Simplify your holiday baking by hosting a cookie swap. Invite a group of friends, and have each person make enough of one kind of cookie to share. At the party, sample the treats, then trade and package them in appealing assortments. Everyone leaves with finished gifts -- and plenty of new recipes.
Invite guests three to four weeks in advance. Seven or eight people are ideal -- manageable, yet enough for a good variety of cookies. Have each person bring along copies of her recipe as well as some supplies for pretty packaging, such as ribbons, tags, or boxes.
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Ask each guest to make a dozen cookies for every person in attendance, plus an extra dozen for sampling; you do the same. This way, everybody will go home with several dozen in different flavors to give as gifts. If that seems daunting, scale back; if seven of you have six dozen to swap, you will take a few less of each kind but will still have an ample number. Decide who will make what, coordinating ahead of time to avoid duplicates. Sturdy cookies are best (very thin or delicate varieties won't pack well).
At the swap, it helps to know which cookie is which. Put folding place cards in front of each variety as a label, or print out our template. Write or print the name of the cookie and the contributor on the card: "Chocolate-Drizzled Spice Cookies, from Laura." It's also helpful to write or print a cookie menu that lists each of the different types displayed.
Ask guests to bring wrapping materials; you might also keep some on hand in case any are overlooked. Set everything out on large worktables. Consider stocking the station with tags or sticky labels, ribbons, twine, cardboard boxes, sturdy paper plates, baking papers, scissors, hole punches, tissue paper, cellophane, and other trimmings.
Consider edging paper plates with pinking shears, setting it on a different colored plate, and topping with tissue. Guests can arrange a selection of cookies on top and slide it into cellophane for a simple -- and simply yummy -- holiday gift. Or, set out your decorated platter of cookies and display it on your holiday table.
On the day of the party, brew plenty of coffee and tea, and clear a few tables for sampling, swapping, and packaging cookies. Provide several platters and cake stands, and have each guest put out a plate of cookies for tasting, with stacks of recipes alongside if you like. Let everyone sample the treats -- and maybe even take a vote on the best one. When it's time to trade, set out the remaining cookies and let each person walk around the table to pick up their share of each. Or, have people take only what they need to package one gift at a time, and return to the table for more as they wish.
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