Here's a trade agreement that really makes sense: It's pretty much free, and the labor is evenly distributed. And the time is exactly right.
It's a holiday cookie exchange.
The deal is simple. Enlist some friends -- a half-dozen or so, at least -- to bake their favorite type of cookie, enough for a crowd. Gather at someone's house in the early afternoon or late evening for a marathon session of sharing tastes -- and recipes -- for all the cookies. Go home with some new favorites -- and maybe a few samples.
The surroundings can be as elegant or as simple as you like. The participants can be adults sharing gourmet treats, or their children sharing the first fruits of a couple of hours by the stove.
If you'd rather spend the time with friends, instead of alone in the kitchen baking ahead of time, have everyone bring recipes and ingredients and let everyone pitch in to bake the cookies. Kids especially might get a kick out of a cookie-baking party. A friend of mine used to be invited annually to a party where the hostess divided guests into teams and gave each team a cookie recipe, ingredients, and a section of kitchen counter to work on. The varying skills and competing claims for implements and oven time formed the evening's entertainment, and everyone got cookies to take home.
To go with the sweet treats, serve soft drinks, fancy mineral waters, milk, coffee and tea. Play or sing carols or folk songs; kids)
might play pin the carrot nose on the snowman.
Have enough copies of each recipe to hand out to guests and at the end of the party, set out all the "leftovers," give everyone a small bag or basket, and let them choose some cookies to take home.
There are dozens of variations on the cookie-exchange theme. For a neighborhood of busy but organized people, how about a cookie round robin? People sign up for the exchange, and each (( person bakes a batch of cookies to share with the next person on the list. Or, for an office party, ask everyone to bake two batches of cookies. One batch can serve as refreshments at the party; the other should be packed into pretty bags, tins, baskets or other containers and auctioned off, with the proceeds going to an organization that feeds the hungry at holiday time.
The point is to find a way to celebrate in the spirit that most makes the holiday season special -- the spirit of sharing.
C7 It's a sentiment everybody can cheerfully vote for.
There seem to be two types of cookie bakers in the world: traditionalists, who bake only the most beloved specialties remembered from childhood, and the adventurers, who are always interested in trying something new.
Here's a selection of recipes to please both camps, with some old-fashioned offerings and some that are new or unusual.
The first is from Nestle Toll House. (For a copy of Nestle's 1993-94 "Year of Baking" brochure, with recipes for 18 special occasions, send a $1 check or money order, along with name and address to A Year of Baking Recipe Offer, P.O. Box A 8574, Young America, Minn. 55551-8574.)
Mini-chip snowball cookies
Makes 5 dozen
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
L 2 cups (1 12-ounce package) semisweet chocolate mini morsels
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
Heat oven to 375 degrees. In large mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar and salt. Beat in vanilla. Gradually beat in flour; stir in morsels and pecans. Shape level teaspoonfuls of dough into 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until cookies are set and lightly browned. Remove from oven. Sift powdered sugar over hot cookies on baking sheet. Let stand for 10 minutes. Remove to wire racks and cool completely. Sprinkle with additional powdered sugar if desired. Store in airtight containers.
The next two recipes are from "Cookies for Christmas," by Maria Robbins (St. Martin's Press, 1993, $6.95 paperback).
Oatmeal lace cookies
Makes about 4 dozen cookies
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons sweet butter
1 large egg
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup dried currants, soaked in 2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, mix together the oats, flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.
Melt the butter in a small, heavy saucepan over very low heat.
In a small bowl beat the egg together with the heavy cream and vanilla extract. Stir in currants if using. Stir in melted butter.
Stir the liquid ingredients into the oat-flour mixture and combine well. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving at least 3 inches between each cookie. These will thin and spread out.
Bake 5 or 6 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool on cookie sheets for several minutes, until cookies hold their shape. With a spatula, carefully remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.