Part 2

….continued

One of the primary reasons I am going to Reno when I am is so that I can attend my best friend’s first annual Christmas cookie exchange.  Five years ago I held my first cookie exchange party and had 7 ladies attend.  The next year we had 24 and the event has continued to grow.  It has been so exciting to see some of the ladies/girls that attended my party in the past branch out and and start their own cookie exchange parties.  It is a fantastic way to meet your neighbors and I encourage each of you to consider starting your own annual cookie exchange tradition.

I’m not an expert by any means, but I’d like to share a few tips that will hopefully help your party to be a great success.

1.  Pick a date.  I would encourage you to have your party on a Saturday, not too close to Christmas.  Ladies tend to get burned out on Christmas festivities early, so have your party 2 or 3 weeks before.  And having your exchange on a Saturday allows moms that work outside of the home to participate.

2.  Send out invitations early….really early if possible. November and December fill up quickly so you want to get your party on the calendar asap.

3.  Make it competitive. This isn’t a necessity, but I’ve found that women love a good challenge.  Who can make the yummiest cookie?  Who can make the most creative cookie display?  I have all of the attendees vote and give prizes to category winners.  The first category is Yummiest Looking Cookie Obviously we can’t sample every cookie, so this prize goes to the cookie that you can’t wait to get your hands on.  I admit, there is always one cookie that I scramble for when my guests leave.  The second category is Most Creative Cookie Display.  Last year, one of my friends dressed up like a wise man and brought cookies that looks like gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  In the past we’ve had ladies make reindeer cookies and wear antlers and Rudolph noses. It’s a hoot!  And it gets everyone in the spirit.

4.  Be sure to let everyone know that you don’t have to have a competitive cookie to attend. As a matter of fact, they don’t have to make cookies at all.  We’ve had ladies bring all kinds of Christmas treats to share.  As long as they bring the required number, it really doesn’t matter what they bring.

5.  Make it kid friendly. I try to stress every year for moms to bring their daughters and encourage them to get in the kitchen.  If you have enough young girls, have a mini-homemaker awards for the categories listed above.

5.  Pick a theme. Each year I have theme that I use to decorate with.  We’ve done themes such as Classic Christmas and Winter Wonderland.  It gives the ladies something to anticipate each year since they know it will be different from the year before.  It’s easy to let a cookie party become monotonous and repetitive year after year.  So get creative and mix things up!  I can’t wait to share this year’s theme with y’all, but it’s going to have to wait until after the party.  🙂

6.  Have cool prizes and games! Every Christmas I ask my husband to give me money for my cookie party instead of a Christmas present.  I have way more fun shopping for prizes and decorations than I ever would opening a gift.  I really try to find things that a person couldn’t just run out and buy or wouldn’t usually buy for themselves.  I also try to find other stay at home moms that have home based businesses that I can support.  There are some talented women out there that offer some amazing and unique products.

7.  Make sure there are plenty of cookies! I have each of my ladies bring 4 dozen cookies.  That allows for each person in attendance to take home 1 or 2 of each cookie.  It’s common to have a cookie or two left on each plate so I usually put together extra take home boxes to give to shut-ins or to our pastor, etc.

I’m sure I will think of other advice to give later, but this should give you a good start.  Remember, your party doesn’t have to be huge or extravagant.  Keep it simple the first year just to see how it goes.  Each year you can add new and different elements to make the party uniquely yours.   So start planning!

Here is a recipe for the cookie that won the title of Yummiest Looking Cookie last year.  And let me tell you, these were as delicious as they looked!

CARAMEL PECAN THUMBPRINT COOKIES

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups finely chopped pecans
Caramel sauce:
30 caramels, unwrapped
1/3 cup heavy cream
Glaze:
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs corn syrup

Combine butter, sugar, egg yolks, milk and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Beat until light and fluffy. Add flour, cocoa powder and salt. Beat until well combined. Refrigerate dough for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place egg whites in a small bowl. Place finely chopped pecans in a bowl. Set aside. Roll dough into balls. Dip balls into egg white and then into pecans. (I find this easier if I make a whole baking sheet worth of dough balls, then dip them all in egg/pecans). Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Make a small indentation with your thumb in the center of each cookie.

Bake at 350°F for 12 minutes, or until cookies are set. While cookies are still hot, press center again (the back of a measuring teaspoon or small melon-baller work well for this–no burned thumbs!)

To prepare Caramel Sauce: Combine caramels and cream in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat until caramels are melted. Spoon small amount of caramel into centers of baked cookies. Carefully remove cookies to a wire rack to cool.

For Chocolate Glaze: Combine bittersweet chips, butter and corn syrup in a small bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave for another 20-30 seconds if not melted. Let cool slightly. Pour chocolate into a small Ziploc freezer bag (don’t use a regular bag-it WILL burst). Poke a hole in the corner of the bag (a bamboo skewer makes a perfect sized hole). Drizzle chocolate over the cooled cookies. Cool until set.

To store: refrigerate or freeze cookies in individual layers; then store between layers of waxed paper in the refrigerator or freezer. They can also be stored at room temperature, but if you stack them, they will stick together.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

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