Simply Celebrate Life!
Bake, Bake as Fast As You Can … Because You Can Host a Cute Christmas Cookie Exchange too!!
Gingerbread Inspired Cookie Exchange!
I had been wanting to host a cookie exchange for weeks leading up to Christmas, but just couldn’t find a time that would work for me, or my friends, and especially give me the time to prepare the way I like to. I had almost given up completely when I decided to just make it work. I let my friends know, and planned on keeping it very simple. But you should know me better than that by now. I planned the exchange for a Monday afternoon, and on Sunday during church, the idea to make it themed around the colors Red and Brown and Gingerbread popped in my head and the ideas would not stop coming, I scribbled feverishly my notes of what I would need to hurry and do that afternoon in order to pull it together. I decided to get crazy and do as much as I could, but also to let whatever I couldn’t go. So this party is proof that you don’t always need a lot of time or money to plan a creative and fun party.
Things Don’t Always Go As Planned
I absolutely had to share this picture with you. This picture is proof positive that I don’t always have it together, and that things don’t always go as planned, and that you should always have a sense of humor when it comes to yourself and your attempts at anything. I’ve already shared how much time I was working with, but I still foolishly decided that the perfect centerpiece would in fact be a Gingerbread house. So with less than 24 hours until the party, why not start a Gingerbread house from scratch?? There are in fact LOT’S of reasons why not! I mixed, rolled, cut, and baked my house pieces. I made my Royal Icing and all was going well until I started construction on my house. I could not get my roof to stay put (any of you who have built your own Gingerbread house can sympathize). I was admittedly getting frustrated but kept trying. Patty had offered for me to borrow a Gingerbread house that she already had on hand, so I decided to take her up on her offer as a backup and go pick it up to take a break from my frustration. Chris was getting interested in my frustration and failure, and I gave him permission to try while I was gone. When I returned, I came home to a countertop COVERED in Gingerbread crumbs and a husband with a rolling pin in hand. I wasn’t even mad, I couldn’t stop laughing! Luckily, after I caught my breath and composure, I had enough wits about me to grab the camera before I cleaned the counters and floor! The house most definitely did not turn out as planned, but I learned a big lesson about being flexible and having a sense of humor when it comes to party planning. I decided to save the crumbs to make a Yummy crust for a Cheesecake too!
Here is my cute and simple table setting… I used a roll of red wrapping paper to create a runner and bring in more ‘Red’, but left the main table bare since the warm wood went perfectly with my Gingerbread brown theme. I topped the ‘runner’ with a scrap of fabric that happened to be a brown and red plaid, perfect! My centerpiece with a simple footed Cake Plate topped with a Gingerbread house.
I kept my place setting simple with a red glass plate topped with a Christmas bowl. I found a Gingerbread man stamp which I used to make a simple stamped paper punch to bring in my theme at each place and make them a little more personalized.
One of my favorite themed elements were my glasses. I used a simple wine goblet, and dipped the rim into a sugar spiced with Gingerbread spices after rubbing the rim with a sliced apple to help the sugar stick. I LOVED the fact that they were Gingerbread spices! (I mixed about 2 tablespoons sugar with 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, and allspice). For a simple garnish, I topped the glass with two Maraschino Cherries on a skewer for color and a little whimsy. They were a big hit and even added an extra flavor to our drinks!
Hot Chocolate Bar
There are all sorts of ideas for super cute and yummy Hot Chocolate bars right now. I really wanted Hot Chocolate to go with our cookies, but I also wanted the cookies to be the star, so I kept this bar cute and simple. I had hot water in the thermos ready to go, and had two flavors of my favorite Hot Cocoa mix (Stephen’s is the BEST!) I stacked my Christmas teacups and saucers and had it all ready and waiting. It was easy to prep and even easier to serve and very inviting to my guests!
Can you believe I actually found Gingerbread marshmallows?? How could I possibly resist these? Perfect and easy, does it get any better than that? And I’ll admit I have a bit of a small obsession with the shaped and flavored Marshmallows you can find right now… French Vanilla, Mini Peppermint, Caramel Twist, Cinnabon, Strawberry… Yummy!
I even found Cinnabon flavored Candy Canes that were my perfect colors, so we had to have those too! And you can see peeking in the back, Stephen’s Milk Chocolate and French Vanilla Cocoas! Yum!
I even made a Gingerbread Bundt Cake, that we topped with Gingerbread spiced homemade Whipped Cream!! To tie my serving area in with my theme, I simply tied on some red ribbons. Easy!
I decided if we were going to be sampling all the yummy cookies, and drinking Hot Cocoa with Gingerbread Spice Cake, we better start with something a little light and fresh. I knew I wanted to serve lunch, but also knew I wanted it to be simple and easy to prepare, so while it doesn’t exactly tie in with my theme, it contrasted perfectly!
Grilled Chicken Southwest Salad
2 heads Romaine Lettuce, chopped
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can corn, drained
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 avocados, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 chicken breasts, grilled and diced
1/2 – 1 cup Cheddar/ Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
Chop and combine all ingredients and toss together, serve immediately with Creamy Tomatillo Dressing.
Creamy Tomatillo Dressing
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup Mayonnaise
1 package Buttermilk Ranch Dressing mix
1/2 cup Salsa Verde (Green Tomatillo Salsa) or 2 fresh Tomatillos
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 garlic clove
1 lime, juice of
1 jalapeno, seeded
Combine all ingredients in blender, and mix until smooth and creamy.
Seal and store in airtight container in refrigerator.
Drinks and Dessert
The Gingerbread Spiced rims paired perfectly with our Sparkling Apple Cider.
For dessert… Gingerbread Cake and Spiced Fresh Whipped Cream
Gingerbread Bundt Cake
1 cup Apple Beer
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup dark Corn Syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cardamom
3 large eggs
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
Confectioners sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350F. Generously butter 10inch Bundt pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess.
Bring Apple beer, molasses, and corn syrup to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, then cool to room temperature.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan and rap pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a tester come out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.
Serve cake, dusted with confectioners sugar, and fresh Spiced Whipped Cream.
Spiced Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy Cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
Whip together with hand mixer until soft peaks form.
Gracious Guests and Wonderful Chefs
Here are some of my fabulous friends enjoying lunch and anxiously awaiting dessert!
It’s All About The Cookies
To encourage my guests to do their best (as if they wouldn’t), I bribed them with promises of prizes for the best cookies! What were the prizes? I found a Gingerbread house kit at Williams-Sonoma, and made a quilted Candy Cane table runner. (And yes, I made this runner the night before the party in between smashing Gingerbread houses and decorating cute Gingerbread men!)
What goes better with cookies than Ice Cold Milk? I served my Milk in these cute carafes wrapped in simple scrapbook strips coordinating with my colors…
Exchange those Cookies!
One of the best parts of a Cookie Exchange is also exchanging the recipes, and so you are all invited to this Exchange. Here are my friends’ fabulous cookies AND their recipes!
Once I decided Gingerbread was my theme, I had no choice but to make Gingerbread Men as my cookies!! They tied in perfectly with their big red buttons!
3 sticks butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg and mix well. Mix in the molasses. Add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt, mixing well until combined. Chill dough at least 2 hours, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line cookie sheets with Silpat mats. On a lightly floured surface, roll douigh out to 1/4 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes in preheated oven, until cookies are firm.
Peppermint Bonbon Cookies
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup finely crushed hard peppermint candies
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
Additional coarsely crushed hard peppermint candies, divided
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons milk
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels, melted
Combine first 3 ingredients in a large saucepan, cook over low heat until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and stir in 1/2 cup crushed peppermint and 6 tablespoons sugar. Let cool 30 minutes.
Add eggs to melted chocolate, 1 at a time, stirring well. Stir in extracts.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to chocolate mixture, stirring until combined. Stir in chocolate morsels. Cover and chill dough 2 hours or until firm enough to shape.
Shape dough into 1 1/2″ balls; place on parchment paper lined baking sheets (or use Silpat mats). Bake at 325F for 12-13 minutes or until cookies are puffed and cracked on top. Sprinkle coarsely crushed peppermints onto cookies; and press candy lightly into cookies. Let cookies cool 5 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Whisk together powdered sugar and milk; drizzle over cooled cookies. Drizzle with melted chocolate and sprinkle cookies again with chopped peppermint. Let cookies stand until glaze and chocolate are firm.
Cranberry Macadamia Cookies
(Sorry, she didn’t share the recipe, so I guess you’ll just have to believe me when I saw they were yummy!)
Mexican Wedding Cookies
1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons water
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Stir in vanilla and water. Add the flour and almonds, mix until blended. Cover and chill for 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 325F.
Shape dough into balls or crescents. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes in preheated oven. Remove from pan to cool on wire racks.
When cookies are cool, roll in confectioners sugar. (Marilyn added a little red and green food coloring to her sugar before she rolled them to make them more festive.)
Store at room temperature in airtight container.
2 boxes Devil’s Food Cake Mix
3/4 cup oil
Mix all ingredients together in bowl. Form dough into small balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake in 375F oven for 8-9 minutes.
Fill with Cream Cheese Frosting, and enjoy!
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon peppermint extract (optional)
sprinkles or crushed candy cane for decorating edges (optional)
green and/or red food coloring (optional)
In a small glass bowl, combine the cream cheese and butter until completely blended. Gradually add in the powdered sugar and peppermint extract and mix until the icing is smooth. Color frosting green and/or red if desired. Spread half the cookies with icing, and top with remaining cookies. Roll in sprinkles, crushed candy canes, or just leave them plain. Store in refrigerator in airtight container.
Soft Velvet Snowmen
These are the best soft sugar cookies, but I never got the recipe, I’ll have to keep trying! 😉
Chocolate Surprise Cookies
1 Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake Mix
1/3 cup oil
1-2 bags of chocolate treats (Kisses, Peanut Butter Cups, Rolos, Peppermint Patties, Candy Bar miniatures, etc…)
Mix together cake mix, oil, and eggs together by hand. Place heaping tablespoon of dough in hand and flatten. Place 1 treat of your choice in center and roll into a ball. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for 7-10 minutes at 350F.
The fun part after tasting the cookies is dividing and conquering… Everyone divided up the cookies and took some of each kind of cookie home to enjoy as they wished!
How to Host Your Own Cookie Exchange!
It just occurred to me that some of you may not know how a Cookie exchange works, so here is the condensed rundown, just in case you’ve gotten this far and are just trying to put pieces together.
Each guest makes a set amount of one type of cookie (we each made 4 dozen) and brings the cookies and copies of their recipe to share. I also asked each of them to bring a container to carry home their bounty.
Then, we divide up the cookies evenly between each guest so they each leave with a variety of treats! We had eight guests, so everyone left with a half dozen of each kind of cookie!
As I said, I happened to bribe them with prizes for the best cookie, so we also tasted and voted on the cookies… Best tasting, best looking, and best overall! And the winner is?…
My cute friend Marilyn Roberts, won best overall Cookie with her Mexican Wedding Cookies rolled in red and green powdered sugar, they were SO cute and tasted SO good too!!
And if I can pull this together in one day, you can definitely pull together your own Cookie Exchange, it’s not too late!! So… Get Baking!!