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The Doughboy's Favorite Way to Fill the Tray: Host a Cookie Exchange

Updated November 19, 2019
Holiday Cookies and the Pillsbury Doughboy
Take the hassle out of hosting a cookie exchange with these easy, Doughboy-approved tips.

Baking cookies is fun. But sharing and exchanging cookies with friends and family? Even better! Not only do you get to spend the afternoon with your favorite people, everyone leaves with trays piled high with a colorful and delicious assortment Christmas cookies.

If you’re in charge of hosting the cookie exchange this year, we have a few tips and tricks to make it a blast and completely stress-free.


How a Cookie Exchange Works

The purpose of a cookie exchange is pretty simple: to swap homemade cookies and share some holiday cheer with your favorite people. The Doughboy couldn’t think of a better reason to have a party! This type of get-together usually takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas, often in the first few weeks of the season.

If you’ve never attended a cookie exchange before, here’s how it works. As part of their RSVP, every person attending the party also signs up to bake a lot of one kind of cookie and bring it to the party. The day of, you and your nearest and dearest spend a couple hours hanging out, sharing holiday cheer, and sampling the cookies everyone brought. Finally, everyone packs up a bunch of each kind of cookie to take home with them. That way, each person makes just one kind of cookie but walks away with an amazing sampler of few dozen of all different kinds of cookies to enjoy throughout the holiday season.

Why is this so great? Well, besides the aforementioned eating of cookies, you get to stock up on a variety of Christmas-y treats that you can enjoy throughout the season. Maybe you make cookie care packages and send them out as gifts. Maybe you stash your cookie-swap cookies in the freezer right away, so you can always assemble a top-notch cookie tray for holiday guests at a moment’s notice. Maybe you just need a lot of cookies for personal, Netflix-related reasons. Whatever your cookie needs may be, you’ll be set!

Tips for Hosting a Cookie Exchange

Holiday Cookies

Make your cookie swap one of the highlights of the Christmas season by following these general guidelines.

When to Start Planning Your Party

Generally, it’s best to give your guests at least a three- or four-week notice to prepare for the cookie exchange. The holiday season is a busy time—you’ll you want to get on everyone’s calendar early before they fill up! If you don’t want to send paper invites by mail, you can turn to social media and create a Facebook event and keep track of RSVPs there.

When sending out invitations, either online, mail or in person, ask what type of cookie each person plans on making. That way, if a few people have responded with duplicate cookie types, you have some wiggle room to change the cookie lineup. If you do have duplicate recipes, it’s best to ask a seasoned baker to pick a different recipe—you don’t want to worry a new baker by changing up their plan too close to the party. Keep a tally of the number who’ve responded and reach out to those who are still unaccounted for. Your final guest count will determine how many cookies each person needs to bring. (More on that in a moment.)

Holiday Cookies

Cookie exchanges are laid-back affairs, so you don’t need to do a lot in terms of party setup. As the host, the primary thing you need to is a long table or counter where your guests can set all their cookies, and labels where they can write the recipe names. When everyone has arrived, do a little show-and-tell and have each guest share a little bit about the cookie they brought. Then, it’s time to start tasting! Set a stack of plates at one end of the table or counter, and have your guests go through the line buffet-style to sample 1-2 of each kind of cookie.


Make sure to have a few beverages on hand to wash it all down. You can’t go wrong with milk, of course; we also love making a giant batch of slow-cooker hot chocolate or hot apple cider to pair with the cookies.

Non-Cookie Food

We also recommend having some easy appetizers on hand during your party to balance out the sugary cookies. Consider serving some savory dishes like like dips, finger sandwiches, or easy 3-ingredient appetizers, like Bacon-Jalapeno Popper Pinwheels or Guacamole Crescent Cups.

If you want even more ideas for bites at your party, we’ve got a whole list of appetizers for you to browse.

Best Cookies for a Cookie Exchange

Whether you’re hosting this shindig or just a guest, the best cookies to bring for a cookie exchange are ones that will travel well. Choose moist, firm-textured cookies that will remain fresh and in one piece during transport. The best choices include drop cookies, unfrosted bars, cutout cookies, and other sturdy treats like dense brownies and classic chocolate fudge. Here are some recipes to get you started.

If you’re the host, you still need to make your fair share of cookies for the party; we suggest picking a simple, quick-prep cookie to give yourself an easy win. Dipped cookies and thumbprints with low ingredient counts are excellent options. For example, these 3-Ingredient Holiday Thumbprints only take 20 minutes of prep per batch (and each batch yields over three dozen cookies). Or make a bunch of our refrigerated peanut butter cookies and dip them in melted chocolate for a festive holiday upgrade.

How Many Cookies Each Person Should Make

Time for some cookie math! A good rule to follow is for every guest to bake a half dozen cookies per each attendee. So, if 10 people attend, each guest would bring five dozen cookies to share. We’ve put together a chart to help you figure out just how many cookies to ask your guests to make.

  Number of Guests Quantity of Cookies Each Guest Brings How Many Cookies Each Guest Brings Home
Intimate Party 5 to 10 2.5 to 5 dozen each
(30-60 cookies)
1.5-4 dozen each
(18-48 cookies)
Medium Party 10 to 15  5 to 7.5 dozen each

(60-90 cookies)

4-6.5 dozen each
(48-78 cookies)

And remember, everyone will walk away with slightly fewer cookies than they bring—we need to account for taste-testing everyone’s treats at the party, of course!

Party Planning Timeline

Two Weeks to Go: Finalize the Guest List

About two weeks before your party, you should have an estimate for how many people are attending and what cookies they are going to make. If any guests sign up to bring the same type of cookie, this gives you plenty of time to ask one of them to pick a different recipe. Once you’ve finalized your guest list, you can plan a simple food and drink menu and decide which cookies you want to make.

One Week to Go: Grocery Shop and Print Recipes

One week before your party, you’ll want to head to the grocery store and buy the ingredients you need for your cookies, any appetizers you plan on making and any beverages you’d like to serve. It’s also helpful to purchase extra paper plates and a package of plastic storage bags in case guests forget to bring their own containers for taking cookies home. Feeling crafty? Pick up some holiday ribbon or bows for extra decorating options!

Take a moment to examine your party space. Is your table large enough for all the cookies? If not, consider adding a folding table for more cookie display space. Start getting your platters together to display your cookies, or have your guests bring their own. If you have ample table space, set up your cookies around the table, that way your guests can circle the table clockwise and collect cookies to take home without running into each other. Using notecards, write the name of each cookie type and place it by each cookie plate so guests know what kind of cookie they are trying and taking home.

And since all of the guests have picked out the recipes they’ll make, consider printing out copies of each recipe for everyone to take home with them. If it’s an original family recipe, ask them to send you the ingredients and instructions; if it’s from a website (maybe this one?!) you can just ask them to send the link.

Peanut butter blossoms in a glass container

Two Days to Go: Make Your Cookies

If you have time to make cookies more than couple days before the party, freeze them! With some recipes, you can prepare dough and freeze it up to three months in the freezer. To freeze pre-made cookies, place unfrosted, baked cookies in containers with tight-fitting lids. For frosted cookies, freeze them uncovered on a baking sheet, then package between layers of wax paper in a rigid container. To thaw soft-textured cookies, simply leave them in their container at room temperature. Crisp-textured cookies, on the other hand, should be removed from the container before thawing.

All other cookies that can’t be frozen should be made two days before the party. After all, you don’t want to be worried about burning cookies while you’re setting up your display space! Want a refresher on how to make cookies? We’ve got the step-by-step guide that will have you feeling like a pro.

One Day to Go: Prep Your Space

Cookies will get all of the attention at your party. There’s no need to do additional decorating; simply focus on providing ample space for displaying the cookies and making the tasting table super accessible.

Set out a “take-home station” with paper plates, food storage bags, and any supplies for decorating them.

While you’re at it, start rounding up platters and trays for guests to display their cookies. Many will bring their own containers or plates, but this way you won’t have to dig serving dishes out of cabinets after your friends arrive for anyone who asks to borrow one.

Day of the Party: Make the Appetizers and Beverages

With your cookies already made, all that’s left to do is give yourself enough time to make the appetizers. Pay attention to the recipe directions for each of your appetizers in case they need cooling time. Better yet, if you’re hosting a cookie exchange earlier in the day, choose quick meals that can easily be made ahead of time (like this Easy Crescent Veggie Pizza).

If you’re making a crowd-sized batch of a hot beverage like cocoa or cider, start it simmering a couple hours before guests arrive. If you’re serving cold beverages, fill a small basin or cooler with a bag of ice to keep cold drinks cool without taking up coveted refrigerator space.

During the Party

Treat Yo’self!

Objective number one? Sample the goods, of course!

Give Your Compliments to the Chefs

While munching on treats, you’ll have the chance to show people your appreciation and have a little fun. Admire decorations, flavors and uniqueness—people worked hard on these treats!

Play Some Party Games

  • Can’t-Say-“Cookie” Game: Using small candy canes and red ribbon, make a necklace for each guest. When everyone arrives, give each person a necklace to wear throughout the party and tell them they’re not allowed to say the word “cookie.” If a person says “cookie,” the person who catches them saying the word gets their necklace. At the end of the party, the person with the most candy cane necklaces gets a prize. (Optional prize: A decorated storage container for their take-home cookies).
  • Musical Ornament Game: The traditional Musical Ornament Game is an ornament swap game. Everyone brings a $5 wrapped ornament to the cookie exchange. As the host plays holiday music, the participants pass their gift around the circle. When the music stops, whatever gift each person has is the one they take home! Guests each take turns opening his or her ornaments.
  • Best Cookie Award: Indulge in a little healthy competition by letting guests vote for their favorite cookie. Number each cookie, and use scrap paper for ballots. Then cast your votes, tally and crown the winner. Prizes aren’t necessary; the win is glory enough.

Packing Up Cookies to Take Home

After all the laughter and holiday cheer, guests will want to gather their share of the cookie bounty. Make it a seamless experience by posting easy-to-see signage listing how many cookies each person should take.

Paper plates with blue ribbons

Be sure to stock up on cookie storage containers for guests to pack up their treats so they stay fresh long after the party’s over. If you don’t have containers, have guests place cookies on paper plates and store them in plastic bags. Or, dress up simple paper plates using a hole punch and weaving ribbon through the holes for a fancy edge (pictured above). Pro tip: To make threading the ribbon easier through the holes, use a piece of tape to form an aglet at the end of your ribbon (like a shoelace!) and save yourself some time.

Have a supply of colorful ribbon on hand to wrap up the containers for a final festive touch. For guests to keep track of the types of cookies they are taking home, have a few markers handy to label the containers/bags with the cookie names.

What to Do After the Party

Send Out a Thank You and the Recipes

Congratulations, you hosted a spectacular cookie exchange! After the party is the perfect time to send out a thank you to all of your guests. It’s up to you whether you’d like to send out an email or if you’d like to send traditional thank you notes in the mail.

And if you weren’t able to print out recipes prior to the party, you can email them out to your group now. (Remember: your guests sent these to you with his or her RSVP).