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How to Host a Cookie Exchange

Holiday Cookies
From planning the day and picking your recipes to the best bets for freezing ahead (or mailing cross country!), we’ll show you how to host an amazing cookie exchange party this holiday season. MORE+ LESS-

Baking cookies is fun. But sharing and exchanging cookies with friends and family? Even better! 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.

This type of get-together often takes place during the holidays. The purpose? To swap homemade cookies and share some holiday cheer. By the end of the party, each person will walk away with a whole bunch of different cookies to enjoy throughout the holiday season (we’re talking a couple dozen cookies per person!). The party structure is relatively simple: Guests bring cookies, exchange cookies, mingle and nosh on more cookies. 

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

What to Do 1 Month Before the Cookie Exchange

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!

Invite Your Guests and Send the Invites

Focus on what will shape the entire event: your guest list. It will dictate everything from how many cookies everyone needs to bake to how you set up your space. Once you’ve settled on the details, send out your invites three or four weeks before your event. 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.

Determine How Many Cookies Each Guest Will Make

Time for some cookie math! A good rule to follow is for every guest to bake a half dozen cookies for 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)

Remember, everyone will walk away with slightly fewer cookies than they bring—we need to account about a dozen less for taste-testing everyone’s treats at the party, of course! So, decide on a number that seems doable. For newbies, this may be a dozen. For more seasoned bakers, you may want to make three dozen or more. Just make sure not to overdo it. After all, this is supposed to be fun, not stressful!

What to Do 2 Weeks Before the Cookie Exchange

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. Once you’ve finalized your guest list, you can plan a simple food and drink menu and decide which cookies you want to make.

Finalize RSVPs

When sending out invitations, either online, mail or in-person, ask what type of cookie each person plans on making. At two weeks, there’s some wiggle room to change the cookie lineup in case a few people have responded with duplicate cookie types. In this case, 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.

Prep for the Party

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. We also recommend having some easy appetizers on hand during your party. To balance out the sugary cookies, consider serving some savory dishes like dips, finger sandwiches, or easy 3-ingredient appetizers, like Bacon-Jalapeno Popper Pinwheels or Guacamole Crescent Cups. Make sure to have beverages on hand, too. Milk always makes a good cookie partner, but hot chocolate and spiced cider add some holiday spirit, too.

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

Plan the Cookie Exchange Games

While cookie tasting and trading baking tips may take up most of your time, there are several games you can play during your party if the crowd is up for it. Here are a few of our favorites.

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 Game

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. 

Decide What Cookies You Will Make

When considering what type of cookie to make for your swap, the key is simplicity. You’ll want to consider ease, time you have available and flavors that will please a crowd of tastes and preferences. Cookies like dipped cookies, thumbprints, low-ingredient and low-prep time cookies are all excellent options. For example, our Peanut Butter Cookies can be dipped in chocolate for a festive holiday look. Or, consider these 3-Ingredient Holiday Thumbprints, which only take 20 minutes of prep per batch!

The Best Cookies for a Cookie Exchange

It’s no secret that cookies make one of the best gifts during the holidays (or really any time of year!). The best cookies to bring for a cookie exchange are cookies 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, fudgy brownies and other sturdy treats. Here are some recipes to get you started.

What to Do 1 Week Before the Cookie Exchange

Grocery Shop

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!

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.

What to Do the Day of the Cookie Exchange

Holiday Cookies

It’s finally here! The day of the cookie exchange can bring a flurry of excitement and nerves, but don’t worry. It’s going to be a great party!

Make the Food and Prep the Drinks

With your cookies already made, all that’s left to do is give yourself enough time to make the appetizers and pour some beverages. 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).

Pro beverage tip: Fill a small basin with a bag of ice to keep drinks cool without taking up coveted refrigerator space.

Set Up the Room for the Cookie Exchange

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.

Finalize Last-Minute Details

Remember, the focus should be on the cookies and less on the decorations. If you want to add a little Christmas flair, decorate your space with some holiday themed greenery, ornaments or ribbons. Once your guests have placed their cookies on the table, it’s time to trade! Instruct your guests to start at their own cookie plate, grabbing one cookie and then moving left, grabbing one cookie per plate until all the cookies are gone. Tell your guests that they can sample from whatever cookies they’ve selected during the course of the party, and the rest are theirs to take.

What to Do During the Cookie Exchange

Enjoy the Cookie Exchange! 

This is the best part. Everyone should be able to try a couple of cookies from each batch. 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! 

Package and Exchange

Holiday Cookies

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. 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). 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 Cookie Exchange

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. Be sure to include the recipes for each of the cookies swapped (Remember: your guests sent these to you with his or her RSVP).

How to Ship Your Cookies

Holiday Cookies

Want to spread the holiday cheer to those who couldn’t celebrate in person? You can mail cookies to anyone by following these tips! All you need is a few household items, a pen and some cookies, and your friends are just a few days away from receiving a taste of the holidays.

Best Way to Package the Cookies Before Shipping

First, let your cookies cool completely before packaging them for delivery. Warm cookies are harder to handle and cookies could shift in the box, creating a massive cookie blob. When you’re ready to send your cookies, pack them in a firm-sided cardboard, metal or plastic container lined with plastic wrap or foil. Insulate the sides of the container with a “wall” of crumpled waxed paper. Place waxed paper between each layer or wrap cookies in pairs, flat sides together. For extra protection, place the container in a larger box padded on all sides, with crumpled paper or packing material. Wrap the box securely and mark it “perishable” and send it on its way.