Heidi Haas and her friends and co-workers here at Sunset have made an annual tradition out of a practical excuse to get together at the holidays: a cookie-exchange party. Each guest brings five dozen cookies, which Haas displays on the dining room table.
Amid much talking and tasting, guests make their way around the table, collecting several of each kind of cookie in the extra containers they've brought, until the platters are empty.
Haas's friends, many of whom love to bake, appreciate being able to focus their attention during this hectic season on one special cookie, and the whole group benefits. "This way no one has to spend two or three weekends baking, but everyone goes home with a dozen different kinds of cookies," says Haas.
Since the theme is sweets, Haas keeps the rest of the fare simple, providing a few savory finger foods such as cheeses and crackers, along with mulled wine and apple cider.
Whether you're invited to an exchange party or want to host one yourself, these cookies will make great additions to any platter.
6 tips for perfect cookies
Start with soft butter. If the recipe calls for butter at room temperature, it should be soft but not runny. You can soften it for a few seconds in a microwave oven or let it stand in a warm place, such as near the preheating oven.
Chill the dough. If the recipe directs you to chill the dough so it can be rolled or shaped without sticking to your hands or the counter, but your kitchen is warm, you may need to chill the dough longer than the recipe suggests. The dough should feel cold and firm but pliable. If it becomes sticky as you work, return it to the refrigerator to firm up again.
Take your oven’s temperature. Ovens vary a great deal, so it’s a good idea to check yours periodically with an oven thermometer on the middle rack to make sure it’s baking at the temperature you set it for. Minimize opening and closing the oven door during baking to avoid lowering the temperature.
Use cool baking sheets. Never put cookie dough on warm pans. To cool pans quickly, rinse with cold water; dry before using them again.
Rotate pans midway through baking time. Cookies will bake more evenly if they spend equal time on the top and bottom racks of the oven.
Try cooking parchment. This paper is sold in rolls or sheets in well-stocked grocery stores and baking-supply shops. Advantages: cookies won’t stick, baking sheets stay clean, and you can use the same piece of parchment for several batches of cookies.