A week or two ago, I meandered over to my blog stats and discovered that my post called Five Steps to a Successful Cookie Party had been repinned hundreds of times on Pinterest and was driving a ridiculous amount of traffic to my blog. Pretty awesome! Also, pretty hilarious, given that the post was kind of tongue-in-cheek and not what I would consider a comprehensive cookie party reference. So I decided to pull together some of my other thoughts, tips, and suggestions for hosting a cookie party since the 3rd Annual Holiday Cookie Party is a mere month away!
Start with a plan.
Your plan could be wildly different than mine, but I have found that mine is the most effective use of many things - my time, my living space, my sanity, and so on.
I host my parties on a Sunday so as to use the entire weekend for different, and relaxed, stages of planning and set up.
On Friday evening, after work, I mix up batches of my favorite cookie dough - the amount of cookie dough I bake is based on a 10-12 big/little cookies per person formula. Approximately. I have tried other recipes before, but I find the one I discovered at Baked Bree to be the most solidly performing and tastiest cookie. I tend to bake with a whole wheat/all purpose flour combination, which yields a tender texture and nutty flavor to the baked cookies.
On Saturday afternoon, I roll out the dough and start baking. Like I joked in the original post, you must use all of your cookie cutters - yes, even the Volkswagen Beetle, squirrel, artichoke, state of Nebraska, etc. - because it keeps the actual party fun and interesting. I bake cookies together according to their size so that they bake evenly and so I can adjust the baking time as necessary; there is absolutely no sense in baking a four-inch cookie next to a one-inch cookie. Baking a variety of shapes and sizes also helps regulate the amount of time people spend sitting at the tables decorating. Tiny cookies are done quickly, but larger cookies can take some people upwards of 30 minutes to an hour! After the cookies have cooled, I store them in an airtight container overnight.
On Sunday morning, I create platters of cookies in assorted shapes and sizes so that people don't need to move around a lot to find something interesting to decorate.
I set up two tables (in separate rooms), which is all that will fit in my apartment, with an identical assortment of sprinkles, icing, and cookies. Each place setting gets a paper plate with a pronounced lip/edge. Why? So the sprinkles don't roll all over the place, especially onto the floor. I have a pug, which is Tibetan for "vacuum". The sprinkles are poured into cupcake liners which are in cupcake tins. I keep small scoops and spoons on all of the tables for people to use to pick up their sprinkles (instead of their fingers). There are also a number of sprinkles in their original shakers, and some in small bowls if necessary.
In the invitation, I remind people that the party is an Open House format. I don't expect people to show up on time, and I don't expect them to stay the entire time, either. The goal is that people move in and out of the space at random intervals so that 10-12 people are decorating at any given time. I encourage people to start decorating shortly after their arrive so their cookies have time to dry before they leave. Get them set up at a station and with a beverage, then once they're done decorating they can eat and mingle. This is also why you have things like Christmas movies on the TV, libations, and savory snacks. It keeps people moving.
As the hostess, I try to sit with almost every guest (or group of guests) and decorate something with them. Even if it's just a one-inch cookie, spending that time with your guests reminds them that you care about them, that you appreciate that they came to your party, AND that you love what you're forcing them to do, too. It also gets you off your feet, which is nice after baking 16 dozen cookies the day before.
No need for party favors - the cookies ARE the favors! Encourage your friends to take their lovely creations home with them by providing a box for them. Pre-cut small pieces of wax/parchment paper to use as layers between cookies in the box. Have some pretty stickers or washi tape on hand so that you can make the box pretty with them/for them before they head out.
Finally, I try to incorporate some sort of philanthropic element to the party, which keeps people from feeling obligated to bring you a gift for hosting. Last year we collected mittens, hats, and scarves for disadvantaged children who live in DC, and this year we're collecting books for Bright Beginnings, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing homeless children and their families with educational and other resources to prepare them for school and to stabilize their home lives.
If you have extra cookies, which is inevitable, don't eat them. You've already had too much sugar. Take them to work and watch your coworkers run around the office on a sugar high instead.
Focusing on providing your artists/friends with the best tools with which to create their buttery masterpieces is of utmost importance. You want to have a collection of sprinkles, jimmies, dragees, sanding sugar, and icing that reflect a variety of aesthetics and interests. I'll admit that I tend to go overboard, but I also reign in the expenses elsewhere...this is, after all, a gift from me to my friends.
Some of my favorite places to shop for cookie party supplies are:
- Confectionery House - a fantastic assortment of supplies including sprinkles and cookie cutters. They also have superb customer service and fantastic prices. Similar to Confectionery House: Fancy Flours.
- Sweet Estelle - I did the majority of my novelty sprinkle shopping here last year and was really pleased, overall! Places on Etsy that are similar to Sweet Estelle include: Cupcake Social / Bakers Bling Shop / The Baker's Confections. Outside of Etsy I suggest Hey Yo Yo and Bake It Pretty.
- Le Box Boutique - they sell biodegradable boxes perfect for cookies, as well as baker's twine and washi tape to help decorate them!
- Your local craft or cake decorating store - specifically for the squeeze bottles I set up with royal icing; they are easy to hold, they keep the icing moist, and people find them easier to use than piping bags.
Supplies you should also have on hand at the party:
- toothpicks, plastic utensils, straws, etc. - folks use them to move and shape icing and sprinkles
- damp paper towels to wipe dried royal icing off of hands, etc.
- aprons/towels and clothespins for people who don't want to get their clothes dirty (instabibs!)
- drying racks or lots of counter space in your kitchen
- small sheets of wax/parchment paper
- a camera, either in your pocket or in a designated photographer's pocket, to catch candid shots and final creations as they happen
- savory snacks and appetizers - put them on a table that's out of the way and encourage people to nosh, especially if they've been eating a ton of cookies. Their blood sugar will thank them.
- great holiday music and/or great holiday movies - I recommend Elf, The Santa Clause, White Christmas, and the vintage animated movies like Rudolph and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Nostalgia is a wonderful motivator.
Do your homework.
There's nothing worse than a great plan that fails when it's time to party. I've spent countless hours reading about cookies, royal icing, decorating tips, and other details that make a party like this one run smoothly. My favorite resource is Sweetopia; she's put together a number of great tutorials and tip lists for readers.
- Top 10 Keys to Decorating Success [Or 10 Mistakes to Avoid]
- Staying Organized While Decorating Cookies - 10 Tips
- How to Marble or Swirl Icing - this is one of many decorating tips at Sweetopia, but it is one of the easiest to explain and execute for decorating novices
- Royal Icing Consistency Made Easy - the 10 Second Rule
- How to Decorate with Royal Icing - Top 10 Tips
Enjoy yourself, dammit.
This is, after all, the msot wonderful time of the year.