Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hosting A Christmas Treat Swap!

Have you heard of this idea before? To some, it may seem like a silly question to ask but the first time I hosted a treat swap, hardly anybody knew what it was. So for those of who don't know, it's exactly what it says: a treat swap.
Around Christmas time, for those of us ambitious enough for another holiday activity to tackle, we host a cookie swap. The idea is to invite your friends, family, neighbors, church group, co-workers, or random strangers to exchange cookies. Usually, you bring enough cookies so that each person goes home with 1/2-1 dozen of each. I know it sounds simple, but it really isn't as clear cut as that. You see, as with all good things, there are rules that you have to follow.
For the cookie swap, there is [usually] only 1. But it's a doozy: Only one of each cookie variation is allowed. For example, only one person can make snickerdoodles.
I know it doesn't sound very complicated but for the host, it can be. It means that I have to keep track of every person that RSVP's. And if your guests are anything like mine, most people don't RSVP until the last minute, if at all. It also means that I don't know (and therefore can't tell anyone) how many cookies they need to bring. But there is an easy way around that dilemma. I've seen cookie swaps that suggest bringing a flat 6 dozen cookies (1 dozen for gotta sample! And 5 dozen for sharing). Then guests place their cookies on a table. Everyone forms a circle around the table. Everyone one puts one or two cookies from each plate into a container of their own and walks around the table until all of the cookies are gone.
This is the process that I used the first time I hosted a cookie swap. And even though everyone loved it and had fun, I'm a perfectionist and knew that I'd keep tweaking my cookie swaps until I had the process perfected. I'm still working on it!
I would like to point to flaws that I found with this process (though you're not guaranteed to experience these). 1) We had roughly 20 people show up. Yes, 20 people! Do you know how far 5 dozen cookies goes between 20 people? Not very far! 2) After everyone had gone around and grabbed a cookie to sample from each tray, no one could remember what the name was. Therefore, they didn't know which one to mark down that they liked. And it was really hard trying to track down one specific cookie name, "Do you know the name of the chocolate cookie that has nuts in it?"
I also requested each guest to bring 20 copies of their cookie recipe with them. This way, everyone gets a copy and can make their favorites at home.
Needless to say, I learned a lot that first year. Mainly, what not to do again!
The second year, I hosted two cookie swaps. It might sound like more work but it actually worked out great. One group was my church friends and one group was my family and other friends. That year, each group had 10 guests attending. Trust me, it is a lot easier to bake goodies for 10 people than it is for 20! I also requested the guests pre-package their cookies in groups of 1/2 dozen. This way, all we had to do was grab one of each package (which had the name of the cookie written on it). No more worries about forgetting what the name of the most delicious cookie more worries about spreading germs - let's be honest, if you have 20 people grabbing cookies off of a Christmas time...chances are one of them is sick or has a sick child. And chances are that in the next three days, half of the cookie swap guests will become sick. Also, one of the first things I noticed that first year, when I got home and opened up my box of newly acquired cookies...all of the flavors blended together. That delicious nutmeg cookie had rubbed off on my orange dreamsicle cookie. Separate they were all delicious but some flavor combinations should not be tried. This is especially true if you don't like certain flavors - like coconut.
At the second cookie swap, I also provided the guests with a cookie rating card. It had the name of each cookie available with 5 blank stars next to it. Guests could rate the cookies they were tasting so that they would know which ones they liked best.
This year will be my third year hosting the cookie swap. And this year I have changed the name to "treat" swap. This is mainly because I don't like to be restricted to just cookies. After all, I AM a baker. I have picked out (thanks to pinterest) some very cute Christmas cupcakes to make. And I want to make some truffles. And some bon bons. Did I mention that I usually baked 3-4 different items for each swap?

Had I known then that I'd be blogging about cookie swaps now, I would have taken pictures last year. Unfortunately, I didn't. But to help get you started here are some ideas that I have found, and loved, online.
For the invitations (which can be found here):

I love these invitations! They include the invitation, a reply card (would be easier to keep track of who's coming and bringing what), a rule guide, and recipe cards for them to fill out with their recipe. I really thought I could use this idea this year, but between baking, daycare, kids, housework, and college, I just didn't have the time.

Here are some ideas for how to pre-package your cookies or treats (ideas also found here)

This year, instead of having guests bring copies of their recipe, I requested that they give me one copy and bring none. I also requested this last year but only one person did it. The idea is to purchase $1 photo albums from Wal-Mart and I'll print out and put copies of each recipe in the books and each guest will get a recipe book from the cookie swap. While I'd love to purchase a fancier photo album, it just isn't economically possible for my family.
Check out this cute photo-album-turned-recipe-book (also found here):

And finally, I love this idea:

with the winner of each category receiving a small gift. It could just be some Christmas scented candles, Christmas decorations, a gift card, or baking items (kitchen towels, wooden spoons, cookie scoop, etc).

The great thing about hosting parties is that there are no set rules that you have to follow. You can choose to do things your own way. I've seen cookie swaps that have explicitly said, "No chocolate chip cookies or any variation."...Swaps that have requested that you share a family favorite recipe (and share why its meaningful to you with the group)....Swaps that have required a specific type of cookie: chocolate, ethnic, etc. The possibilities are endless!

Be sure to check back in a few weeks to see how my third cookie swap turned out! I promise to take pictures this time!

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