How to Host a Mail-In Cookie Exchange (and Make It Just as Fun as Your Usual Party)
Thanksgiving has turned into an outdoor affair, and Christmas is looking like an immediate-family-only celebration. But just because your plans are changing doesn’t mean COVID-19 should rob you of all of your traditions. Your annual holiday cookie exchange can be even more fun long-distance, as everyone chooses a cookie or two to bake, prepares them together via video chat one afternoon, and mails them out afterward to everyone who attended. Before you cry “blasphemy,” we’ll prove it: Group baking may be the one non-cringey Zoom group activity out there—and receiving tins of cookies in the mail gives you something to look forward to each day, like an advent calendar taken to the next level.
Plus, we’ve tapped Brenda Mortensen, certified food scientist and food product development manager at Cheryl’s Cookies, to give us her expert insights in shipping cookies so they don’t arrive in crumbles. With this guide, your mail-in cookie exchange could be the biggest hit of the holiday season, coronavirus be damned.
1. Plan a Zoom Baking Session
Most Zoom hangouts tend to fall into one of two categories: (1) Blank stares and silence or (2) Everybody talking at once—usually all at the distant relative who’s somehow operating a jackhammer near a barking dog and has no idea how to use the mute button. A Zoom baking party relieves all of that. Send out the link for a set date and time and explain this is more of a casual, drop-in affair: Everyone bakes their cookies together, from the comfort of their own kitchens. You can catch up while you cook, and any pauses aren’t so awkward, because you’re all actively baking. The best part? Less mess for you to clean up afterward.
If you’re not into Zoom, you could also host a video chat using Google Meet, FaceTime or Facebook Portal. (Pro tip: The smaller the group, the easier it is to control the “I can’t hear you!” chaos. And the cheaper it is for everyone mailing out cookies.)
2. Create a Doc to Collect Recipes and Addresses
As you send out your invites, ask everyone to claim a cookie or two to share with the group. You could send a Google doc, where everyone lists what they’re baking and their address. (Here’s a sample one we created.) That way, everyone can refer to it as they ship out their cookies. (Including a link to the recipe is optional, just in case someone becomes so obsessed with Aunt Martha’s fudgy Rocky Road Cookies that they need to try the recipe too, ASAP!)
3. Choose Your Cookies Wisely
“Most cookies ship well,” Mortensen says, but some handle the journey better than others. Sugar cookies frosted with royal icing are festive and, since the icing tends to harden, won’t smudge (no matter how much the delivery person ignores your “frag-il-lay” warnings on the box). Stuffed treats and sandwich cookies—like these oatmeal cookie cream pies—are great options too, as well as hearty icebox cookies (plus, who could resist a chocolate-peppermint cookie?).
If you need any more inspo, check out our favorite cookie exchange recipes.
4. Don’t Mail Your Cookies the Same Day You Bake Them
You want your cookies to be as fresh as possible, and to do so, you must…slow down. It sounds counterintuitive, but the best way to ship your sweets is to let them cool completely, then freeze them, Mortensen says. (And she should know—Cheryl’s Cookies bakes roughly 80 million treats a year.)
“Package the baked goods while they are still frozen and send right away—the transit time can be a perfect way to allow them to thaw,” she notes, adding that you should always spring for two-day shipping to keep your treats fresh.
5. Let the Type of Cookie Determine How You Pack It
If you’re sending multiple types of cookies, it’s worth sticking any with a strong flavor or scent—think rum balls or lemon crinkles—into a loosely fitted cellophane bag within the container. That way, the scent won’t infuse the other cookies, Mortensen says.
And if you’ve baked large cookies (like the size of the palm of your hand or larger), she suggests wrapping them in individual plastic bags, sealing each with a sticker.
Finally, “avoid stacking cookies with sticky toppings, such as caramel or jam, directly on top of each other,” Mortensen says. Slide them into individual cellophane bags and “tuck them in a safe spot within the larger gift so they will not get smashed.”