A hungry girl's adventures in Cleveland and beyond.

The holidays are filled with so many fun traditions - breakfast with Santa, Christmas trees, beautiful lights, gatherings filled with family and friends, festive cocktails and more. But one of my favorite things about the holidays are the cookies! Not every day cookies like chocolate chip, but the once a year extra special cookies.

My Christmas memories are filled with pizzelles, biscotti, thumbprints, Mexican wedding cookies, gingerbread, chewy molasses cookies, pecan tassies, and pignoli. But making all those cookies takes A LOT of time.
If you love having a palate pleasing assortment but don't want to spends weeks baking, you can gather some friends and have a cookie exchange. It's a festive way to achieve your baking goals and have fun at the same time.

There are many ways to organize the exchange but I like to keep it as simple as possible because the holidays are stressful enough. Pick a day a week or two before Christmas and get baking!

Here's what you need:

I like to have champagne but eggnog, coffee, tea, ice cold milk, or seasonal cocktails are other great options depending on the time of day and how boozy your friends are.

There will be sampling of cookies for sure so you don't need a huge meal but you'll definitely need something savory to balance out all the sugar. We opted for pizza and baked brie. Veggies, olives, mini sandwiches, charcuterie - any nibbles will do! 

Friends are what make the exchange so much fun! It's easier if you keep the group smaller because you'll be baking a dozen cookies for each guest. Six is a great number because many recipes make 3 dozen so doubling is easy. Also it's a nice variety for a cookie tray. If you want to include more people, you can always decrease the amount of cookies for each person to six instead of 12. Or bake a lot more cookies. :)
Nikki, Sarah, Elisabeth, Megan, Michelle, me and Buffy

The cookies are the star of the show of course! It's so much fun to see what people choose to make and of course taste them all. When organizing the party, have everyone share what kind of cookies they want to bring so you don't end up with duplicates. Look at the gorgeous assortment we had this year! #myfriendsrock
Mexican tea cakes, peppermint bark and 2 kinds of spritz - Nikki 
Brown butter thumbprints with salted caramel - Elisabeth
Candy Canes - Megan \\ @cleaneatsfastfeets
Sugar cookies with royal icing - Sarah
Holiday Oreo Cream Cheese  - Michelle 
Limoncello biscotti with pistachios and dried cherries - me

Everyone should bring plastic storage containers or Ziploc bags so they can bring their cookies home. You can also just refill the container or tray that you bring the cookies to the party in. If there are anise or mint flavored cookies, you'll want separate containers for them so they don't infuse the other cookies with their strong flavors.

Bring a copy of the recipe or send everyone a link so they can make the cookies themselves. Your recipe just may end up being someone's new holiday tradition.

Once you have the cookies home, pop them in the freezer. This keeps them fresh. Just take the number of cookies you need out of the freezer about an hour before you are ready to serve them. 

This year I made Limoncello Biscotti with Pistachios and Dried Cherries. Unlike the traditional recipes, I created this one to include butter which gives it a richer flavor and softer texture. I wanted the lemon flavor to pop so I added three types of lemon flavorings for a flavorful yet balanced cookie. Four if you include the lemon vodka that the dried cherries are soaked in to plump them up. Pistachios and cherries are decadent additions and the color combo is perfect for the holidays. Feel free to sub any combo of nuts and dried fruit.

Limoncello Biscotti with Pistachios and Dried Cherries

2 c. sugar
2 sticks butter, melted
6 T limoncello
1/2 dram lemon oil
Zest of two lemons
1 1/2 c. dried cherries, soaked for 1 hour in lemon vodka
6 large eggs
5 1/2 c. flour
3 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, pistachios, and cherries in large bowl. Whisk lightly to combine. In bowl of stand mixer, mix sugar, butter, limoncello, lemon zest, and lemon oil. Add eggs and mix well. Add flour mixture and mix just until combined. Chill dough for 30 minutes.

Line two cookies sheets with parchment paper or grease well. 
Preheat oven to 350 F.

Separate dough into four portions. Using lightly moistened hands, form each portion into a long flat log and place on cookie sheets, 2 logs per sheet. The logs should be about 3" wide and 1/2" thick. Square off the ends.
Photo Credit
Bake for 30 minutes, or until a light golden brown. Cool for 20 minutes on the cookie sheets.

Gently slice each loaf into 3/4" thick slices using a serrated knife. If you find the the loaves are crumbling, spray lightly with room temperate water and let sit for 5 minutes before trying again.

Carefully place slices back on cookie sheets and bake 20-25 minutes. They should be lightly browned. Bake longer for crunchier cookies. 

Once cooled, you can dip or drizzle the cookies in white chocolate and add sprinkles.

Lemon oil is a more potent version of lemon flavoring. If you are unable to locate it, you can purchase it online or substitute 1 T lemon extract.

What is your favorite Christmas cookie? Have you ever participated in a cookie exchange?
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