Growing up, every holiday gathering in our house was always finished the same way. After the table would be cleared of all of the Italian and Filipino main dishes, the fruit and nuts would come out for the adults. With the fruit and nuts would come sambuca and espresso. The kids would get the Italian pastries and the cookie platter.
Of course all of us would attack the cookie platter choosing the cookies that best suited our taste. I loved anything with chocolate. My siblings might choose the fruit filled butter cookie sandwiches dipped in chocolate and covered with sprinkles or not waste any time on the cookies and go straight for the cannoli, sfogliatelle, or the struffoli. On Easter we would have Easter Bread, and as a kid I always remember thinking that it was so cool that they baked the colored eggs right into the bread!
And this is where I can say my love of baking began. Being young enough to know that I loved the sweets put on the table and yet being old enough to be allowed in the kitchen with my friends. Often times, my friends and I would cook or bake together. Even while in high school, I would order cookbooks from my book of the month club.
I always imagined myself having home baked goods for my kids when they would come off the bus from school. As cliche as it sounds, I wanted them to have cookies and milk when they would arrive after a long day of schoolwork. And so, I began baking lots of different types of cookies…
Which leads me to my cookie swaps. Even while living in NY, I enjoyed hosting my cookie swap with friends who also shared a love of baking. All the mommies would get together and kick off the holiday season by sharing cookies that they baked from home. When I moved here to Manila, it took me quite a while to find my footing, (sometimes I think I still am finding my footing) so the cookies I baked were for our family to enjoy…until I met some baker friends, and friends of baker friends…and thru everyone’s “joy of baking” I was able to put together a small group of women who wanted to participate in a cookie swap!
I was really pleased that almost everyone I invited was able to participate. We were only missing one baker from last year and I was able to coax a few others to join us. Unfortunately, our friend CJ had to come a little late so she is missing in this group picture.
Everyone brought their best cookie forward! It was such a pleasure putting it all together. I truly enjoyed the whole process of planning this annual get together. From creating the invitation and putting together the theme and then of course the day itself. I was sure to include the mechanics of how a cookie swap works in the invitation because this year we had a few first timers. From the years passed, I have learned that it is important to give a few guidelines so that no one feels bad about the process or the cookie they bring to share.
After putting together the theme, the invitation and the mechanics I set to put together the table. With the help of Aga, my trusted florist, I decided on cyprus and roses. I wanted to keep it simple so that the focus of the table was still the cookies! After all, many of us had spent days in the kitchen baking! I just couldn’t resist some gorgeous red roses that reminded me a little bit of a topiary.
I prepared one of my favorite Italian Christmas Cookies.
It looks so pretty on the plate when fanned out in a circle!
The base of this cookie is the almond paste but the directions call to whip the batter until light and fluffy and then fold in stiff peaked egg whites. The finished product leaves you with raspberry jam sandwiched between cake like layers dyed red and green for Christmas. Finish it with a dark chocolate topping and you have a cookie that can instantly bring me back to my childhood.
Other cookies that came with their bakers: Spicy Gingerbread, Christmas Fruit Drop Cookies, Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies, Cream Cheese Pecan Cookies, Thumbprints, Creamy Peppermint Crunch Cookies, and Potato Chip Cookies.
I had so much fun rolling out and baking gingerbread with Gia. Even her brothers got excited about the decorating. DH even helped with one batch!
I loved all the different textures in the Christmas Fruit Drop Cookie. It had Rice Krispies, walnuts, white chocolate, oatmeal, and candied cherries in Christmas colors…something different in every bite! Our judges liked it too! It tied for one of the best tasting cookies.
Deep Dark Chocolate was moist, chewy and super chocolatey. It had added chocolate chips and were a welcome surprise when you bit into it. My DH loved it.
Cream Cheese Pecan Cookies was one of our winners for the day. It was a similar to tangy, nutty, shortbread. The cream cheese was definitely in the forefront of flavor for this one. One of the judges said that it reminded him of our native polvoron cookie.
I really enjoyed this cookie as well. Gia said this cookie was her favorite of the whole swap. (I think I ate about 10 of them.) It had a little bit of crunch, a little bit of peppermint and it was soft and sweet. The only problem I might foresee in trying to replicate this cookie is trying to find the Andes Peppermint Crunch Chips. Sometimes, I’m surprised tho…you’ll find these imported goods every now and again in random places. I’ll just have to keep my eye out for these 😉
For as many different bakers that I know, there are also that many different Thumbprint cookies. But I have never seen a Thumbprint as BIG as Lolet’s! These cookies were all hand rolled and weighed by Lolet and her husband! They just arrived from traveling and while Lolet was super jet lagging she was baking at 2 am the morning of the cookie swap! What a trooper! I couldn’t believe it when Lolet arrived with her cookies still warm from the oven! Lolet not only used jams and jellies to fill her Thumbprint cookies but she also drizzled each on with dark chocolate as well.
For some reason, I was missing a picture of the Potato Chip cookies that CJ brought to share. These were similar to a soft butter cookie rolled in sugar with the whole sweet salty thing going on. As Rachel Ray would say…YUM-O.
Besides the friendship, the joy of baking, the stories behind the cookies, and the excuse to come together, there is one other reason I enjoy hosting an annual cookie swap so much…
I get to eat cookies for breakfast!
Almost all of our cookie recipes can be found on the internet, however, two of them came from cookbooks. I’ve included them here as well as links to the others in case anyone would like to try their hand at baking them.
Christmas Fruit Drop Cookies
- 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 c. (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
- 3/4 c. granulated sugar
- 1/2 c. (packed) dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 2 c. toasted rice cereal
- 1 c. walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 c. red candied cherries, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 c. green candied cherries, coarsely chopped
- 1 c. white chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease large cookie sheet.
- In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In large bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat butter and sugars until creamy, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Beat in vanilla, then eggs, 1 at a time. At low speed, gradually add flour mixture; beat just until blended, occasionally scraping bowl. With spoon, stir in cereal, walnuts, cherries, and 1 cup chocolate chips.
- Drop dough by rounded teaspoons, 1 inch apart, onto cookie sheet. Bake cookies 10 to 11 minutes or until golden. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Yields: 4 dozen cookies
- 1 c. all purpose flour
- 1/2 c. finely chopped walnuts
- 1/4 tsp .salt
- 1/3 c. (1 stick) butter softened
- 1/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- Wilton candy melts, bite sized candy, favorite jam or jelly, walnut or pecan pieces
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- In a medium bowl, combine flour, walnuts and salt.
- In a large bowl beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add eggs and vanilla; mix well.
- Gradually add flour mixture; mix well.
- Shape dough into 1″ balls.
- Place on cookie sheet and make indentation with finger.
- Bake 12-15 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
- Remove cookies from cookie sheet to cooling rack.
- Immediately top with candy jam or nut. Cool completely. Drizzle cookies with melted candy.
- Yields 2 dozen cookies