KP Cooks

The Great Holiday Cookie Swap Draws Near


For the uninitiated, cookie exchanges are a real thing, especially around the holidays. Dec. 22 this year is National Cookie Exchange Day (mark your calendar), so there is plenty of time to organize one with friends and family. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to do this over coffee in the morning, at brunch, or in the evening after a potluck supper, it’s getting together and sharing that counts.

Cookie swaps (or exchanges) typically include people who commit to baking their favorite cookie, get together to sample cookies, bring several dozen to share, and leave with a variety of cookies other than their own.

When and where did this tradition begin?

Legend has it the Dutch brought this custom with them when they came to America, likely back in the 17th century. The word “cookie” likely comes from the Dutch word “koekje.” The first recorded swap occurred during a Dutch-themed event in New Amsterdam (now New York) in 1703. While the initial exchanges may not have occurred during the holiday season, this lovely tradition continues to this day, usually during December.

By the mid-1950s, cookie swaps were associated with Christmas and flourished. As more women entered the workforce, swaps became a popular way to increase the variety of holiday cookies they could serve while reducing the time spent baking different kinds.

Over the years, it’s been my pleasure to host and attend many cookie exchanges. It’s great fun to get together with friends and share stories of other holiday traditions as well as cookie recipe successes (and failures). It’s a great way to celebrate the season and friendships while enjoying classic or new cookie recipes.

Below are a few recipes usually associated with the holidays. All are from “Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book,” the old standby from the 1960s. This cooky (sic)book is a classic, and is still available new or, if you are so inclined, vintage copies are available online. My copy is well-loved, well-used, and falling apart. While the internet is a great resource for all kinds of recipes, there is nothing quite like opening up an old cookbook and browsing its pages for the perfect recipe. 

Russian Tea Cakes (sometimes called Mexican Wedding Cakes)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • ½ cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2¼ cups flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup finely chopped nuts

Mix butter, sugar and vanilla thoroughly. Measure flour by the dipping method (scoop into a measuring cup and level off with the edge of a knife), and add to butter mixture, blending well. Mix in nuts. Dough will be stiff. Chill dough for an hour.

Heat oven to 400. Using a small scoop or tablespoon, roll dough into balls and place on an ungreased baking sheet (cookies do not spread). Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set, but not brown. While still warm, roll in powdered sugar. Cool. Roll in powdered sugar again. Makes four dozen; one dozen to keep and three to share.

Sugar Cookies

  • ¾ cup fat: half unsalted butter, half shortening
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon lemon flavoring or vanilla
  • 2½ cups flour (measure by scoop method, described above)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Mix shortening/butter, sugar, eggs and flavoring thoroughly. Stir flour, baking powder and salt together and blend with shortening/butter mixture. Chill dough for at least an hour.Heat oven to 400. Roll dough 1/8 inch thick on lightly floured board or pastry cloth. Cut out with various shaped cookie cutters. Bake six to eight minutes, or until cookies are a delicate brown. Frost with powdered sugar icing and decorate with various sprinkles, if desired. Makes four dozen.

Candy Cane Cookies

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2½ cups flour (measure by scoop method, described above)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red food coloring
  • 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

Heat oven to 375. Mix shortening, butter, sugar, egg and flavorings thoroughly. Mix flour and salt, stir into butter/shortening mixture. Divide dough in half. Add food coloring to one-half.

Roll out a 4-inch strip of dough (about one tablespoon) from each color. For smooth, even strips, roll them back and forth on lightly floured board or pastry cloth. Place two strips side by side, press them lightly together, and twist like a rope. For best results, complete one cookie at a time (if all the dough of one color is shaped first, strips become too dry to twist). Place on ungreased baking sheet. Curve top down to form the handle of a cane.

Bake for about nine minutes, until lightly browned. While still warm, remove from baking sheet with spatula and sprinkle with mixture of sugar and candy cane. Makes four dozen.

And there you have it — everything you need to start your own koekje swap.