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Capital Style: The Cookie Exchange

Pecan Crescent Cookies
Pecan Crescent Cookies (By Sherron Watson , Carroll County Times)

Hosting or attending a cookie exchange is always a great way to spend time with friends and neighbors, collect delicious recipes, and best of all, eat COOKIES!

Being invited as a guest is the easy part; we make our cookies and we show up to the party - but what if you're the hostess? How do you plan and organize a cookie exchange?

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I've attended parties that felt like the hostess spent all year planning the event, and others that were very laid back. That's the great thing about being the hostess - you get to set the tone for the party. You are the cookie boss!

Here are 10 tips to help you prepare and plan your next goodie party, plus four homemade cookie recipes and one extra treat recipe.

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May your holiday season be filled with family, friends and, of course, cookies!

Pick a date and a theme.

Choosing a date early in the month of December is best. A theme is not required, but it can give your guests some direction when choosing their recipes.

Decide on a guest list and send out invitations.

How many friends you invite determines how many cookies each guest brings. I would recommend five to seven guests. They should each bring one dozen cookies for each guest in attendance, including you, plus an extra dozen for tasting at the party! If your guest list is larger, have each guest bring a half dozen per person.

Set an RSVP-by date.

This will allow you to inform all guests exactly how many cookies to bake, plus it allows you to prepare accordingly for drinks, plates, etc.

Set the rules for the exchange.

Make sure your guests understand exactly what's expected of them. If you want only homemade cookies, then this needs to be stated. If one attendee spends three hours making her cookies, she may be a little disappointed if in return she gets cookies that are store-bought or no-bakes. Everyone should be on the same page.

Have tables available.

Are you hosting a large group with lots of cookies to sample? Will you serve drinks and other food? Make sure you designate space for all the cookies!

Party games.

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This is not a necessity, but some hostesses enjoy having games at the cookie exchange. Some suggestions would be an ugly sweater contest, voting for your favorite cookie or an ornament exchange.

How will you display the cookies?

I've found it's easy and appealing to have cookies displayed on trays or tiered dessert dishes. This allows for a beautiful table, and the cookies are easy to sample.

Printed recipes and ingredient lists.

This can be handled in two ways. You may want everyone to email their recipes to you so you can print a copy for each guest. These recipes could also be printed into a cute booklet. Or, ask guests to bring copies of their recipes for each other. The ingredient list is a good idea if you have guests with known food allergies or special diets.

Wrapping station.

Some guests might come and exchange cookies only; others might enjoy having the chance to exchange and prepare cookie trays for family and friends all in one night. A wrapping station could include fancy paper plates, plastic wrap, ribbons, tags, bows, dessert boxes or cute tins.

Have fun!

The holidays are always a busy and hectic time. Know your limits and your budget and plan accordingly. This will insure that your guests have have a great time and you will too!

Peppermint Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies

Makes 30 small cookies

For the cookies:

1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1 1/4 cups flour, sifted

1/2 cup corn starch

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the frosting:

1 ounce cream cheese

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons milk

1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Crushed candy canes or peppermints for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and powdered sugar together in a medium-size bowl; add extract and beat well.

Combine flour and corn starch in a separate bowl. Gradually add to butter/sugar mixture. Mix well.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a small cookie scoop, space scoops 2 inches apart.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not over-bake.

For the frosting, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add powdered sugar, milk and peppermint extract until smooth.

Spread frosting over cooled cookies and sprinkle with crushed candies.

Pecan Crescent Cookies

Makes 36 cookies

Note: Dough needs to be refrigerated for 2 hours before being used.

For the dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup butter

1 cup cottage cheese

For the filling:

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

1 cup pecans, chopped small

In medium bowl add flour and butter. Use a pastry blender to blend until crumbly. Stir in cottage cheese. The dough will still be a bit crumbly, but it will come together after resting in the refrigerator. Divide dough into thirds; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Remove dough from plastic wrap and knead each 4 to 5 times until dough is well combined. On a well-floured surface, roll each part of the dough into a 12-inch round.

Combine brown sugar and pecans in a small bowl, set aside.

Using a butter knife, spread one third of the butter used for the filling onto each round of rolled-out dough. Sprinkle each with one-third each of the brown sugar and pecans; lightly press into dough with hands.

Cut each round into quarters. Cut each quarter into 3 wedges. Roll up starting with long end, and place, point side down, on lined cookie sheets. A little of the brown sugar and pecans can be sprinkled on top of each cookie.

Bake 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

Remove immediately from cookie sheets to cooling racks. The brown sugar will melt onto the cookie sheet but don't worry, there is still enough filling to make the cookies quite tasty.

Cool completely.

Chocolate Pretzels

Makes 24 small cookies

1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1 teaspoon good-quality instant espresso powder

3 tablespoons boiling water

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1 large egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 large egg yolk

Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Pour the boiling water in a small bowl, add cocoa and espresso powder; stir until dissolved. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream sugar and butter until fluffy; add vanilla and salt.

Stir in egg and blend well. Gradually add in flour, and mix until dough becomes smooth.

Place dough on a piece of plastic wrap and form into a rectangle (8 by 4 inches).

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Wrap and refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.

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Divide dough into 24 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 12-inch-long rope.

Twist each rope into a pretzel shape. Place 1 inch apart on a baking sheet.

Whisk together egg yolk and 1 teaspoon water. Lightly brush pretzels with egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Bake cookies until dry, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely before serving. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Cranberry and White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 15 large cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, beat together butter, egg and vanilla until fluffy.

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix together by hand until well blended.

Dough will be a bit crumbly.

Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges start to brown. Remove to cool on wire racks.

Cookies and Cream Popcorn

Makes 5 to 6 cups

5 cups popcorn, popped

2 sleeves chocolate cream-filled cookies

1/2 package white chocolate chips

1 cup crushed peppermint candy

In a large bowl, add your 5 cups of prepared popcorn.

Crush the cookies into small pieces. Add cookies and candy to popcorn.

Melt white chocolate chips in the microwave. To do this you will need to use a microwavable dish, add chips and heat for 30 seconds, stir, and repeat until chocolate is melted completely, about 2 minutes total time.

Pour white chocolate over popcorn/candy/cookie mix. Using your hands, mix well. Spread on a cookie sheet to set chocolate.

Store in air-tight containers until ready to serve.

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