According to various women’s magazines The Annual Cookie Exchange is a fast and fun way to fill your fridge with holiday goodies while socializing with friends. Seductive promises like these, combined with glossy photos of happy families munching the sugary spoils, can be very persuasive. The reality? Unless you hang out with seasoned bakers, you’re likely to leave with a plate of sweets even Santa won’t touch. And if your own kitchen skills aren’t up to snuff, you could do irreparable damage to your culinary reputation.
If you feel compelled to attend (or for some inexplicable reason host) a cookie exchange, I won’t stop you. But be warned, not everyone plays by the rules. Check the credentials of all participants before agreeing to anything. And for the love of shortbread, make sure everyone knows and follows these rules — er, friendly guidelines. I draw these suggestions from experience. I kid you not:
- Now is not, repeat not, a good time to test a new-to-you cookie. Recipes can contain typos (did I write 1 pound of butter? Oops! I meant 1 cup!) and fiddly goodies don’t always turn out perfectly on the first attempt. Which segues neatly to point 2.
- Grating the charred bottom off burned cookies will not elevate your status within your cookie exchange network. Word gets around. Trust me.
- If you burn the cookies don’t be tempted to bring a store bought version as a last minute replacement. Yes, The PC Luxury Biscuit Assortment is a holiday treat, but you standing in line at the grocery store check out long enough to read all the tabloid headlines doesn’t compare with my afternoon spent mixing, rolling, baking and tying homemade delicacies into a neat little package tied with a red bow. You’re better off bringing the burnt offerings. We’ll at least know you tried.
- “Homebaked” impostors are worse. From-scratch bakers can spot a Pillsbury Pop-n-Fresh intruder from across the room. Don’t even consider this option. You’ll be labeled a cheater and your cookies will be fed to the squirrels – in clear sight of the neighbours.
- Drizzling chocolate over cheap, store bought sugar cookies won’t fool anyone either. Just fess up that you can’t bake and bring wine. Bakers are surprisingly susceptible to alcoholic bribes.
- No re-gifting. If you didn’t like the haul from last week’s cookie exchange, neither will we.
If you’ve broken any of these guidelines, don’t feel bad. Another unmentioned reality of The Cookie Exchange Fantasy is that magazines have test kitchens and trained staff devoted to baking. It didn’t all come together in under two hours. I’m betting if the editors were forced to hold an unaided exchange, they’d all opt for number 5 and a corkscrew.