As the holiday season approaches, our calendars start to fill up with festive gatherings and seasonal soirees. While we adore holiday cocktail hours and tacky sweater parties, one theme remains near and dear to our Southern hearts: the cookie swap.
A cookie swap is a great chance to show off your baking skills and share your well-loved family recipes with all of your friends. It provides a perfect excuse to get your family baking together—recruit the kids to help roll out the dough and decorate the cookies with icing and sprinkles. It’s an occasion to make Grandma’s tried-and-true snickerdoodles or try out that innovative new shortbread that arrived in your email inbox.
Recently, Southern Living hosted an office cookie swap to show off some of our all-time favorite cookie recipes. Our editors brought family favorites and experimented with new recipes—Betsy made the shortbread of her childhood church bake sales and Sid made his family-favorite Marble Snickerdoodles. Here are a few things we learned along the way so you can perfect the art and etiquette of the cookie swap.
1. Remember: it’s not a competition.
When we think about a cookie swap, it’s easy to slip into a competitive mindset. But “I want to have the best cookies at the swap” isn’t the right mentality to take into the party. A cookie swap should be fun, not competitive, focused on sharing recipes and sweets with friends and loved ones. Inevitably, some cookies will be more popular than others; don’t take offense if your cookie isn’t the stand-out favorite. Sometimes your oatmeal-raisins just can’t compete with Caroline's Dark Chocolate Sablés. Each cookie deserves its moment in the spotlight.
2. Coordinate ahead of time.
Make a spreadsheet to track who will be bringing which cookies. Not only does this prompt your guests to plan ahead, but it also ensures that you won’t have four different plates of chocolate chip cookies and no shortbread. Planning is key to curating a diverse cookie buffet.
3. Make enough for everyone.
It’s important to bring enough cookies to go around so each guest can get a taste of your recipe. If that means making miniature cookies for a larger party, that’s completely acceptable—in fact, baking minis is a great way to ensure that there’s plenty to go around.
4. Bring something homemade.
We never show up to a party empty-handed, and we always try to bring something homemade—but especially at a cookie swap, store-bought just won’t cut it. If you’re in a time crunch (or if, like Patricia, your attempt at making Pecan Pralines ends in disaster), you don’t have to get fancy. Prepare in advance with a convenient make-ahead recipe. Over the holidays, we love to keep a log of homemade cookie dough in the freezer to anticipate surprise guests (or spontaneous cookie cravings).
There’s nothing wrong with whipping up a simple, four-ingredient recipe (like our Easiest Peanut Butter Cookies). The partygoers will appreciate that you’ve made time in your busy schedule to bake something homemade!
WATCH: Our Easiest (Ever!) Peanut Butter Cookies
5. Yes, you should still bring a hostess gift.
At most parties or gatherings, it’s standard practice to bring a hostess gift, even if it’s something small or incredibly simple. Why should a cookie swap be any different? After all, if you were going to a potluck or a holiday party, you would still take a hostess gift, even if you were contributing to the menu. While hostess gifts are not essential at cookie swaps—you’ll still manage to skirt through the door with a cookie tin in hand—it’s always sweet and thoughtful to bring a little something for the hostess. Perhaps something on theme, like a festive rolling pin, or a savory snack to balance out all the sugar of those cookies?
6. Label your cookies for allergens.
No Southern cookie swap would be complete without Pecan Tassies, but it’s crucial to consider those with dietary restrictions. If you’re making cookies with nuts or any major allergens, be sure to clearly label them so any guests with allergies can avoid your cookies. One surefire way to ruin a cookie swap is with a trip to the hospital.
A cute and classy way to display the ingredients in your cookie is to design a label and a few recipe cards to set next to your cookie. Not only will guests be able to check to ensure they can eat your cookies, but when they inevitably love them, they can take a recipe card and recreate the cookies at home!
Similarly, don’t forget to note if your cookies are specifically suited for other dietary restrictions—if they’re gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, or low sugar, show it off! The other guests will appreciate your transparency.
7. Bring cookies and a story.
It’s always nice to provide guests with a glimpse into the history behind the cookies. Maybe you used your grandmother’s recipe like Rebecca, or maybe these are cookies you’d make with your Mama every Christmas. Bringing cookies that have personal meaning to you makes for great conversation and a more meaningful swap.
8. Hold off on seconds.
Much like a potluck dinner, it’s standard to wait to make your second trip through the buffet line until everybody has had ample opportunity to have their first taste. Don’t go back for another chocolate-chip until you’re sure that each guest has had the chance to sample all of the offerings.
At cookie swaps, it’s more difficult to tell if everybody’s sampled all the cookies, as it’s more of a cocktail-hour style than a structured meal. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t snag another one of Jorie's storied Cowboy Cookies, but as a rule of thumb, wait around 30 to 45 minutes before going back for seconds. When in doubt, just ask the crowd!
9. Don’t take the last cookie.
If there’s only one more of Nellah’s famous linzer cookies, don’t take the last one unless you’ve confirmed that each guest has had a chance to try the cookie—especially if you’ve already had one. If you haven’t yet tried the cookie and there’s someone else who also hasn’t tasted it, it’s polite to defer to them first. (This is why it’s important to make enough to go around.) If they insist that you try the cookie too, cut it in half and everyone’s happy. It’s all about communication.
10. Bring Tupperware.
While coming prepared to a potluck dinner with your own Tupperware for leftovers may not usually be appropriate, cookie swaps are a different story. You want to try each guest’s cookie, but even those with the ultimate sweet tooth can’t eat all those sugary cookies in one sitting. Bring a Tupperware with you to take home any cookies that you want to try, but can’t finish.
One thing to keep in mind is that you should never expect to take home any of your own cookies. Send other partygoers home with any extras, and take home a variety of other cookies instead! If you really can’t resist your own recipe, make an extra batch to keep at home.
If you’re hosting a cookie swap, prepare ahead of time and set out festive paper bags or cookie tins that guests can use to pack up leftovers. This way, you won’t be stuck with twelve plates of cookies.