Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Cookie Exchange, Part I: Lessons Learned

Last year I went to a cookie exchange.  The invitation had come in the mail, a beautiful glossy postcard asking me to bring 72 cookies, "creatively" packaged in half dozen portions with the recipe attached, plus another half dozen for the sampling plate. I only knew a couple of the women who were attending, but I was pretty sure they were all equally crafty and hostess-y, traits I used to have. But somewhere along the line, between the teenagers and the demanding job and my general loss of interest in impressing others, those traits disappeared.

Still, I didn't want to embarrass myself.  I wasn't going to bring the paper plate of cookies with dog hair on them, or repackage something from the Meijer bakery. So I looked in my recipe arsenal and found the perfect cookie recipe clipped from an old Taste of Home magazine - Christmas Shortbread Wreaths:

Click here for the recipe: Christmas Shortbread Wreaths from Taste of Home
I figured these would be perfect - they only have a few ingredients, and they're tasty and festive and travel well.  I'd made them before, although it had been several years, so I knew that in order to be successful I would need to keep the ingredients and the cookie sheets cold, so there would be minimal spreading.  I also knew that the decorations were best added just before you take the cookies out of the oven.  Too early and they melt, too late and they roll off.  For my cookie exchange, I decided to make smaller 6-piece wreaths and package them individually. To make them even better, I would dip the bottoms in dark chocolate first!  I bought cute little holiday patterned shrink-wrap bags so the cookie wreaths would hold their shape when swapped with the other lucky exchangers. This was going to be awesome.

I planned to make the cookies the afternoon before the cookie exchange, which took place on a Sunday. I would bake them all, then coat them in chocolate and let them set before packaging. Well, it takes a lot longer to make 12 little little wreaths than it does to make one big one. After the fourth one I was sick of the whole process. I had a few mishaps - some of the wreaths were a little dark, some had swelled in the oven until they resembled pregnant ankles, and a couple stuck to the cookie sheet and broke because I waited too long to remove them. I was using colored sugar for the decor which was getting everywhere and staining my fingers, resulting in a few random red and green fingerprints on the cookies.  Still, by early evening I managed to get a dozen fairly good wreaths baked, and figured the chocolate would cover a multitude of sins.

So, if anyone out there knows how to get chocolate on the bottom of a decorated cookie, please share your secret here. It was a disaster. I tried dipping but the cookies were too thin to get a good grip, and if you squeezed too hard the edges would crumble. I tried pouring the chocolate on a plate and snuggling the cookie down into the pool, but I couldn't pick them back up without getting the chocolate all over the top of the cookie. I tried turning them over and painting the chocolate on the back. I couldn't lay them on the cookie sheet or the colored sugar fell off, so I held the pieces in my hand. It sort of worked, but I couldn't get a nice clean edge. In the end, I had 12 plates of Charlie Brown cookies. There was no way I was going to take these to a gathering of Martha Stewarts. Time for Plan B.

One of my favorite cookies as a kid is a free-form meringue we called Fly-ups. My mom always told me that they were served during the bridging ceremony when a girl "flew up" the ranks from Brownie to Girl Scout.  I never actually made it past the Brownie stage so I can't verify this, but the cookies are pretty darn good and easy enough for a 9-year-old to make, which at this point was perfect.  Normally they have tiny chocolate chips in the batter, but I didn't have any on hand. What I did have was a delicious hunk of Sanders dark chocolate peppermint bark, which I chopped up and used in place of the chocolate chips. It was magnificent!  I can't find my recipe - all my cookbooks are packed up so my kitchen counter space looks maxed for any potential homebuyers. But this one is pretty close:

Click here for the recipe: Chocolate chip meringue cookie from Weight Watchers
I wasn't going to be able to shrink wrap such a delicate cookie, so the morning of the exchange I cut up the packaging. I stacked six cookies and wrapped them in a piece of un-shrunken shrink wrap, fastening them with ribbons to resemble a christmas popper (and by 'resemble' I mean they were in a vague tube shape with both ends tied off). I made copies of the recipe and fastened it like a tag on one end of each cookie stack, and headed off to the cookie exchange. When I arrived, I placed my cookies next to the hand-decorated gingerbread men, snowflake cookies dusted with edible sparkles, exquisite rolled cookies, and... the hostess's perfect chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies. I whispered a silent prayer of thanks for the decision to make a last minute change.

Last week an invitation came in the mail.  The cookie exchange is now an annual tradition, and I'm invited back. This time we need 11 dozen cookies!  I guess I could just hope to wow them with my packaging. But I decided to plan ahead. I found a cute recipe, bought the ingredients, and plan on doing a dry run before the big day.  I'll let you know how it goes.

1 comment:

  1. I have your Fly-up recipe and have used it many times. My favorite substitution is chopped candy canes. Thank you sharing your recipe and your blog. You have a talent for the written word.