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Send out invites
Reach out to family members and friends who enjoy baking to see who is up for the challenge. A group of about five to 10 bakers is ideal. Then write up a specific invite, including basic guidelines (like how many cookies to bring, for example) and the usual time-place-date details, and send it out about a month prior to the event.
Determine the number of cookies
Your role as a host includes deciding how many cookies you want each guest to take home. "The tricky part always seems to be how much to bring," says Toronto amateur baker and experienced cookie exchanger Kristina Coles-Mark. At the cookie exchanges she attends, they go for big batches. "It's one dozen for everyone and one dozen for sharing. So, if there are 10 people participating, each person brings nine dozen (packaged by the dozen for each of the other participants) and one dozen for sampling at the party." If you decide to send guests home with a smaller variety of cookies, ask each person to bring two dozen cookies.
Short-list your recipes
If you have a tried-and-true family recipe, stick with that, especially if you're making multiple batches. Opt for something easy if you're a novice baker. "Making dozens of one cookie can be overwhelming for some, so you want to pick something simple like a bar or drop cookie versus rolled," suggests Coles-Mark. Ensure the cookies travel easily and freeze well, she says.
Prior to the cookie swap, find out what each guest is bringing so you don't end up with five types of chocolate chip cookies. "We post it on Facebook to avoid duplication and to get a wide variety of treats," Coles-Mark says. "Some of us keep to the same item each year (usually by request) and some like to do something different."
Stock some supplies
Resealable freezer bags and food wrap will come in handy if some of your guests don't prepackage their cookies for transport home. Reusable containers and cookie tins can be pressed into good use, too, if you have any to spare. Large plates, platters and cake stands are a nice touch for serving purposes, but your guests won’t mind if you use baking sheets in a pinch.
Keep it simple
No one expects the host to prepare a sit-down meal or serve anything fancy. That said, it’s a good idea to provide a savoury contrast to the sweets. Simple appetizers or a cheese and charcuterie board with fresh bread will suffice. Offer guests coffee and tea to go along with the cookies. If your exchange takes place around the holiday season, Coles-Mark suggests a festive drink is in order, like eggnog or hot buttered rum.
Remember to relax
Perfection is the enemy of fun, and a cookie exchange is supposed to be a stress-relieving endeavour. It's OK if you don't have the correct number of cookies, or if you have to buy bakery items instead of making them yourself. It happens. "We are forgiving of friends who don't end up with the time to do anything," says Coles-Mark. "Sometimes they show up empty-handed, sometimes with half a dozen for each and sometimes it's a store-bought item," she says. "For me, I'm happy to get together with my friends for a fun afternoon with a bonus of cookies and bars to take home."