Mrs. Betty's Merry Orange Cherry Christmas Cookies and Hosting a Cookie Exchange
About Mrs. Betty's Recipe Box
Christmas cookies! By no means am I the best cook in my family. My dad, mom, and sister are much better in the kitchen than I am, but I do know a thing or two about Christmas cookies. I started hosting a Christmas Cookie Exchange quite a few years ago, and each year it has grown bigger and more exciting. It has become an annual tradition for many of my guests and their daughters.
I don’t think Mrs. Betty has ever been to a cookie exchange, but her Merry Orange Cherry Christmas Cookies will be showing up at my next one. I’ve had thousands of cookies brought into my house for swapping, but I haven’t seen any quite like Mrs. Betty’s Christmas Cookies. They are loaded with ingredients that just scream Christmas. They’re like a marvelous concoction of a scone and macaroon wrapped up in one cookie.
Mrs. Betty’s recipe calls for bourbon, and I substituted brandy for a little added sweetness. She also mentions dates in the recipe but not in the ingredients list. I did not add dates to my cookies; I’m not a big fan of dates (the dried fruit kind anyway), so I left them out. There’s already a lot of stuff going on inside these cookies.
The baking time seems long for these cookies, especially for one of Mrs. Betty’s recipes, but they really do take longer than your average cookie. Start checking them around 15 minutes, but they’re probably going to take at least 20 before they’re done.
MRS. BETTY’S MERRY ORANGE CHERRY CHRISTMAS COOKIES
1 box (18.25 ounces) orange cake mix
1-2 cups water
1/3 cup whiskey (bourbon)
1 cup dried or candied cherries
1 cup dates (optional)
1 cup pecan pieces
2 cups Baker’s Angel Flake Coconut
Mix cake mix and water until smooth. Add cherries, dates (if using), pecans, and coconut; mix well. Add bourbon and stir until just blended together. Drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
Hosting a Christmas Cookie Exchange
Each year at Christmas time I open my home to some of my dearest friends and family for a cookie exchange. It is an event that I look forward to all year long. Since the first year, my guests have made more than 8,000 cookies and treats to swap and share. Typically, the cookies are taken home to family, but we've shipped them to out of town relatives and shared them at church, work, and school. In 2011, a friend's son was deployed in Afghanistan, and we wrapped and shipped 15 pounds of Christmas cookies overseas for him to share with his fellow soldiers.
Are you planning to host a cookie exchange or have you been invited to one for the first time and want to know what to expect? I have put together a list of tips and ideas from my cookie swapping experiences to help you plan yours. However you plan to host yours, have fun!
What is a Cookie Exchange or Cookie Swap?
Here are the basics. Guests are asked to make and bring cookies to swap. It is recommended that they bring one container/dish to show off their cookies and another to collect the ones they'll be taking home. I usually wait until the party is winding down and then ask everyone to go around the table and start collecting cookies until they're gone--the cookies that is, not the people. Some hostesses are pretty adamant about not allowing no-bake cookies, regular chocolate chip cookies, store-bought, etc. I’m not that picky (well, maybe on the store bought), because it’s really all about Christmas and fellowship—more so than who made the best or prettiest cookies. I have one friend, who is an amazingly talented lady, who completely forgot about the party one year until I called her two hours before. She still made the 30-minute drive out to my house with no cookies, but gave a beautiful opening prayer that touched our hearts far more that any cookies could ever do.
How many cookies they are to bring varies with the number of expected guests. Last year, I had close to 40 guests, and I had asked everyone to bring 5-6 dozen of their cookies. That would mathematically mean that each person would get at least 2 of each type of cookie. I usually have some guests that will bring more than one variety and sometimes a candy or other treat. There's always more than enough.
I would not recommend 40 guests for your first party; mine has grown over the years, which lets me know that they really do enjoy coming year after year. I think there were only about 10 of us at my first party, which was perfect for a first timer. Before then I had only been to one cookie exchange at my church, and most of the ladies at my first party had never been to one at all. It was a learning experience for all of us.
If you expect around 10 or 15 guests, you could ask them to bring 3 dozen cookies. You may send those on your guest list running for the hills if you tell them you’re having a Christmas party and by the way, they will need to make and bring 6 dozen cookies.
One added bonus that I do is ask everyone to bring me one copy of their recipe, and I compile a book for each guest and give it to her the next year. Now, this does take extra work, and you can always just email everyone the recipes if you choose. I just think giving them a book with their name next their own recipe and cookie picture just makes it extra special.
When should I send out invitations?
I try to get invitations out before Thanksgiving. Calendars (and babysitter schedules) fill up very quickly during the holidays, so you want give as much notice as possible. I have a Save the Date stamp, and when I distribute the books from the previous year, I will stamp the inside with the date of the next party. That way, in case I'm late getting out the invitations, they will already know the date and time. You can leave more specific instructions when you get the actual invitations sent out, such as how many cookies, theme, and so on.
I'm old fashioned and like to send out real invitations, but in addition to those, you can do a Facebook invitation for the guests on your "friends" list. I have used that as a way to give them tips about the party and allow them to ask questions that are shared with the other invitees. It’s a great tool to use.
Here is an example of one of my Christmas Cookie Exchange invitations:
What should I serve to eat?
You just invited a group of ladies to come to your house during the busiest time of the year and have asked them to bake a large amount of treats to share, so do you really want to serve them some appetizers that you plopped out of the freezer and warmed in your toaster oven? On the other hand, you have a lot of responsibilities putting a party together, so it shouldn’t be terribly complicated. I usually “make” 2-3 appetizer dishes and snacks and then have other options scattered around the house, such as nuts, local cheeses (we live in dairy country), crackers, and other finger foods like that. In the books that I make for all the guests, in addition to the cookie recipes, I include the recipes for non-cookie eats served at the party.
All my cookie exchanges have taken place on a Saturday, usually at 6:30 p.m. December Saturdays are valuable, so by having the party in the evening, it allows them to get all those important Christmas duties done during the day. By the time they get out to my house, they’re usually hungry and ready to eat.
Here’s the part where you may have to get creative. I have some ladies on my guest list who are vegetarians, some who are gluten free, some who have dietary restrictions due to their faith, and various nut allergies. I want all my guests to be able to mingle, eat, drink, and have a good time, and it really doesn’t take much effort to make sure everyone has something they can enjoy. For example, one year I made these delicious little pizza rolls with mini pepperonis, but made half of them with mushrooms. Everyone loved them as much as the meaty ones. You’re probably already going to have some crudité anyway; add some rolled up gluten free deli meats and you’re set.
How do you deal with the nut allergies at a Cookie Exchange? Nut allergies are pretty common, and chances are, there’s going to be at least one on your guest list. Don’t worry, they’re used to being cautious, especially with Christmas treats which are often loaded with heavenly ingredients like peanut butter and pecans. My sister is a cook and is very allergic to walnuts; that eliminates quite a few holiday treats for her. I have one particular guest who has been coming to my parties for years who is allergic to all things nutty, and she always brings two separate take-home containers; she fills one up to take home for her husband and kids and one with only nut-free cookies and candies just for her.
Here are a few options for avoiding an anaphylactic shock at your Christmas party. You can set up two tables for the cookies, one for nutty treats and one without. If you don’t have two tables, you can split one down the middle—with nuts on the left and without them on the right. Another option, is to pre-make little signs, basically a tag attached to a toothpick, and stick them in the treats that contain nuts. Everybody’s happy and no 911 calls needed!
Many Christmas parties are themed. Can I have a themed Christmas Cookie Swap?
Sure you can! I did not do themes the first few years other than give gifts to the most “festively” dressed. If you know your guests well enough to know how much they’ll participate, I say go for it; however, if you’re unsure, you may want to get a feel first to find out how they participate in games and other activities before asking them to don a Partridge in a Pear Tree on their head. Yes, we had one of those at my Crazy Hat Cookie Swap.
My first themed cookie exchange was a pajama party. It had been a really rough year for a lot of people. That summer we lost one of our special guests, 14-year old Ellie, in a horrible accident. She came to my parties each year with her step mom and grandmother. It was very hard not having her there that year with us. With all of us in our coziest Christmas jammies, we went around the room and told our favorite Christmas memory. Needless to say, there was a lot of laughing and tears that evening. I had to pass around the tissues. I had so many guests tell me later how much that night meant to them.
Other popular themes for your party are Masquerade, Ugly Sweater, Crazy Hat, Decades (40’s, 50’s, 60’s…), Colonial, or Favorite Holiday Movie Character.
Striped socks were very popular at our Pajama Party Cookie Exchange!
Back when I was 18 or 19, my Aunt Rhonda had a family Christmas party where we were supposed to dress like a Christmas object (I grew up with these crazy themed parties). I went as a candy cane that year. I guess I thought in order to be a real candy cane I would have to tie both my legs--and feet--together. I was 5 feet of swirled red and white shiny ribbon. Yes, I was something...until I got to my Aunt Rhonda's, and it was at that point when I remembered that there's no way to get inside her house without climbing steps. I stood there in the cold for a few minutes--apparently long enough for an audience to arrive to watch me hop, yes, hop like a candy cane, up each step, one by one. There was no way I was going to let a few stairs force me to undo my lovely, yet tightly bound, lower extremities. Not to be outdone, one of my cousins dressed herself as a giant present and could barely get through the door. The point of my embarrassing story is to carefully consider your party theme and how much space you have and how willing your guests are to engage.
Is it okay to bring kids to a cookie exchange?
I've had some young girls who have been coming with their moms for years; they love it, especially since there are gifts and prizes to be won! My son has been at many of my parties, but he's at home and can go play if he gets bored. He is very social too and already knows most of the guests. If you have other kids there around the same age and can keep them all occupied, then it's probably okay. Christmas, cookies, and kids sort of do go together. Now if your home isn't kid friendly, you may want to ask the moms to leave them at home with dad. As I mentioned earlier, sitters are sometimes difficult to corral during the holidays, so make sure you get the word out early about your party if that may be an issue. Now, as for babies, they're always welcome!
What games should we play?
You want your party to be fun. I live out in the country, and most of my guests don’t even live in the same county as I do. I want them to know that they’re going to be entertained before they decide to make the long drive out to our home. Just remember, your party may not be the only invitation your guests have for the evening, and you want them to know they made the right decision choosing your party.
Many Christmas party games involve gift exchanges, but we’re exchanging cookies, not gifts at this party. I provide the gifts, and it’s usually something simple that’s cookie or kitchen themed. No offense, but I’ve never been a fan of the “dirty Santa” type games anyway; I could never bring myself to steal someone else’s gift.
One of the most popular games we play is the simple musical pass-the-present game. The basic version is that you wrap a gift in layers of gift wrap, and as the music plays, the guests pass the gift around until the music stops. Each time the music stops, the person left holding the gift, gets to unwrap a layer. Whoever ends up with the last layer of paper gets to keep the gift. I have done some variations to this game, such as adding a small, thin gift between each layer. When the music stops, the person who unwraps a layer of gift wrap has to answer a [simple] Christmas trivia question, and then they get to keep the little gift. You can insert a $5 coffee shop gift card, a CD, recipe or note cards, gift tags, sticker embellishments, etc. A cute song to use while the present is being passed around is Sugarland’s version of Nuttin’ for Christmas.
We have played Christmas trivia where each time someone got an answer correct, she got 3 tosses into this little Christmas bean bag toss game that I have. Whoever ends up with the most points, wins a gift. This is the type of game where you can have a first, second, or third place if you have enough gifts or prizes to give.
The Right-Left game is usually one of those games played at gift exchanges, but it can be done with one gift as well. The hostess reads a story, and each time the words “right” or “left” are read, the present gets passed in that direction. Whoever ends up with the present at the end of the story, gets to keep it. You can make up your own right-left story, but there are plenty of them online that you can use, from very funny to the Nativity story.
Going back to the many family parties we had growing up, like the ones my Aunt Rhonda would have (mentioned above), we were always assigned special names which we were to be called during the party. I have done this at several of my cookie exchanges. I put an assortment of silly holiday-related names (written on a sticker gift tag) in a hat and everyone draws from it. The name the guest draws is what she will be called during the party. I’m terrible remembering names, and this is a great ice breaker for those who don’t know each other well. The way to turn this into a game is to give everyone either a candy cane necklace, plastic bracelets, stickers, or anything you choose, and each time they call someone by the wrong name, they have to give one up to whoever catches them saying the wrong name. The person with the most candy canes (or whatever you’re using) wins a prize at the end.
Should I serve alcohol at my Cookie Exchange?
There are some beverages that should definitely be served at your cookie exchange, such as warm cider, coffee, tea, and the always welcome water pitcher. Much like the party themes, the decision to have spirits at your party depends on your guest list. The first Cookie Exchange I had, no one touched the egg nog; however, the following year, I set out a little glass carafe of spiced rum, and every drop of the egg nog was gone before all the guests even arrived.
I usually will have a few bottles of chilled white wine to mix with sparkling juices and a hot drink to choose from, like Glühwein (recipe below). You can always ask your guests ahead of time what they would like to have to drink at the party.
Plan to serve this festive warm drink at your next holiday gathering:
Glühwein (German Mulled Wine)
2 Tablespoons Aspen Mulling Cider Spice (Original Spice Blend)
1 bottle (750mL) red wine
Mix together and heat in slow cooker or stove top. Serve hot.
If you still have a question that I haven't answered, please contact me, and I'll try to help. I wish you the best in your party planning, and however you choose to celebrate the holidays, have fun and a very Merry Christmas!