1. Plan in advance: Most drop cookie dough, such as chocolate chip or gingersnap, can be made in advance, portioned, and then frozen—for up to 3 months. So you can be rolling in the dough whenever you need.
2. Check your spices: Most ground spices are only good for two or three years; now’s the time to replenish your collection (think cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves). Taste and smell your stash and replace old, dull spices that have lost their flavor.
3. Know how to measure: These cookies taste like….flour? Learn how to properly measure your dry ingredients so you don’t end up with hockey pucks.
4. Scoop up your dough: For uniform-size cookies, use a small ice cream scoop to measure out your dough.
5. Cool your sheets: In between batches, run the back of your baking sheet under cold water. Then, when you place your next batch of dough on the sheet, it won’t start cooking before hitting the oven.
6. Room temperature: For many cookie recipes, room temperature ingredients are essential for light, airy results. Start with room temperature butter and eggs.
7. Check your oven: Baking is an exact science, with measured-out ingredients and precise temperatures. Guarantee the best results by insuring your oven temperature is on target with an oven thermometer.
8. Switch it up: If you are baking two sheets of cookies at the same time, rotate the position of the pans (switch their placement) halfway through the cook time for evenly-baked results.
9. Chill, then cut: For nice clean-cut edges on your sugar cookies, roll out your dough and chill until firm before cutting out your snowflakes and reindeers with your cutters.
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For the Party Guest
Make sure to bring the following three items (along with your dozens of cookies, of course):
1. A copy of your recipe: Spell it out: A copy of your recipe will come in handy when fellow bakers are admiring your handiwork. If anyone has a food allergy, they can casually check for any offenders without constantly asking, “What’s in this?”
2. A cake plate or tray: Make it easy on the hostess and arrive at the party with your cookies red-carpet (ok, dining-room-table) ready. Label the back of your cake plate or tray with adhesive tape marked with your name for easy returns.
3. Take-home container: Asking the host at a cookie swap party for a baggie to transport your cookies home is akin to asking for a doggie bag at a fancy dinner party—it’s just not couth. Play it safe and bring your own plastic containers or baggies to pack up your loot.
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For the Cookie Swap Host
Keep these five tips in mind if you’re throwing the party:
1. Set the date: Try for a date early in December before your guests are inundated with other festivities. A Sunday is a great way to give late-planning bakers one more day of prep. Start the party in the morning (around 11 a.m.) and be clear about an end time (2 hours is usually enough) to allow guests to go about their merry way.
2. Make your own cook(ie) book: Ask guests to RSVP with their cookie choice and recipe so you can rule out any duplicates (Head here for the step-by-step Cookie Exchange checklist). Then, take the recipes to a local print or copy shop to have them bound for an inexpensive memento to a delicious day.
3. Wrapper’s delight: Decide early what you’re going to provide and what you’ll ask your guests to bring: If the idea of providing baggies and wrap for your guests to transport the dozens (and dozens) of cookies home sends you into a tizzy, make it clear on the invite that bakers should come with their cookies bagged in individual portions, and on their own serving tray, for easy distribution. If you’re more the take-charge host, let guests know they just have to bring the cookies, and that you’ll take care of the presentation and take-home packaging.
4. Pretty placard: Write the name of the baker and her confectionary creation on a tented place card to set out on the table.
5. Holiday drinks: Take a cue from your party start time on what to serve guests to drink: Anything before noon is a coffee and tea affair. Get a little more liberal with your afternoon libations and offer partygoers wine or sparkling cider. If you’re having friends over in the evening, a holiday cocktail adds a festive touch. Mix up a batch of pomegranate martinis or try a two-ingredient, non-alcoholic cranberry-ginger fizz.