What could be more welcoming during the holidays than a platter of artfully decorated cookies? But with work, holiday programs and shopping, who has time to bake?
Some hosts and hostesses wisely get a little help from friends in the form of cookie swap parties -- and have a lot of fun in the process. Such a party involves baking a big batch of just one or two (if you're the industrious type) kinds of cookies, then getting together with others to sample and trade goodies so everyone leaves with a mixed platter of treats.
A BIG TRADITION
Carol Ann Hochbrueckner and friends have been trading cookies and memories this way for more than 40 years.
"We started with eight to 12 women," says Hochbrueckner, 72, of Laurel. "We got up to about 30, then the husbands started saying, 'Why can't we come?' Now, it is a couples thing."
Hockbrueckner says the annual event in her home kicks off the holiday season in many ways. "We've changed some along the way," says Hochbrueckner. "When we started, everyone made 100 cookies. Now, we make 50 each."
Carol Corrigan, 69, comes all the way from Kinderhook in the Hudson Valley for the party. "The swap is about an exchange of love and friendship. Cookies are just the outward sign of that exchange," Corrigan says.
Maria Jennosa, who has been attending a cookie swap party in Hauppauge for 15 years, says her group spends more time partying than exchanging cookies. They even have little kitchen elves who swap all the cookies for them while they enjoy wine, cheese and appetizers in another room.
"Our kids package the cookies in attractive tins and put together a book of the recipes while we're all laughing and having a good time," says Jennosa, 54, of Hauppauge. Jennosa, by the way, makes about 30 trays of cookies as gifts -- she starts in October. One highly anticipated cookie is the Raspberry Pizza Crumble, which uses raspberry jam to mimic the tomato sauce and the crumble as the "cheese."
The Southampton Historical Society has hosted a cookie party for more than 10 years -- and the group is so serious about its swap that it has banned the beloved chocolate chip cookie, branding it "too common" to be trade-worthy. The process is down to a science: getting in, getting cookies and getting out within an hour.
"Most bring three dozen and go home with three dozen," says Diane Becker, the society's assistant director. "We have a lot of serious bakers here and they want to know what everyone is bringing, what new cookies are here."
Elizabeth Yastrzemski, 56, of Southampton is one of those serious bakers who will be trading cookies with others at the annual exchange tonight.
"All of my cookies have a floral theme, and everything is hand done," Yastrzemski says of her dazzling creations. "I go to the swap in hopes of finding other recipes. It is wonderful to be there with the other women and experience other cultures and family traditions."
TIPS FOR HOSTING A COOKIE SWAP PARTY
1. Be realistic about balancing the number of swappers and the number of cookies. Figure on one to three dozen cookies per person. It's a good idea to ask bakers to RSVP with the type of cookie they're making to avoid duplicates. Decide in advance whether you're going to exclude "slice and bake" and bakery-bought cookies.
2. Ask each person to bring a copy of his or her recipe for each guest.
3. Presentation is important. Bring your cookies in a nice container that closes securely. You'll need it for the trip home. It's helpful for the host if everyone brings a nice platter to display cookies at the party before they're swapped.
4. For the actual exchange, some prefer to put all the cookies out for sampling and let each person pick and choose what to fill a take-home container with. Others dole out all the cookies evenly so everyone leaves with the same mixed assortment.
SOURCES Maria Jennosa, Carol Ann Hochbrueckner, Diane Becker, Elizabeth Yastrzemski and Debbie Cardillo