Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Blueprint for a Cookie Exchange

I volunteered to host a holiday reunion for my somewhat defunct networking group. Over three years ago my realtor at the time, the lovely & talented Dian Adair, invited me to come to a women's networking group that she and her friend, Lexi, started. The group was called SWANK (short for Smart Women's Association of Networking Knowledge). Never mind the fact that Swank was the name of an old pornographic magazine along the lines of Hustler, we were making the name our own. Dian's friend, Lexi, ended up being an old coworker from my college days who I've always liked and respected, so coincidence worked in my favor to join the group. SWANK went strong with Dian and Lexi at the helm for about two years of monthly meetings. But, members had babies, moved to different cities and were all busy with business of life, and SWANK kind of dissolved. The SWANK alumnae still run into each other from time-to-time at fun social events, but there weren't any SWANK-sanctioned events for over a year.

I really love all the ladies who were part of SWANK, and really wanted to see them together again. It seemed the only way to make this reunion happen was to plan it myself. I set up an Evite and had the invitees vote on whether they wanted to get together for a happy hour out at a restaurant, or have an ornament exchange at my house, or have a cookie exchange at my house. Honestly, I was hoping for the ornament exchange option to win out as I thought it would mean less prep work/baking on my part, but in the end, the cookie exchange won by a landslide. I love to bake. I love hosting parties. The thought of baking four dozen cookies and hosting the party was a bit daunting.

Somehow I got the house cleaned, baked the cookies, set out drinks and snacks and pulled off the 2007 SWANK Cookie Exchange. Guests were asked to bring four-dozen cookies each. I provided printed recipe sheets for the cookies I baked, but spaced-out and forgot to ask guests to do the same. File that under "next time I'll know". I bought big, 1 gallon buckets with a Christmas theme from Container Store for about $2 each for guests to tote home their cookies with wax paper separating each layer. I used red and white Marimekko paper plates and napkins from Crate & Barrel for a festive touch that wasn't overly holiday-themed.

Chad half-joked that since a bunch of girls were coming over, they would probably just look at the food and not really eat much. He was wrong. Here's what I served:
Platter of chopped, raw veggies with cucumber-dill dip
Bowls of mixed nuts/seasonal candies
Platter with a cranberry cheese roulade, hickory cheese roll & crackers

When the first four guests arrived, I asked if they would eat pizza rolls if I ordered some. Oh, yeah. Austin's Pizza to the rescue! Everybody loves the spinach & mushroom pizza rolls. I got a few pepperoni rolls for the meat-eaters. I think I should order two spinach & mushroom pizza rolls per guest for every event I host henceforth, no matter what the theme may be.

Here are photos:


The cookies I made.
Recipe for Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies
From Bon Appetit, December 2005

Makes about 18 sandwich cookies.
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg

For cookies: Whisk flour, cocoa, salt in a medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in a large bowl until well blended. Beat in egg. Add dry ingredients; beat until blended. Refrigerate dough for one hour.
Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Scoop out dough by the level tablespoon full, then roll into smooth balls. Place balls on prepared cookie sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Using bottom of a glass, flatten each ball to 2-inch round. (I found it helpful to dip the bottom of the glass in flour and cocoa to prevent sticking of dough.) Bake until cookies no longer look wet, about 11 minutes. Cool on sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool completely.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 drops (or more) red food coloring

For filling: Using electric mixer, beat powdered sugar and butter in medium bowl until well blended. Add peppermint extract and 2 drops food coloring. Beat until light pink and well blended, adding more food coloring by the drop if desired. Spread 2 generous teaspoons of filling evenly over flat side of 1 cookie to edges; top with another cookie, flat side down, pressing gently to adhere.

Place 1/2 cup (about 4 ounces) of crushed candy canes on a plate. Roll edges of each cookie in the crushed candies to adhere to filling. (Candies can be crushed by placing in double-bagged zipper bags and whacking with a mallet or dropping from chest height onto a hard floor.)

Cookie sandwiches can be made ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days or freeze up to 2 weeks.

I made (very popular) goodie bags for each of the guests that contained:
Mint Truffle Hershey Kisses - You must try these. Yum!
Candy Cane Hershey Kisses - These are good if you like white chocolate.
Hershey Chocolate Santas - festive
Lip Smackers in various soda flavors - This brand does not test on animals!
Ms. Manicure Blocks that make your nails so pretty and shiny that you don't need polish!
All of the above items were procured from my favorite chain store, Target.