How to throw a cookie exchange party (& make the best ginger sandwich cookies)

If you’re looking for an excuse to start baking holiday cookies a bit early, let me help you.

For some, a highlight of the holiday season is getting to once again taste those favorite time-tested family recipes, reserved expressly for this time of year. For others, the traditions are still being made up. You might still be looking for that cookie that will be become a hallmark of your season.

Wherever you fall on this spectrum, I propose you consider hosting a holiday cookie swap. It’s such an easy—but indulgent—way to get together with friends, learn some new recipes, and get to know each other better.

I’m partnering with our local Nugget Markets, my go-to for holiday entertaining, to bring you some tips for hosting a cookie swap—and a recipe everybody will love…

One of the best parts about a cookie exchange party is how little preparation it entails for the host. Still, there are some steps you can take in advance to make it a success.

Send out invitations. Because everyone needs to bring enough cookies to share, it’s best to keep your guest list on the more intimate side. It also means you need to give everyone some advance notice. I’d suggest using an e-invitation where everyone can comment with what they’ll be bringing, to avoid duplication. This will also give you the opportunity to ask about any allergies.

Set some guidelines. Be clear about what each guest should bring. For example: How many cookies? I’d suggest at least 5-6 per guest—some for sampling and some for taking home. So if there are ten people coming, 60 cookies is a good target. Do they have to be homemade? That’s up to you. The hope is that everyone might take home some new recipes, so I would encourage it, but suggest that she bring anything that’s special to her holiday tradition—whether that be storebought or homemade. How are they to share the recipe? You could ask them to email it to you for you to distribute, or to bring paper copies to share. (Bonus if it comes with the backstory.)

Choose a recipe. You may have a clear choice, but if you’re deciding between multiple favorites, try to pick something that will keep well when packaged up. See below for one of my favorites—spicy ginger and lemon cream sandwich cookies. You can even make them ahead of time and freeze them for later!

Provide drinks. Nugget Markets has a great selection of wines, spirits, and festive nonalcoholic drinks, so I usually ask for suggestions when looking for the perfect pairing. Safe bets? Brew coffee and tea, have at the ready a pitcher of cold milk, and set out glasses of sparkling wine. Tip: Nugget Markets will also make up a cheese plate if you would like to provide something savory to keep the sweets in check. Ask any cheesemonger for suggestions if you’d like to make your own.

Set the Table. Pull out your cake stands and serving dishes and arrange them so that guests can easily reach each plate. Once they’re in place, you can decide how to fill in the gaps.

Here, I mixed a dried magnolia wreath with flowers I picked up that morning from Nugget Markets’ floral department. When guests arrive with their contributions, you can either add their plate atop a stand, swap it with what you’ve set out, or use it to fill (and refill) the serving plates you’ve chosen. It depends on how important a cohesive look is to you.

Be sure to also set out plates and napkins for tasting.

Create a packing station. Set out boxes, parchment paper (for keeping layers distinct), and ribbon. I made a stop at our bakery counter at Nugget Markets to purchase some small takeaway boxes. Bakery boxes are perfect for letting each guest take home a selection when it it’s time to trade.

If you’re looking for a winning cookie swap recipe, try these:

Spicy Ginger Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Buttercream Filling

Makes approximately 40 cookies (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
3 tbsp crystalized ginger (finely chopped)
3/4 tsp ground allspice
12 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses

For filling:
8 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (with zest of one lemon)

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt with a whisk. Set to the side.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the dark brown and white sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat on medium speed until combined.

Reduce the speed to low and add the molasses. Mix until combined.

With the stand mixer on the lowest setting, slowly add the flour and mix until just combined.

Place cookies onto the baking sheet roughly 2 inches apart. Note: It’s important to be consistent in size. I like using a small melon baller, or making the dough into balls roughly 1 inch in diameter. You’ll be able to check how much spread there is after the first batch.

Place the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 6-8 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Then transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.

For the filling:

Place butter in large mixing bowl. Add half of the sugar, followed by the juice and the zest. Beat until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the remaining sugar until icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency.

Tip: Arrange cookies by size before frosting and match like pairs. This makes for more attractive sandwiches.

If not serving immediately, cookies can be stored in an airtight container in a cool place for 5 days, or in the freezer for 6 months. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Serve and share! A cookie swap is a wonderful way to bring out not only the flavors but the stories of the season.

What would you bring? 

This post is sponsored by Nugget Markets, our local, family-owned grocery. Nugget Markets are committed to providing an extensive selection of quality products, exceptional service and lower prices than any other conventional grocery store. Their on-site bakeries and chef-prepared deli sections, and their house Fresh to Market label, focus on locally made and sourced products. For 12 consecutive years, Nugget Markets has claimed a spot on Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. I’m honored to partner with them! 

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