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December 1, 2009

McCray on What's Cookin': Cookies ring in holiday spirit

Jean Philbrook has a few rules when it comes to her annual holiday cookie exchange. Nothing major. Certainly, Philbrook isn't the cookie police, but for her and others who host cookie exchange parties, these occasions are all about trying something new.

Jean Philbrook has a few rules when it comes to her annual holiday cookie exchange:

Be on time. Otherwise, guests who leave early can't sample your cookies.

No nibbling, or there won't be enough cookies left for guests to take home.

Whatever you do, don't bring chocolate-chip cookies.

"We don't do the basics," said Philbrook, of Ceres. "No chocolate chip, no peanut butter."

Philbrook isn't the cookie police, but for her and others who host cookie exchange parties, these occasions are all about trying something new.

Bring something yummy yet unusual. Thumb through cookbooks and recipe cards to find cookies your guests have never tried.

"That's the idea behind cookie exchanges, in which guests make cookies and bring them to a party for others to package and take home. Imagine a mile-long cookie buffet. It's Cookie Monster's dream.

But a successful event takes planning, say veterans of cookie exchanges. As you make your guest list, keep in mind that guests usually make enough cookies so that everyone can take home six to 12 of each type of cookie.

Twelve guests could equal 12 dozen cookies. This could mean all day in the kitchen.

"That's when it gets to be more work than fun," Philbrook said.

Hosts will want to ask for RSVPs, so they know how many cookies each guest should make. Also, consider providing disposable containers for people to take their cookies home.

Guests should do their part, said Jim La Grone of Modesto, a cookie exchange veteran.

"Do not bring store-bought cookies," he said. "That's the cardinal sin."

He's joking — sort of.

La Grone started hosting cookie exchanges at his home more than 10 years ago and has seen just about everything, including store-bought cookies. At his parties, he asks each guest to stand up and talk about their cookie.

Sometimes there are tales of oven fires or burned batches.

"There's always a bunch of laughs," he said.

If you are invited to a cookie exchange, bring copies of your recipe for everyone. Peggy Gardiner of Modesto, another cookie swap fan, once went to a party where the guests mailed their recipes to the hostess, who bound them into a book as a party favor.

"It made it a little more special," she said.

Don't forget to put your name and phone number on your recipe, so someone can call you if they suspect a mistake, like an omitted ingredient.

While some hosts give favors, like cookie cutters, to each guest, others offer prizes for the most unusual cookies.

Some dispense with the rules entirely. Mary Martinez of Modesto welcomes everyone to her annual exchange, even if they don't come bearing cookies. Lack of cookies has never been a problem, though. Last year, she counted more than 1,000.

This year, she plans to invite more guests. That means more cookies. Oh, darn.

"It can get as big as it wants," she said. "There are no rules. It's all about the party."

Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at kmccray@modbee.com.

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