A cookie platter may be a holiday tradition at your house, but a messy kitchen and all-day bake off doesn't have to be.
Simplify your holiday baking this season and host your own cookie exchange and reap the tasty benefits. All it takes is some pre-planning, some friends and family who know their way around a mixer and a few delicious, easy cookie recipes. Here's The Berkshire Eagle's top five tips gleaned from our annual cookie exchange -- hosted by Catherine Wandrei, human resources manager of New England Newspapers:
Look at the calendar: Timing is everything, says Wandrei, who along with Magaret Button, city editor at The North Adams Transcript and food columnist, has hosted the sugary swap at The Eagle for three years in a row and kept the tradition alive at The Transcript for more than 30 years. Choosing to have the swap a few weeks before Christmas gives people the chance to have an assortment of cookies to offer guests, family who may stop by in the build up to the holidays. Also, holding the exchange on a Monday makes it less stressful, giving bakers the weekend to pull together their share.
Get organized: Send out an invitation early, with specific instructions. At The Eagle, each person is asked to bring their own cookies, a container to hold those cookies in and another empty one to gather the take-home assortment. Participants are also encouraged to let the organizers know what they are baking, in order to avoid duplicate cookies. We all love sugar cookies, but no one wants to take home 72 of them after a cookie swap. Recipe diversity is key to a successful swap.
Simple math: Wandrei asks all participating in the exchange to bake six dozen of one kind of cookie, or 72 cookies.
"Seventy two is the magic number, I've found," she said. "If you ask for more than that, people won't participate."
She then divides 72 by the number of people participating and that's the number of cookies each person gets from each pile of cookies brought in by participants. That way, everyone also gets to take home a few of their own.
Pay attention to details: Make it a party by bringing some hot chocolate, or milk for bakers to enjoy a few treats before bringing the bounty of cookies home to hungry family members. Also, purchase pastic gloves for partygoers to wear while they fill up their plates to go home -- no need to take the flu home with you too!
Share your secrets: To make sure your recipe is the gift that keeps on giving, ask bakers to bring a copy of their recipe with them to the exchange, then distribute them to all who participated. Maybe after tasting a few, you may find a new favorite to tuck away for the next year.
In the spirit of swapping cookies and recipes, here are a few Eagle staffers recipes that were a hit at this week's swap:
Chocolate Hazelnut-Peanut Butter Cookie Cups
(Submitted by Nicole Herold)
1 roll (16.5 oz) pre-made refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough
12 tablespoons peanut
12 tablespoons hazelnut spread with cocoa
Heat oven to 350 degress. Spray 24 mini-muffin cups with cooking spray. Scoop 1 tablespoon of cookie dough into each muffin cup. Press down. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Using shot glass sprayed with cooking spray, immediately press center of each muffin cup gently to shape cookie cup. Cool completely in pan. Turn pan upside down to remove cookie cups from pan. Place 1/2 tablespoon peanut butter in each cookie cup. Top each with 1/2 tablespoon hazelnut spread with cocoa. Hello Dollys
(Submitted by Frank McKenna)
1 stick of butter
1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
6 oz. shredded coconut
6 oz. chocolate chips
1 cup of nuts
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter, pour into a 13-inch pan. Add graham cracker crumbs evenly over butter. Pour about 2 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk over graham crackers. Sprink coconut evenly over that, then the chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle the rest of the condensed milk over the entire thing. Bake for 20-25 minutes and let cool completely before cutting into bars.
Chocolate Mint Crinkle Cookies
(Submitted by Margaret Button)
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. of baking powder
1/4 tsp of salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 stick of butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup of mint chocolate chips
3/4 cup of confectioners sugar for coating
In a small bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt; set aside.
In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together both sugars, butter and extraxt until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. Gradually beat in dry ingredients until well blended; fold in mint chocolate chips. Cover bowl and refrigerate for one hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Remove chilled dough (using tablespoon) and roll into balls; toss in confectioners sugar to heavily coat and place on cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies crackle and are cooked through. Remove from oven and allow two to three minutes before flattening them with the back of a spatula.
Sugared Cherry Jewels
(Submitted by Joyce Brewer)
Makes about five dozen
1 cup of butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 jar (10 oz) maraschino cherries, drained and halved
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in corn syrup, egg yolks and vanilla. Gradually add the flour and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for one hour until easy to handle.
Roll into 1-inch balls; roll each ball in additional sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Using the end of a wooden spoon handle, make an indentation in the center of each. Press a cherry half in each center.
Bake at 325 degrees for 14-16 minutes or until lightly browned.
Russian Tea Cakes
(Submitted by Kate Abbott)
1 cup butter
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
3/4 cup almonds chopped fine
2 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
Combine into ingredients into a dough. Form into balls and bake at 375 degrees until set, but not brown -- about 10 minutes. Roll the balls, while still hot, in confectioner's sugar.
You can store them in confectioner's sugar as well.