“Cookies, Candies & Christmas” was the title of this uber chic cookie exchange party. How irresistible? And this annual party is not to be missed! Gracious hostess and experienced baker herself, Shannon Mariani hosts a fabulous cookie exchange party with all the bells and whistles, or in this case fondant, sprinkles and peppermint sticks! Guests are asked to bring six dozen of their favorite holiday sweets to share.
Upon arrival to the Mariani’s beautiful home in Winters, California, bakers place their trays and platters of treats on the decorated buffet table and get a number for the secret voting which takes place later during the party. After an hour or so of socializing over sweet and savory morning morsels, coffee and mimosas (why not?), guests are asked to vote for cookies in the following categories: most festive, best tasting, best presentation, best overall. Shannon goes all out with prizes for the winners, and these aren’t your standard door prizes….This “hostess with the most-est” spoils her friends with lovely gifts, and each is wrapped beautifully with luxurious ribbons and flair. The prizes don’t stop there. Shannon’s three kids and their friends thought it would be fun if “the moms” guessed how many red, white and green gumballs were in one of the decorative pedestal jars. Answer is….640! And for that lucky winner, a covered glass pedestal stand of chewy, caramel turtles was taken home! How fun and unexpected is that?
And that is the core objective of Shannon’s parties – a great time during an especially over-loaded season where friends can gather, connect, laugh and relax. After the prizes have been awarded guest bakers line up to “exchange” cookies. Each guest receives a large, white bakery box to collect a sampling from each cookie platter on the buffet. Festive ribbons are used to wrap up each box to take home – mission accomplished! The cookie assortment in these boxes is different every year, and never fails to please family at home, lucky neighbors and friends that drop by during the season.
As with any party, upfront planning makes all the difference. Here are ten tips for hosting your own cookie exchange party:
1. Send invitations out at least three weeks in advance. Select stationery that sets the tone for your party’s theme.
2. Prepare your home to have guests. A holiday party is the time to go all out and make your guests feel special.
3. If your party is scheduled before the noon hour, a beverage area set with coffee and teas is always welcome, an offering of sparkling waters, juices and perhaps even a little bubbly will please your guests.
4. A variety of light hors d’ouevres is always a nice compliment to the drinks when you’re not serving a meal. Fruit platters, petite quiche bites and streusel-topped mini muffins are suggestions for a morning gathering.
5. For a cookie exchange party specifically, be sure to anticipate how much space you will need to display your guests’ cookie platters. Decide if you want to use a table cloth or other table covering.
6. If you’re planning on friendly competitions, pre-make identifying numbers or tags and have ready as guests put down their trays. Also, prepare tally sheets and pencils for any contests.
7. If you’re awarding prizes, take time to wrap them artfully with beautiful wrapping.
8. Pre-order boxes and ribbon for guests to use when they collect a few cookies from each platter. Pre-cut ribbon prior to party day so guests can easily wrap up their cookie box, and you don’t have to fuss with scissors during your party!
9. Have sheets of wax or parchment paper on hand for easy stacking layers of cookies.
10. Remember the details: music, seasonal decor, fresh greenery of the season and a welcoming spirit!
Cookie exchanges are a fantastic way to create elaborate holiday cookie platters with a variety of recipes your family and friends will enjoy. If you host a party in the future, you may want to ask guests to bring their recipe to share. Another idea is to target the recipients of the finished cookie platters (for teachers, as an example). It may be that a cookie exchange party sparks your inner-pastry chef and you’ll be inspired to continue baking into the new year. Or, maybe a cookie exchange is your annual date with that standing mixer you got as a wedding gift. No matter what, a cookie exchange party connects people and good food. So, be a smart cookie and make this holiday season a celebration.
Wishing you a joyful and peaceful season with family and friends.
Happy Holidays to all!
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