Christmas cookies are one of the highlights of the holiday season. Each year we see hosts, understandably, love a Christmas cookie swap party. A little bit of logistical work up front will make the party easy to host. This year we got a sneak peek at the recipes that the amazing team behind the Test Kitchen at Williams-Sonoma have called the hottest cookie recipes of 2020. Their picks range from kid-friendly peppermint-cocoa meringues to beautifully painted vanilla bean sugar cookies to bring out your inner artist.
Ahead are Test Kitchen’s go-to recipes to make this year and our tips on organizing a Christmas cookie swap party.
What is a cookie swap?
Cookie swaps are a chance to try new Christmas cookies, share recipes, chit chat, and take home various cookies without spending forever baking. Guests all bring a large batch of their favorite Christmas cookies and trade so that everyone goes home with several different kinds of cookies. The host generally provides some light bites and sometimes special tins or containers to take home all of their cookies.
How many cookies do you bring to a cookie swap?
Be clear in your invitation how many cookies you’d like guests to bring. A standard amount to bring is a dozen cookies per guest but remember that the goal is to have fun, so feel free to keep the group small or ask people to bring fewer cookies per person. Six dozen cookies is a good max.
How to organize a cookie swap party?
Set the tone with an invitation. Send cookie swap invitations 3-6 weeks before the party. You’ll want a good idea of how many people rsvp since it determines how many cookies each person will make. Ask guests to either send you their recipe or bring enough copies to share with everyone. Find out if there are any allergies in your group like nuts or fruit. Helpful tip: Allow guests to comment on the invitation to see who is bringing what type of cookie to have a diverse group—and give everyone something delicious to look forward to at the party.
Bake in advance. Gather all of your ingredients and bake at least three days before the party, as you’ll want to bake in stages with so many cookies to make.
Set up a packaging station. If guests sent you their recipe in advance, you can print out a simple menu & recipe card for everyone to take home. During the party, each guest places the cookies they brought on a table or sideboard along with cookie tins or boxes. Get creative with decorative twine, wax paper, labels, or holiday trim.
Our design partner Cheree Berry believes that presentation is everything: “We love lining a silver tin with patterned wax paper for a pop of color, which also ensures that the doughy delights don’t stick together. Then, top with a bow. We also love delivering the cookies with cute oven mitts and leaving them behind as a hostess gift. And a print-out of the recipe as a tag is a great detail.
What do you serve at a cookie exchange?
Guests will nibble on cookies, but you may want something savory and fresh like crudités or a make-ahead small bites. Cider, bubbly, eggnog, or coffee are good bests for drinks to serve, depending on the time of day.
How to host a virtual cookie swap
Send Christmas cookie swap invitations a bit earlier and ask each guest for their address when they rsvp. Once you hear back from everyone, share the names and addresses of everyone baking and ask that they ship (or do a contactless drop off if you’re all local) cookies to everyone in advance. Then, during the party, you can skip the exchange & packaging in favor of catching up over cookies, swapping baking tips, or voting on favorites. Get more tips in our guide virtual Christmas party ideas.
What recipes are good for a cookie swap?
We love a mix of cookies for a cookie swap. Consider some greatest hits mixed with new recipes in different flavors, shapes, and textures. Skip delicate cookies that won’t hold up in transporting them to and from a party. Bars, dropped cookies, rolled and sliced cookies, sandwiches, dipped cookies, and meringues are fun and festive to include. As for flavor: mint, chocolate, nutty, warm spices, vanilla, and fruit are all nice to see in a cookie box.
Cookie Swap Recipes
Vanilla Bean Watercolor Cookies
Channel your inner artist with this fun recipe than transforms buttery sugar cookies into edible works of art using royal icing and gel food coloring. Decorate the cookies with simple stripes as we’ve done here, or let your imagination soar and create whatever patterns you’d like. Although glycerin is optional, it will add shine to the royal icing and will prevent it from turning as hard when it dries. Look for it in baking specialty shops or craft stores that sell cake-decorating supplies, or order it online.
Hazelnut Linzer Cookies
No holiday cookie box is complete without some pretty Linzer cookies. In our decadent spin on that much-loved classic, we’ve swapped out the traditional jam for a rich filling of dark chocolate ganache that includes a splash of Frangelico, a hazelnut-infused Italian liqueur that contributes a sweet, nutty flavor. To streamline prep, instead of grinding the hazelnuts yourself, sub in purchased hazelnut flour, available from sources like Bob’s Red Mill. If you want to make your own, simply pulse room-temperature toasted hazelnuts in a food processor until finely ground, taking care to stop the machine as soon as the nuts are ground so that the nuts don’t turn into hazelnut butter.
Peppermint and Cocoa Meringues
These airy meringues pair two favorite flavors of the holiday season—peppermint and chocolate—to create a cookie that’s guaranteed to win rave reviews. Adjust the amount of peppermint extract to your taste; use 1/4 tsp. for a milder flavor and 1/2 tsp. for the full peppermint experience. To ensure sweet success, take care that no egg yolk gets into the whites, as this would prevent them from whipping up. And take your time when beating the whites and sugar, making sure they form stiff peaks. This means that, when the whisk is lifted, the meringue will stand in a rigid point that doesn’t fall down on itself.
Chai-Spiced Ginger Doodles
Inspired by the warming spices in chai tea, we created this genius riff on the classic snickerdoodle that’s perfect for the winter holidays. Crystallized ginger is folded into the dough and also sprinkled on top of the cookies as they bake, adding a pop of sweet and spicy flavor. Enjoy these little gems with a cup of chai tea or coffee, or package them up and give as gifts.
Lemon-Anise Shortbread Wreaths
Shaped like wreaths, these festive cookies are the perfect addition to a box of holiday cookies to send to your loved ones. The cookies get a double dose of lemon thanks to zest in the dough and juice in the glaze, while anise extract infuses them with a slightly sweet licorice flavor. Kids will love to lend a hand—they can roll out the dough, help cut out the cookies, and then dip the cooled treats in the glaze.