Cookie Exchanges

My best friend went to a Cookie Exchange Party last year and called me after she got home to rail at the Cookie Gods!

She had laboured lovingly over her Candy Cane Cookies. She had crushed candy canes into little bits and then gently kneaded them into the shortbread dough. She had even dyed half the dough red so that when she braided the two strands together the candy cane cookie would totally look like the real thing. It had taken her the better part of a day but they were her kid’s favourite and she felt that they were special enough for the exchange.

“Pillsbury dough cookies! People brought Pillsbury dough cookies! You know the kind with the snowman in them! And chocolate chip cookies! There were a ton of chocolate chips cookies made from frozen dough! I make chocolate chip cookies every week! Those aren’t Christmas cookies!”

After I talked her off the cookie cliff it got me thinking. What is the criterion for a Christmas cookie? Or a Christmas Cookie Exchange?

Is a commercial product that you buy in the dairy case count as a holiday cookie? And if no, why not?

Growing up we had special cookies that were only made for Christmas. I can still see and smell them – My Grandma’s Sugar Cookies and Mom’s Shortbread.

The sugar cookies made from my Grandma’s recipe were rolled out, baked, iced and then sprinkled with coloured sugar! A coveted job that we kids loved doing! My brother was a single colour kind of guy – me? Red, green, and silver! I was into multicolours even back then.

Then my mom made shortbread.

The butter was brought to room temperature, the sugar added, the flours, the kneading (done by my dad), the cookie dough shaped into logs and then into the fridge overnight, the next day they were cut into slices and baked sending the butter perfume wafting through the house. Once baked they were hidden away for when company came over! Okay, we all got one then, but the rest were for when people came over to visit.

Both recipes only made an appearance in our house in December. Both were made with butter. Both fairly labour intensive. Both involved all family members for certain skills. Both were delicious. And the smell of either one still makes me think of Christmas.

So I’m wondering – is it the special appearance in December part that equals Christmas? Is it the labour intensive part, the communal spirit part, or is it the ritual of tradition that makes a Cookie a Christmas Cookie?

As a foodie and a tweeter I have been reading endless tweets from my fellow foodies as they list off the gems that are coming out of their ovens; gingerbread cookies, nut cookies, cinnamon cookies, sugar cookies, and the much loved shortbread cookie.

We foodies are keeping Christmas baking alive and well, but what about everyone else? Does the real world still bake special, labour intensive, traditional Christmas cookies? Based on my friend’s experience the answer is no. I know that this is a tiny microscopic view of Christmas but I think that it is indicative of what is happening to our food based traditions; real people aren’t baking their family favourites anymore and it makes me very sad. Because I believe that as we lose our foodie traditions we start to lose who we are as a culture. Take away my shortbread cookies at Christmas and I lose part of my family’s traditions and part of myself.

So I fired up my oven and I baked a batch of my family’s Christmas favourites. I don’t want to lose those memories; they’re the stuff that keeps me glued together for the rest of the year.

And what about Cookie Exchanges? Is it alright to bake a batch of frozen cookie dough? It depends.

I think you need to establish some rules or suggestions before you organize one. Here’s a new spin that we could all try this year. Organize a Traditional Christmas Cookie Exchange Party.

Everyone brings the cookies that their Grandma or their Mom made at Christmas. Celebrate your heritage with friends and let the baking begin.

 Ginger Chocolate Shortbread Recipe

Christmas Empire Cookies


17 thoughts on “Cookie Exchanges”

  1. My friend Ann and I have been co-hosting an annual Cookie Exchange for 20 years – and while we started out with the simple cookies back then (we all had babies and were looking for a night out and cookies to serve all season long) we now experiment with new recipes every year. Everyone has an interesting cookie or square – sometimes it’s an ol favorite but most times we are trying out something new. We also package our cookies in creative ways – always fun to see what the Table of Goodies will look like.

  2. Mairlyn, you ask some very critical questions about the traditions around Christmas cookies. Once the ritual of making them each year is broken (either we stop or they don’t make the transition to the next generation), it is very difficult to get that back.

    Based on my age, young by many standards, it is likely true that I am now living the second half of my life. The sense of food heritage is something that is almost consuming me. As I see the nieces and nephews (and our son) hit their late teens and early twenties, and take on their own lives, I know that this is the time to start passing over the responsibilities of the family food rituals that shape our Christmas celebrations. And my hope is that they see the importance of this transition and will embrace it.

    Last week I had my niece over to share with her how to make our most significant Christmas cookie, Vanillekranse. We had so much fun doing this together. She and I were fairly certain that her father (my brother) would not have been able to teach her this recipe. It is my hope that she will make them for us and also her own family one day.

    A few years ago I taught my very interested nephew how to make a Makron Tærte. It is a beautifully almondy cake, great at coffee/tea time. I have to tell you, I almost got a tear in my eye yesterday when he texted me a picture of one of two cakes he made yesterday. And yes, the picture is up on Facebook now too. (Knowing how to make an authentic Danish cake when you are a male university student on the rowing team is apparently a ‘chick magnet’ kind of thing.) He wanted to contribute to our upcoming Christmas of the larger family (some 30 people) and so they are getting tucked into the freezer for the big day.

    I give my mother a LOT of credit for influencing her grandchildren with the love of great food. And the food of her heritage. By doing these baking lessons, I think I am just putting the finishing touches on her solid work of years of influence.

    Yesterday I watched a TEDx Talk (Krakow) by Trine Hahnemann, a well-known Danish chef. In her talk, these words resonated with me, “”If you lose your ability to cook and if lose your knowledge about (food) history, you lose an important link to that ( cooking)”

    Thank you for raising a very important topic.

  3. Hi There!
    Can I used ground ginger in place if candied ginger? (If I don’t have or can’t find the candied variety?)

    1. Hi Penny,
      Ground ginger will change the ratio between dry and fat in the recipe, so I wouldn’t use it. Maybe a pinch? but don’t exceed 1/4 tsp. Let me know how they worked out.
      Peace, love and fibre,

  4. Hi I’m wondering how these cookies freeze.. I’m a mom of 5 and like to get my Xmas sweets started now in nov rather then doing them all in dec… Should I just make the batter then freeze or cook the whole cookie to freeze

    1. You can freeze the Empire cookies BEFORE you ice and jam them. Assembly required!
      I bake my shortbread and its good for at least 2-3 weeks in an airtight container.
      hope that helps.
      Peace, love and fibre,

  5. I would like to make the chocolate ginger shortbread…how do I adapt this recipe if I omit the ginger? I love ginger but my husband is not a fan of it. Thanks so much 🙂

  6. Hello again. Laugh if you must…I’ll pause for you…okay…for the ginger chocolate shortbread do you use regular flour or cake/pastry flour? I will be making these this week 🙂

    1. Regular flour unless the recipe states otherwise, not laughing, these are great questions! and I want you to have a fabulous cookie experience! I’ve just made them again, someone in my house keeps eating all of them!
      Peace, love and fibre,

  7. Love watching you on city line
    Looking for your sugar cookies and your shortbread cookies you mention they where on the city line web site I can’t find them I hope you can help me out

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