Friday, December 23, 2011

My Cookie Exchanges

The Annual Cookie Exchange! Truthfully, it's not that annual. I missed last year. There was simply too much family drama for me to focus on doing the "extras."  So in spite of a few date changes, we were able to get friends together for the "Annual" Cookie Exchange.

For those who don't know about Cookie Exchanges...typically you bake a pre-determined number of all the same cookie. So if you're decorating snowflake cookies, you bake X dozen of them and bring them to the exchange. What will happen is that you will share your cookies and then come back home with the same NUMBER of cookies; but you will have a variety of cookies, taking some from each of the other guests' batches of cookies.

And that's where the similarities end!  Every Cookie Exchange is different.  Whoever hosts the party can you a wide variety of methods for how the cookies are dispersed. Sometimes the party has themes or activities. You just never know!

I do our Cookie Exchange differently each time. My first Cookie Exchange was in California. It was HUGE. I think 30 people were there - maybe more! She had everyone put their 5-6 dozen cookies on trays all around her the walls of her living room. We milled around looking at the different cookies, picking up recipe cards if the baker had provided them. The hostess  was a minimalist decorator, so this wasn't nearly the problem it would be at my house. I am not minimalist. I am clutterful. Anyway, having never been before, I didn't realize I needed an *additional* carrier for the  cookies I was about to bring home.  We improvised something, I don't recall now.  She had us all draw numbers to determine where we would be in line.  Then she had this very complicated formula to determine how many cookies each person would pick up. The line would pass through a couple of times, each person picking up 2 of each, then 6 of their favorite, then the line would reverse. This kept the front of the line getting all the beautiful cookies, and the back of the line getting only the broken ones. I liked how it ended up, but I don't think I could ever do the formula. Maybe a mathy friend can give me some advice?? At this Cookie Exchange, people seemed to leave soon after the cookies were obtained.

When I moved to Wichita Falls, I went to a completely DIFFERENT kind of Cookie Exchange. The hostess cooked lots of wonderful food for the guests to snack on while they visited. Each year, about 13 people would attend. She'd let us know at the last minute, how many people were attending and that was how many dozen cookies we needed to bring. We were instructed to package our cookies or bread or whatever we baked in bags/containers with a dozen in each. She kept the large bags at the door and we were to put one package in each person's clearly marked bag when we arrived. After everyone arrived, we told about our baking experience. Each person shared their story of smoke alarms, wasted batches of cookies, family members sneaking cookies, as well as why they chose that cookie or if it was a special family recipe. It was funny to hear what everyone had gone through to get the 13 dozen cookies there! Same amount of time as the California party, but more about sharing with friends.

I decided I really liked the idea of Cookie Exchanges. But my Bunco group had never heard of them. The way Bunco works, is that everyone takes turn hosting the game each month. Since it takes 12 people to play, everyone just grabs a month to host. So I decided I would choose December, and turn my Bunco party into a Cookie Exchange. We knew for sure that we had 12 people, so the numbers didn't fluctuate. One year, we made a dozen to share with each person, and another year we halved that. Making 6 dozen and then everyone taking home six of each kind was a much easier way to do this. This was a group of Girl Scout leaders who, most of them, worked outside the home. They were baking late into the night and that was just too stressful!

So, then, when I moved here, I invited friends to the Cookie Exchange. Each time, I did it a little differently. I discovered Robin Olson's Cookie Exchange website that was FULL of great ideas. I got a little carried away and tried to do prizes for things like "Most Christmas-y Outfit", party games, and sharing info about the cookies each person baked. I liked the idea of hanging out with friends more, but they were often groups of people that didn't really know each other. The prizes and the games were a bust. ha!

This year, I baked my Ham Cheesecake (very yummy), and a few other appetizer type foods. I had everyone bring a dozen cookies to share at the party, and asked them to package up a dozen for each participant to take home. We had 8 bakers. Extra people came just to come to the party, but didn't bake. It was MUCH more relaxing. At first, we had date conflicts.  Early in December, Christmas seemed too far away.  Mid-December was full of people attending other parties, or me not being able to get my Christmas decor all up! Just when I was about to put up my white flag for this year's Cookie Exchange, my friend suggested we do it on Friday before Christmas Eve.  Maybe even in the afternoon, so people wouldn't have party conflicts. AND, this allowed everyone to have quite a variety of cookies ON Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

And that's what we decided to do.

I finally got all my Christmas decorating done. Boxes were moved to the garage. We did a mad cleaning the day before. Cookies were baked and packaged. Candles lit. Voila!  A party!

The only glitch that I have with this method of cookie dispersing, is that my numbers fluctuate. I'm not a firm RSVP taker, and I think that's what it takes. But I want whoever wants to come, to come! It's as much about the friends as it is about the cookies, for me. So when the numbers were off, I was quickly opening people's packages of cookies, pulling a few from each and creating new packets for the last RSVPers. I probably did the math wrong, but everyone who brought something to share, went home with a variety of cookies!

The other problem I have is that as we got closer to Christmas, I felt like I needed to have the number of participants be small, so I wasn't asking people to make 13 dozen! There were quite a few people I would have liked to invite, but time got away from me as well.

So here are the lessons I've learned for next year. I'm putting it here as much to share as to remind me next year, when I think, "Now, what was I thinking would be a good idea for this year?"
  • Keep the Eve of The Eve date. 
  • Keep the afternoon idea.
  • Send out invitations earlier in the month. Evites are still good.
  • Invite as many people as I want, without concern about # of dozen or pre-packaging
  • No pre-packaged cookies from the baker. 
  • Baker bakes 7 dozen cookies to share, and 1 dozen for the party to munch on
  • Use the California approach and put the cookies on platters around the room and have people select a certain number
  • Maybe have the cookies on tables upstairs around the room
  • Between now and then, figure out a formula for how to make this work (Suggestions?)
  • We'll munch on food and sample cookies for a while, then fill our platters with cookies to take home

    So that's the plan for 2012!

    Now...which cookie will I have for mid-morning snack?


Mary Hickman said...

Remembering the formula exchange and how I could never be that planned in anything I ever do...

Sue said...

It's weird though, Mary. The formula allowed complete freedom regarding the numbers of people etc. There didn't have to be ANY planning for it BECAUSE that formula existed. Ironic. :)

Reticula said...

I'm definitely doing a cookie exchange next year. My homeschool group used to do one and I miss it. It's a great way to get a large variety of cookies to serve for Christmas dinner or for a party later.

Sue said...

They're fun! How did your support group manage the numbers of cookies/participants? I'm still gathering info to make it smoother every year.

Lise said...

My women's circle used to do a cookie exchange each year. Each member brought 6 dozen cookies, and we simply divided 72 by whatever number of people showed up and took that number of each of the kinds of cookies. Since it rarely came out even (i.e. if 10 people showed up, there were two left of each kind of cookie) we usually made up a plate of the leftovers for someone who had been ill or needed some extra Christmas love.

The hostess provided snacks, and we each brought a favorite Christmas story to read aloud.