Holiday cookie swaps, an annual tradition, are back

by April Lisante
Posted 12/1/21

This year, I’m celebrating and advocating the return of the Cookie Swap Party. After being on hiatus last year, the parties are back, and they’re a win-win for everyone involved.

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Holiday cookie swaps, an annual tradition, are back


For as long as I can remember, holiday cookie baking has been a major production in my family. A drop-everything, buy tens of hundreds of supplies and literally live in the kitchen kind of production.

Some of my most poignant childhood holiday memories involve watching my mother and grandmother bake more than a dozen types of cookies, making hundreds at a time, for up to a week straight. As an adult, I did not escape the madness with my baker husband, who has been known to make hundreds of cookies at a time before Christmas arrives.

I love cookies as much as the next person, but when you’re cellophaning gift trays at 2 a.m. on Christmas morning, it’s pretty obvious the line has to be drawn somewhere.

That’s why this year, I’m celebrating and advocating the return of the Cookie Swap Party. After being on hiatus last year, the parties are back, and they’re a win-win for everyone involved.

If you’re not familiar with how they work, you basically invite a bunch of friends to each pick one cookie that they’ll make a batch of, then bring to a party, where everyone will then swap what they made and take samples of all the other cookies the other guests made. The end result can be multiple trays filled with homemade cookies, and you just saved yourself about 168 hours of leg work.

Planning a cookie swap is pretty easy.

  • Set a date and invite your guests.
  • Try to keep track of who is making what type of cookie to be sure there aren’t too many duplicate recipes.
  • Request that guests bring copies of recipe cards or an ingredient list with them to assure those with allergies they’re not getting cookies they can’t eat.
  • Provide plastic trays or bakery boxes that guests can use to assemble their hauls and transport them home.

The annual cookie swap has been a longtime tradition at the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Chestnut Hill Avenue in Chestnut Hill, and this year it is back, but it will be held out front on Dec. 12 under a big white tent on the church lawn, instead of in the parish hall.

Organizer Cathy Davis has been heading the festivities for the past 12 years, and even had an abbreviated version in her backyard last December. But it will be good to get back to the big social hour swap she’s used to this year, she says.

“We have about fifteen families who participate and everybody makes whatever recipe they want, and it can be any type of sweets, even bars, not just cookies, but it all has to be homemade,” Davis said. “It’s a social hour. Everyone presents their cookies on a table. It’s not a contest.”

Davis likes not only that it's a way to kick off the holiday season and socialize, but it also gets her motivated to bake.

“It gives me a deadline,” she laughed. “It makes me make cookies once a year, like once I set the date [for the swap] I can’t put it off anymore.”

Davis admits she does end up making four or five batches of cookies to bring, though guests only have to bring one batch.

“I have to make my wreath cookies. That’s one of my standards,” she said. “This year I found a new recipe for angel wings, which I thought was appropriate for church.”

While cookie swaps can be held almost anywhere, a good old open house-type swap party is another local favorite to get the holidays kicked off right.

Two local friends, Colleen Howard and Nanci Fitzgerald, have been organizing a cookie swap annually for years at various locations for local parents who just need a break from all the hustle and bustle in the weeks leading up to the holidays. Last year, Covid cancelled the tradition, but this year, they’re excited to be back in the Kismet Cowork space on Willow Grove Ave. on Dec. 14, with about thirty to forty participants bringing cookies.

“It’s a great way to get together with a lot of different people from our work lives, our growing up lives and our school lives,” said Howard, a Chestnut Hill resident and executive director of the local Girls on the Run organization.

Over the years, the “rules” regarding how many cookies to bring and so on have relaxed a lot. Now, it’s more of a social night to get together.

“It’s a super fun night during a really busy season especially for parents,” said Fitzgerald, a local realtor. “Everyone is ready to put their to-do list aside and spend time with friends.

“You go home with a million cookies,” she said. “Our families are so happy the day after.”

Cathy Davis’ Angel Wing Cookies

Makes 48 cookies

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 Tbs baking powder
1 large egg
½ tsp pure almond extract
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornstarch
For decoration:
1 egg white, slightly beaten
Sliced almonds
Granulated sugar

Beat butter, sugar, and baking powder in a large bowl with mixer on low speed to blend. Increase to medium high and beat until fluffy. Beat in egg and almond extract. On low speed, beat in flour and cornstarch until just blended.

Divide dough in half. Shape each piece into a 1-inch round disk. Wrap disks individually and refrigerate a minimum of four hours until firm.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll disks to 1/8-inches. Cut out wing shapes, using either a wing-shaped cookie cutter or a heart-shaped cutter. Freeze cut-outs on wax paper for five to ten minutes. Remove from freezer, and wax paper, place on greased cookie sheet. If you’ve used heart cutters, cut a slit at bottom of each heart and spread apart to form wings. Brush cookies with egg whites. Attach almonds and sprinkle with sugar. Bake eight to ten minutes until golden brown at edges. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Cathy Davis’ Wreath Cookies

Makes 30 wreaths

20 oz. white chocolate, broken into pieces
1 tsp. green food coloring
5 cups cornflake cereal, crushed
3 Tbs. cinnamon Red Hot candies

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and coat with non-stick spray

Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Stir until smooth and stir in food coloring. Then stir in corn flakes until evenly mixed. Drop onto cookie sheet in generous, rounded tablespoons one inch apart. Dip a chopstick in warm water, stick in the center of each mold and make circular motions until a hole is formed. Arrange Red Hot candies on wreaths using three to five candies per wreath. Place in refrigerator until cooled.