I’m a big fan of holiday socializing over baked goods. Some years I book a solid week and a half straight of baking engagements, happily making cookies and bars with anywhere from one or two to twenty people at a time. One of my friends asked for tips on hosting his own cookie party, so I thought I’d write some up in hopes that you also consider hosting one. If you have a lot of friends who never bake then it can be a fun way to get them in the holiday spirit. While it’s doable to host as the only baker, it’s much easier if you have one or two friends who can keep an eye on various activities for you as you ferry things in and out of the oven and ensure everyone has what they need.
For a large gathering of mostly non-bakers:
Things you need:
– cookie dough
– lots of cookie cutters
– rolling pin
– sanding sugars/sprinkles/other decorating items
– royal icing and food colouring
– bags that you can use for piping (I use sandwich bags that don’t have those new folded bottoms but you can use actual piping bags, ziplocks, etc.)
– parchment paper
– at least 4 large cookie sheets
– large cooling racks
– paper plates so people can take home their creations
– vinyl tablecloth for your decorating space
1. Make several cookie doughs ahead of time, estimating about 1 1/2 – 2 dozen cookies per person. My traditional choices: sugar, gingerbread and peppermint sandwich cookies. Buy a LOT of sanding sugars and those little metallic balls, plus any other sprinkles that look fun. Have some sandwich bags or ziploc bags you can use as piping bags.
2. Have at least 4 large cookie sheets, lined with parchment. If you have less, pre-bake half your cookies.
3. Set up all your stations ahead of time (cutting, cooling, decorating) and make royal icing just before everyone arrives. Also pre-heat your oven. If you have friends who bake, you can let them make any other icing during the party.
4. Start rolling and cutting cookies at your designated start time, even if no one is there, as long as you have finished your icing and done those dishes. It’s worth it to get some cookies into the oven and cooling.
5. If people seem to be slowing on the decorating front, switch to your sandwich cookie production, or make people switch stations so no one is stuck cutting out cookies the whole evening.
6. Make sure you circulate! Having a friend or two who can watch the oven is so helpful. Provide beverages (I find tea and water to be most appreciated as everyone is consuming so much sugar) and make sure everyone has what they need. As the cutting station wraps up you can begin the process of cleaning up, drafting in people to help as you feel comfortable. I find it’s all in the spirit of the evening and no one minds.
7. Make people take home ALL THE COOKIES.
– Don’t eat any cookies. This seems counter-intuitive, but trust me, the party is much more enjoyable when you aren’t sugar-crashing every 5 minutes. The reality is, this kind of party is quite a bit of work and you need to be on your game to ensure that nothing burns and that you can follow conversations with people you haven’t seen in 12 months. Hydration! That’s what helps.
– Set your oven timer so it beeps when you rotate the trays. Basically every 4 minutes you’re checking the oven.
– If you’re a perfectionist, it’s best not to watch anything too closely. Just make sure the cookies aren’t too close together on the sheets and don’t come out burned and call it a day.
– It can be good to have one or two kinds of cookies pre-made if you want people to take home a nice selection.
– If your guests are all bakers you can make more kinds of cookies, space allowing. Definitely increased chaos but of an entertaining and productive variety.