The rules of a good cookie exchange are as follows: write down the recipe, list each ingredient, provide packaging or boxes, present them nicely and make them with love. This past holiday I participated in two in-person cookie exchanges instead of an online swap like previous years. This time I wanted to share cookies and recipes with the people I interact with in real life instead of sending them to online friends by participating in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap. The picture below is the cookie exchange we did at my office. The next day we had one at our house for a Christmas party:
Another rule for a good cookie exchange is to start with a well thought out recipe. Robert Rose once again saved me during a busy cooking and baking season with their 100 Best Decorated Cookies cookbook by Julie Hession. For a brief time I worked in a gourmet cookie bakery and learned a lot of decorating techniques and tricks. I am by no means a pro. I do know that cookies are one of the most difficult things to decorate. Even though they can be finicky, everyone loves decorating cookies and making masterpieces out of dough, icing and candy.
Hession's book shows step-by-step photo tutorials of how to make each cookie, including cookies for holidays, kids and themed parties. As well as information on how to decorate, the book also has a substantial section on basic cookie and icing recipes. After all, a good base and icing can make or break a cookie. I used the Spicy Gingerbread Cut-out Cookie recipe (pg. 44) that made quite a thin, crispy gingerbread ideal for decorating. The Classic Royal Icing recipe (pg. 47) was also simple to make in a stand mixer and a lot easier than the Wilton method I have used before.
The cookies turned out alright--although I didn't have an exact snowflake cookie cutter--and I managed to flood the cookies with the first layer of icing without a hitch. The part that gets me is the intricate decorating stage, especially when you have to decorate three dozen cookies. It takes concentration, determination and a steady hand.
There are many cookies in this book I would like to try although I have to say that this book is not for beginners. Although it gives great information on equipment, tools and getting started, there is no way a novice decorator could attempt some of the intricacies and complexities of these cookies. Some of the cookies require fondant accessories, marbling techniques and patterns I never even encountered while working in a bakery.
I will say that is a great book for inspiration. The step-by-step photos make the process a little less daunting too. Each recipe also lists exactly what you will need in terms of cookies, ingredients, cutters, piping bags, tips and gels. Read this book for information and inspiration about cookie decorating and start with simpler designs before tackling some of the more complex cookies.
For a cookie exchange, decorated cookies definitely take a lot more effort. They will get a lot of comments and praise from the participants though as they know you put a little extra touch into making them. Mine didn't turn out exactly like the book, as I decided on a simpler pattern for the snowflakes. I liked the addition of the edible silver balls that also covered up a few mistakes here and there.
Some of the cookies would be neat for parties, such as the Pink Martini cookies, Piece of Cake cookies and Champagne Glass cookies. There are even wedding-themed cookies, cute animals and sports-themed ones that kids would love. Gourmet cookies are sold at such a premium now, so it's another thing you can learn to make yourself for a nice gift or celebration.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Robert Rose for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.