As a young girl, I watched my mother baking batches of Czech kolache and cooling them on metal racks in our fragrant kitchen. Mom would seal them in round Tupperware containers, hoping that my four brothers wouldn’t sneak a few before the holidays. My sister and I were charged with arranging these beautiful kolache on trays for guests bringing cookies and sweets. Some of my fondest memories are of our first cookie and kolache exchanges.
Fast forward to our Barton Creek neighborhood. Wimberly Lane hosted Cookie Exchanges before our 2004 move from northwest Austin to this southwest neighborhood. My mother and I attended our first Wimberly Lane cookie exchange together and we were amazed that Jodi the hostess had fully decorated trees in every room. When I agreed to hostess in 2006, I knew I wouldn’t have a decorated tree in every room – I hadn’t even finished our interior design!
Nearly 12 years and many cookie exchanges later, readers and friends have asked for tips on hosting and attending these cookie swaps. If this is your first year to host or join the fun, stress no more. Here are tips and tricks for an enjoyable cookie exchange.
As a guest:
- Read the Invitation: What do you bring? 1-2 dozen decorated cookies and exchange for 1-2 dozen different cookies? Baked, undecorated cookies to decorate? Read carefully.
- Traditional or trendy? Have fun with traditional chocolate chip, grandma’s family recipe, a hometown specialty, national favorite, trendy new taste, peppermint bark, candy, or fudge.
- Label Sweets: Include a handwritten note on your plate, platter or box with the recipe or all ingredients. Top allergens include dairy, soy, nuts and wheat.
- Can I bring ugly cookies? This is a common question. Yes, you can. Have fun, bake and indulge. Many of the best-tasting cookies aren’t perfect. It’s not a competition, so share and learn.
- It’s ok to not bring cookies: Bring anything you like or nothing at all. Bark, brittle, bread, bars, fudge, or candy.
As a hostess:
- Set a date: Choose a date that works for you, your friends and family. Send paper invitations, flyers, or e-invitations 3 weeks in advance via Paperless Post or Evite. Send reminders 2 weeks before. For example: Cookie Exchange Week is December 2 – 7, 2018. Cookie Exchange Day is Dec 22. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas is ideal.
- Avoid Micromanaging: Allow guests to bring nothing or any baked good they wish. Consider an open house event where guests may come and go depending on their schedule.
- Allergen Alert: Respect food allergies and sensitivities such as dairy, food coloring, gluten, and nuts. Label food and cookies prepared by you. Encourage guests to email their recipes beforehand, or to print them and set out copies.
- Pre-Set Cookie Exchange Table:
- Recipe cards: Provide cards for guests to label ingredients/allergens in their cookies. This will help people choose wisely according to their diets.
- Cake plates: Organize a large dining table or several different tables with materials needed; empty plates, cake stands, platters for guest cookies.
- Traveling Cookies: Organize cellophane, boxes, plates for to-go cookies. To make it extra fun add pretty ribbons and stickers to seal the to-go boxes.
- Provide Appetizers: Offering savory finger foods are helpful when trying to tame sugar rushes. To balance the sweet, include high protein and fiber snacks such as hummus, olives, vegetable crudites, and quality prosciutto or other protein.
Sharon Schweitzer and Sophie Echeverry co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre and the Intercultural Communication Institute, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, and Fortune. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.
Sophie Echeverry is the corporate marketing manager and event coordinator at Access to Culture. Born and raised in Colombia, she’s a 2018 graduate with a B.B.A. in International Business and Marketing from Hult International Business School in San Francisco, CA. Connect with her on LinkedIn.