Surviving The Holiday Cookie Swap
The invitation sounds innocent, fun even. “Come to a holiday cookie swap!” But be warned: You may find competitive bakers showing off – and showing up the rest of us.
Some people are cookie artisans. They bake edible embodiments of beauty. They create miniature masterpieces too pretty to eat.
If you want to try your hand at it, google “fancy decorated cookies” and you’ll see page after page of examples. This Youtube tutorial from Amber Speigel of SweetAmbsCookies shows how to use a fine-tipped applicator to draw lace and flowers with royal icing on a sugar cookie. It has more than 1.1 million views.
Beautiful books can motivate a determined decorator. Two favorites come from authors Valerie Peterson and Janice Fryer, Cookie Craft: From Baking to Luster Dust, Designs and Techniques for Creative Cookie Occasions and Cookie Craft Christmas: Dozens of Decorating Ideas for a Sweet Holiday. Just thumbing through the photos can make a person salivate.
Now, there’s a slight chance that these examples may not actually inspire you. Some of us lack the patience, skill, or time to create a reindeer sweater pattern on a cookie (about 45 minutes for each). We may be tempted to quit cookie-crafting altogether. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x35UwHUWyLY
Don’t fret. There’s a solution: Cookies that taste more special than they appear. Cookies that may look bland, but pack flavor and texture into every bite. Chunky cookies. Lumpy cookies. Bumpy cookies.
I learned this lesson when I took part in a long-distance cookie swap recently. Organizer Julie Schwietert Collazo paired me with fellow food-writer Terra Brockman. (I’d have been too scared to play if I’d known beforehand she was a 2010 James Beard Award finalist for her book, “The Seasons on Henry’s Farm: A Year of Food and Life on a Sustainable Farm.”)
Brockman sent me a box of assorted, handmade biscotti. Crumbly crisp and buttery sweet, those rough-cut cookies with almonds and dark chocolate chips weren’t what you would call showy. But they were as perfect as biscotti could ever hope to be. I nervously sent madeleines in return, with a self-deprecating note (by then I’d found out about the award). “You may think they’re homely, but I think they’re lovely,” she messaged me.
So, let’s say you arrive at the party with macaroons you make from your own family recipe. You may feel a little foolish. Don’t. You may cringe at the thought of placing your simple sugar cookies on the swap table with all the elegant ones. Don’t. You may feel the urge to apologize for your humble shortbread or snickerdoodles. Do NOT.
Who cares if those decorating experts get style-points for their skills? Let them enjoy the accolades. The cookies you made with your own hands are the ones your true friends want to taste. Splurge on pine nuts or stick with plain old peanuts. Fling colored sugar with reckless abandon. Surprise your friends with breakfast cookies (recipe below). There’s really no way to go wrong.
Just remember: Every jammy thumbprint and jagged edge is the result of your imperfect effort. And that is perfectly wonderful.
Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies with Pepitas and Dried Cranberries
by Emily Paster
There are always a lot of baked goods at a food swap, but these breakfast cookies stand out because they are more than just an indulgence. With whole-wheat flour, wheat germ, oats, pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries, these cookies are filling and nutritious, making them an ideal on-the-go breakfast or snack.
I developed this recipe to be nut- and peanut-free because many schools today ban these common allergens. I wanted these cookies to be something that a child could bring to school for a snack or in a lunchbox. If nuts are not a concern for your family, feel free to replace the pumpkin seeds with your favorite nut for added protein.
For the cookies:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 tablespoons wheat germ
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup maple syrup
tablespoon orange juice
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line three baking sheets with silicone baking liners or parchment paper.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, wheat germ, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, the vanilla extract, and the orange zest, and mix well.
4. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix thoroughly, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Fold in the rolled oats, dried cranberries, and pumpkin seeds.
5. With dampened hands, scoop balls of dough the size of ping-pong balls onto the cookie sheets. You should get 9 cookies to a sheet. Flatten the balls gently with a spatula or your hand.
6. Bake 15 to 17 minutes until the edges are golden. Cool on a wire rack.
7. While the cookies are cooling, make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together the sifted powdered sugar, maple syrup, and orange juice. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cookies. Allow the glaze to harden before storing the cookies.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies
Excerpted from Food Swap, © by Emily Paster, used with permission from Storey Publishing.