookie recipes:

Savoring the good life,

John and Lisa's Signatures

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