Recipes from Julie Van Rosendaal: How to co-ordinate a cookie swap during a pandemic

·7 min read

Cookie swaps are an annual tradition for many of us who love to bake and to share treats with friends on an afternoon in early December.

Here's the gist: everyone bakes a larger than usual batch of cookies or squares, typically a dozen for each guest at the swap — and then each participant goes home with a mixed batch of holiday baking to get them through the season.

Things are a bit different this year, of course. With restrictions on in-home gatherings, a typical cookie swap isn't an option, nor are we all having the parade of seasonal get-togethers a huge stash of cookies might be useful for.

But in the spirit of keeping traditions alive, and looking for ways to engage with each other this holiday season, there are ways to safely strategize a cookie swap.

You could co-ordinate a door-drop cookie swap: package up baked cookies or squares, or make logs of cookie dough, put on some holiday tunes, pick up a latte or hot chocolate (from one of our many amazing local roasters) and drop festive packages on your friends' doorsteps.

Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC
Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC

Consider swapping just the dough itself: it's less work for the bakers and minimizes handling (wearing a mask in the kitchen regardless as you prep is a safe extra step). It's also more easily packaged and stored, and allows the recipient to bake what they need, when they need it.

One of the benefits of icebox cookies — most any shortbread or rolled sugar or gingerbread cookie dough — is that they have the same baking time, so you can cut a few slices off a variety of logs and bake them together for an assortment all at once. And if you're living alone or with a smaller group, you can bake a few at a time in the toaster oven.

If you're planning a walk, skate, tobogganing outing or other outdoor activity with a few in your extended bubble, you could plan to swap cookies then (wearing masks and practising safe distancing, of course). And if there's someone in your life who may not have the ability to bake and deliver, pack up a tin to leave on their step.

You can buy sleeves of paper boxes, like the ones they use in bakeries and delis, at restaurant supply stores such as the Real Canadian Wholesale Club, or buy festive boxes and bags at most dollar stores.

What kind of dough freezes the best?

They all do!

Typically, shortbread or rolled cookie dough is best to roll into a log to slice and bake, and drop cookies (chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin) can be frozen in scoops, then transferred to ziplock bags for people to bake from the freezer.

Let them sit on the baking sheet to thaw while you preheat the oven.

Perhaps best of all, you can wrap chilled logs in festive paper with ribbon or string at each end, like a Christmas cracker — and not worry if they freeze on someone's doorstep.

Cinnamon Bun Icebox Cookies

Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC
Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC

These swirled slice and bake cookies look and taste like cinnamon buns. Finish the cooled cookies with a simple icing drizzle to complete the effect, if you like.

  • ½ cup butter, at room temperature

  • ½ cup sugar

  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • ¼ tsp salt

Filling:

  • ½ cup brown sugar

  • ¼ cup finely chopped pecans (optional)

  • 2-3 tbsp honey or golden syrup

  • cinnamon

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugars until well blended. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until fluffy. In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter mixture and stir until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for half an hour or so.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 12-inch (ish) square, or to make two logs, into two smaller squares. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and pecans and smooth them with your hand to evenly cover the dough. Drizzle with honey or golden syrup, and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Roll up in a jelly-roll style, wrap in parchment, twisting the ends to seal, then refrigerate until firm (or for up to a week) or freeze for up to six months.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 F. Slice the dough about ¼-inch thick and place the slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until pale golden and set. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Makes about two dozen cookies.

Mona's Mother's Mother's Best Friend's Favourite Cookies

Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC
Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC

From the original Best of Bridge cookbook, this is a great go-to drop cookie that can be customized to add all kinds of ingredients — dried cranberries, orange zest and white chocolate chunks or chips are great during the holidays. They also spread well, which works with dough you're going to freeze.

Time in the freezer plus baking from colder than room temp will slow the spread, so this formula makes up for it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature

  • 1 cup sugar

  • ½ cup brown sugar

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • 1¼ cups flour

  • 1¼ cups quick-cooking rolled oats

  • 3/4 cup coconut

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 1 tsp baking soda

  • ¼ tsp salt

  • 1 cup chocolate chips, chopped chocolate, raisins and/or nuts (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Add the flour, oats, coconut, baking powder, baking soda and salt (stir together first if you like) and stir just until blended.

If you like, add some raisins, chopped nuts, and/or chocolate chunks or chips as you mix.

Drop by the large spoonful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Makes about two dozen cookies.

Sonya's Auntie Dianne's Jam Sandwich Cookies

Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC
Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC

Thanks to Sonya, who shared the recipe for her aunt's cream cheese sugar cookies, sandwiched with jam, on Twitter this week!

This recipe makes a large quantity of dough, but it freezes well so you could roll and bake half now and the rest later in the season. Or use it to make rugelach.

Sonya also suggested flavouring the dough with grated orange or lemon zest or cardamom, if you like.

These are more involved and may be more work to make in larger quantities, but they're beautiful and satisfying to make — worth the effort when you have more time to spend in the kitchen and want to drop something special on someone's doorstep.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature

  • 1½ cups sugar

  • 1 8-oz. package cream cheese

  • 1 egg

  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • ½ tsp almond extract (optional)

  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • ½ tsp salt

  • jam, for spreading

  • icing sugar, for sprinkling

Instructions: In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in the egg, vanilla and almond extract. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and beat on low speed or stir until you have a soft dough.

Divide in half (or into smaller balls or discs), wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour, or up to a few days — it can also be frozen at this point. When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 F and roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to about ¼-inch thick.

Cut into whatever shapes you like, and cut a small window out of half of them — use the open end of an icing decorating tip, or a small cookie cutter.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until pale golden.

Once cooled, spread the solid cookies with jam (or marmalade, Nutella or anything else you like), and sprinkle the windowed cookies with icing sugar before placing them on top.

Makes about two dozen medium sandwich cookies.