A neighbor of mine used to host a cookie party for her friends and their children this time of year. Everyone would bring their favorite cookie recipe - pre-made - and we would cut, decorate and bake cookies all evening. I was lucky enough to be able to participate for several years running, and it was really a wonderful way to spend a cold December evening. With enough planning, it's not that difficult to pull off.
1. Clean the kitchen
Thoroughly. You are inviting other people into your house to cook. You really want that kitchen spotless. And, if young children will be present, take the opportunity to move those knives to higher ground, well out of the way of any activity. You'll also want a large area for the cookies to be cut, and a separate area for them to cool.
2. Make the dough in advance
While most kids will be excited about the idea of a cookie baking party, they're really only good for about 2 hours. Having the dough already prepared ensures that you can roll right into the main event - cutting and decorating cookies.
3. Plan on a simple meal
The kids will be excited. They will be eating raw cookie dough. They will crash. The best way to mitigate this is to have a quick meal ready - sandwiches or a pot of soup are good choices. Let them eat while they work if you like, and serve them a mug of soup.
4. Ask your guests to bring something
Focus on having a couple of good cookie recipes prepared in advance - a sugar cookie and a gingerbread cookie. Ask your guests to bring the decorations - icing, colored sugar, candies - or maybe some cocoa and milk for later. If they have any cookie cutters, everyone should bring their favorites.
5. Use parchment paper
You'll be baking several batches of cookies. If you don't normally use parchment paper to line your cookie sheets, you'll want to do it now. The pans will be hot and they won't have much time to cool. Using parchment paper will prevent the dreaded burnt bottom cookies. It also makes for quick and easy removal from the pan to the counter to cool.
6. Pacing is essential
Ideally, you want people to spend the bulk of their time cutting cookies. As soon as you get a couple of cookie sheets filled, start them baking. While they bake, the next couple of cookie sheets can be filled. After 8-12 minutes, the first batch will be done and cooling. The second batch goes in, and you repeat the process. This will minimize down time and prevent some of the restlessness that comes with the season.
7. Have a mitigation plan
If everyone loses interest before all the dough has been cut, have some movies or a board game ready. Don't force it. If they've lost interest, let them go. And give them something to do while the last batch of cookies is baking.
8. Have an exit strategy
Once the last batch of cookies is in the oven, start some hot cocoa. When that last batch comes out and is cooling, start dividing up what has already been baked and decorated. Have some plastic containers ready - one for each of your guests. Wrap up with the hot cocoa and some cookies from the last batch.
This is truly a wonderful way to get together, especially for families with children who may not be able to spend a night on the town. And everyone likes a little cookie.
If you have a favorite recipe that you would like to share, please email me at MarysFoodJournal@gmail.com and let me know how you would like to be identified (ie "a reader in Ellicott City" vs your actual name). Include any traditions or memories associated with the dish if you like.