How to Host a Cookie Exchange

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Learn how to Host a Cookie Exchange; one of the sweetest Christmas party ideas ever. Why stick to just one or two of your favorite Christmas cookie recipes when you can rally the crew to swap and savor a variety?

A pile of Ritz Cracker Cookies on a plate.


‘Tis the season for sweets! Finishing in a tie for first place as my favorite made-up holiday leading up to the official winter ones (Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa)? Baking day and cookie exchange day.

The former is an annual gathering my family has celebrated for decades. It involves splitting the cost and the labor to whip up multiple batches of cookies and candies, then sharing the spoils. I highly recommend you give it a shot, and have a guide to hosting a baking day here if you’re ready to start your own sweet tradition.

The latter, a cookie exchange, is our topic du jour! It’s similar to baking day, since it involves multiple styles of cookies and candies, but is unique due to the fact that cookie exchanges involve baking or preparing the treats in advance. (Translation: Less floury mess and more time to socialize!)

Read on for a step-by-step guide for how to host a cookie exchange with your friends and family. And don’t click away until you reach the end; that’s where you’ll find some recipe inspiration for holiday goodies that will earn raves from everyone lucky enough to attend.

P.S. A cookie exchange is too terrific of an idea to reserve for holiday season alone. There are no rules that declare that you can’t host a spring, summer, or fall cookie swap too; simply adjust the recipes to match seasonal colors and flavors.

Don’t be daunted by the number of steps below. Hosting a cookie exchange is actually easy, and the results are memorable and delicious! A little advanced planning goes a long way so you can enjoy the gathering as much as your guests.

Keep in mind that whether every minute goes as planned or not, the goal is to carve out time with those you love to slow down, catch up, and make sweet new memories together. You’re guaranteed to ace that aspect!

Step 1: Select the venue.

Your home is the handiest option. I’ve had friends attend cookie exchanges at places of worship, community centers, and even bookstores and bakeries in their neck of the woods. Once you nail down your place, date, and time, you’re ready to proceed.

Step 2: Invite your inner circle.

To ensure that everyone can have enough space and to allow for real conversations (and avoid an overwhelming mountain of cookies!), I suggest selecting 6 to 10 guests to invite. Distribute invitations via a calendar invitation so the date and place populate on the virtual calendars of all who RSVP “yes.” Ask everyone to state any food allergies, intolerances, or preferences at this time.

Step 3: Set the ground rules.

I generally ask guests to bring enough so that each attendee will head home with 6 pieces of each treat. That would add up to 42 treats (if you have 6 guests and you as the host) to 66 treats (10 guests plus you), which is a fairly reasonable task for the baker…and quantity for each guest to carry home.

In a follow-up email, notify everyone of any ingredients they should steer clear of based on your allergy and intolerance research, then distribute a spreadsheet (Google Sheets work great for this!) so each attendee can list their name and the recipe they plan to bring. This will see to it that you’re not left with 66 chocolate chip cookies…although that wouldn’t be so bad! Request that each individual try to bring a different recipe than those already listed, just to keep things interesting. Advise that bakers bring their creations on large serving platters or cake stands so you don’t have to round up a big stack.

Step 5: Plan the party menu.

Since humans can not live on flour, butter, and sugar alone, use the allergies and intolerances as a starting point and build out the savory menu and refreshments from there. Either outsource to a local caterer or restaurant, or select a simple make-ahead party-sized recipe or two.

If it’s between meals, a Midwest Charcuterie Board or Mezze Platter would work well for savory appetizers. Or for a lunch or dinnertime exchange, try Sweet Potato Chili or a Chipotle Copycat Buffet. For warm beverages, think eggnog, hot cocoa, or hot mulled cider. Add a few bottles of wine to share and you’re all set.

Step 6: Select the soundtrack.

An Apple Music or Spotify playlist like “Holiday Party” or “Holiday Hits” will help set the mood. If you’d like to crank up the festive vibes even more, consider rounding up or investing in some decor if the space isn’t spirited. A little sparkly garland and a few sparkling lights can go a long way.

Step 7: Stock up on to-go containers.

I love recyclable takeout boxes like these to keep each cookie or candy tucked away separately. Alternatively, you can ask guests to bring their own containers from home to cut down on expenses and paper products.

Step 8: Bake!

Now that the logistics are all set, you’re ready to build and/or bake your candies or cookies. The day before the cookie exchange is typically when I reserve for this task. If you’re DIY-ing the savory side of the menu as well, now is a good time to purchase the ingredients and check off any make-ahead aspects you can.

The day of, set out the drinks and the snacks or meal, cue up the music and place your cookies on a platter. You’re ready to greet your guests and celebrate the sweetest season.

Step 10: Enjoy the rewards.

After the cookies and candies have been boxed up and sent home, kick those feet up; you did it! The next day, I like to send a follow-up email to thank everyone for coming. Include a link to a Google Drive or Dropbox folder in the email, and request that everyone add a document with their recipe so everyone can recreate the treats you’re now all savoring at home.

Sugar cookies are a classic. But if those are already covered, I’ve gathered some more options, from classic to creative to no oven required.

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Best No-Bake Treats and Candy

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Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.

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