The Holiday Cookie Swap: You’re kidding me, right?

Recipe: Date Crumbles

In the latest missive from Martha, the Darth Vader of domesticity offers up a bunch of recipes especially for holiday cookie swaps. Putting aside the question of who in her right mind would invite Martha to a cookie party (“How quaint! A chocolate chip cookie!  Here, do sample one of my Roasted Pecan, Marzipan and Sea Salt 100% Cocoa Dream Bars. They’re the ones packaged in my homemade Fabergé eggs and sprinkled with edible gold dust!”), let us for a moment focus on the strange notion of a cookie swapping party.

As I understand it, these things require everyone to bring about 50 dozen homemade cookies, festively packaged for the holiday and suitable for gift giving. Attendees then go home with 50 dozen assorted cookies to light up their holiday season and blow out the springs on yet another bathroom scale. Now, I myself have never been invited to one of these dream festivals, nor have I ever considered the possibility of throwing one, even in the midst of a weeklong holiday eggnog bender celebration, but I have it on good authority that these shindigs are fairly common and many people actually enjoy them. Mysterious, isn’t it? So let’s break it down.

Babs and Mandy via

Cookie party? Great idea, Babs! Count us in!
I’m guessing of course, but I’d wager this is how it usually starts. A couple of ex-sorority sisters are sitting at the table in a tastefully appointed, 800 square-foot kitchen sipping cinnamon-dusted, decaf, fat-free lattes and tossing around crazy ideas to really pep up the holiday season, when one of them recalls reading about a holiday cookie swapping party in, where else, Martha Stewart Living. This of course is the family-friendly, great-room version of the panelled-basement, Mateus-swilling, wife swapping parties of yesteryear. These days, however, instead of swinging, mom, dad, the kids and the nanny happily mingle while participating in a mid-afternoon sugar orgy and bake-off with alpha status on the cul de sac as first prize. (“OMG, Sally did NOT bring those disgusting Snickerdoodles again?! Last year I gave ours to the cleaning lady, and it was the last time we ever saw her. Just saying…”)

Why would anyone do this during the holidays?
I don’t know about you, but by the second week in December I am red-lining the stress meter. My house is cluttered with decorations and blinking lights that turn a garden variety hangover into a never-ending hallucinogenic nightmare; I have cuts on the soles of my feet from stepping on broken ornament shards; I’ve already gained five pounds from eating the entire, extra large fruitcake I made the day after Thanksgiving; and my credit cards are smoking. At this point I long for three things: clear surfaces, a stomach pump and a double martini after breakfast. Seems to me a holiday vodka swapping party would actually make sense at a time like this. How come nobody throws those?


What’s the party dress code? The holiday sweater, of course!
If you’re actually going to put in an appearance at one of these binges, you’ll be expected to show up in the Christmas classic, on which you will certainly not want to squander precious gift dollars. So, if you don’t have a novelty sweater of your own (and I sincerely hope you don’t), borrow a Rudolph cardigan, preferably with jingle bells, from Aunt Marge or Chester, that goofy second cousin on your father’s side who keeps a spotless house, is the first to arrive at every family reunion (with his mother) and never fails to remind you that he’s “missing your Christmas card” on December 2nd.

In my opinion, if you’re going to throw a bash during the holiday season, you really should make it formal, but there’s just no way to pull off a black tie cookie party. With the annual request for evening attire, the old man’s mildewy tuxedo gets aired and stretched, and the ladies have a perfectly good excuse to nip into Lord and Taylor for fashionable party shoes, a cocktail dress that will be worn only once, and the Spanxx that are necessary to zip it, but which also require the victim to pee through the trap door in the crotch while hovering over the toilet bowl, because there is no way you’re ever going to get a garment with that much torque back up once you’ve pulled it down and released a cascade of fruitcake-infused gut flab back into the wild, even for the few seconds it takes to have a squeak. You cannot get this kind of merriment while upholstered in Mom jeans and a turtleneck.

What’s on the drinks cart?
Why milk, cider, coffee and tea of course, silly! How this passes for a party in any universe is beyond me. Enough said.

Don’t forget the straw!

Here’s what a “cookie party” at my house would look like:
Me still in my pajamas at seven pm, slumped against the kitchen counter, drinking directly from the bottle of Bushmills I keep under the sink (for emergencies) with half a bowl of cookie dough already working its way from my stomach to my ass. Smoke is rolling out of the oven where the final batch of cookies I need to meet my party “quota” is incinerating (This batch is for YOU, Babs.), and the Wing Hua delivery man is laying on the doorbell waiting for payment on the fifth consecutive dinner delivery of the week. Happy freakin’ holidays.

Nonetheless, since we’re on the subject, and I’m thinking about cookies, I’m going to break my no-more-cooking rule just this once to offer up the recipe for the Slattern’s best cookie, the date crumble. Not only is it festive and delicious, but it also contains dates (iron!) and oatmeal (fiber!), which in my book qualifies this as health food. As an added bonus, these cookies are baked en masse in a pan then cut into bars, thereby saving the baker the aggravation of multiple batches. So if you must attend one of these godawful events, at least you can shine. Just make sure to bring the Slattern’s friend along for company if you want to have any fun at all.

Date Crumbles
(They freeze beautifully, btw)

Date Filling
3 cups pitted dates, chopped (1 lb)
1 cup water
1/3 cup white sugar
Juice of ½ lemon

1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup cool unsalted butter (somewhere between refrigerator and room temp, no margarine or Crisco!)
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups oats (you can use quick cooking oats, but I use old fashioned ones for more texture)
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt

Heat the oven to 400°.

In a saucepan, combine the filling ingredients and cook over low heat about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened and kind of pasty with chunks. Cool for about 5 minutes.

In large bowl (preferably of an electric mixer, otherwise this bit is exhausting), stir brown sugar and butter together, then add the flour, oats, baking soda and salt and mix until crumbly.

Press half of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of pan to form a crust. Spread with filling. Top with remaining crumb mixture and press down lightly.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until light brown. Cool 5 minutes in the pan. Run a knife along the edge of the pan, otherwise you’ll have trouble extracting the bars after they cool. Cut into squares or diamonds or rectangles, whichever feels most festive to you.

What’s that? Your sweet tooth is calling? Might as well indulge your masochistic tendencies here, then.

Chocolate crinkles
Bar cookies
Molasses crinkles
The science of the chocolate chip cookie

About WSW

Writer, wife, mother. Toiler in the bottomless, black, soul-sucking coal mine of domestic life. Thank God for the portable bar.

Posted on November 30, 2012, in Holiday fare, Party! Party! and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. LOL. “OMG, Sally did NOT bring those disgusting Snickerdoodles again?! Last year I gave ours to the cleaning lady, and it was the last time we ever saw her.” Classic. And is that Vin Diesel in that holiday sweater?

  2. The Stepford Wives in my neighborhood persist on inviting every woman in the subdivision to a cookie swap every year at Christmas. The only year I enjoyed it (and one of the few years I actually went) I was pregnant and therefore did not miss the alcohol, and felt perfectly justified in snarfing handsful of the different cookies. Eating for two, right?

    • What is wrong with people? Why aren’t men invited? I’ll tell you why — because those binges are no fun whatsoever. The men were all at home watching the game and snarfing down cheetos and beer. I know which party I’d prefer.

  3. I’ll give your recipe a whirl, but not to share. Who has time to bake 50 dozen? Isn’t that like a trillion cookies? Can’t say I’m an saner though; I just sent an invite for the entire adolescent hockey team complete with parents & siblings to ring in the merry making at our home.
    Pass the Bushmills please.

  4. Christina Rega Smith

    WW – you have outdone yourself and I would vote this the lead in the “Best of Kitchen Slattern”

    • Aw, you are too kind. Obviously you were softened up by reading all those credit card solicitations. So nice to see your smiling face around the place!

  5. OMG! I so know the terror of the Christmas Cookie Swap! My book club recently had the misfortune of reading “The Christmas Cookie Club” and now they all have it lodged in their brains that we, too, need to engage in this torture as well. Holy Crap. I can’t even get my own frickin’ Christmas baking done without being required to do everyone else’s too. I only flip to the NO BAKE section of my cookbooks for a reason.
    Is it considered in bad taste to bring rice crispie squares? What if I make them in interesting shapes? Ugh.
    I think we should just exchange bottles of Baileys and be done with it.
    Sorry about the rant. I feel better.

    • It think you should just get one of those little airplane Bailey’s bottles and a crazy straw for everyone and have done with it. Rant away. I enjoy it.

  6. Snoring Dog Studio

    I remember the one year during December that I decided to host a holiday party. I made tons of appetizers, cookies, decorated the house, and… one person showed up. But, seriously, I was thrilled because I just wanted to get into my pajamas and sit on the sofa and talk to my sister and my dogs. Every year I think about throwing a little get together. Then, I slap myself, have a drink, and the feeling passes. Thank goodness.

  7. I think you can read minds, Wendie. This year, I’ve decided to have a FORMAL X’mas gathering, which means everyone must SIT DOWN AT THE DINING TABLE while they guzzle my famous One-Two Punch (the purpose of which is to intoxicate guests so much that they forget how awful the food tastes). And I think cookies/sweet stuff are definitely in order. What would you recommend as a simple cookie recipe that someone’s broken left toe could whip up in a pinch?

    • May I suggest making my no fail brownies? I know, I know, brownies are so basic, but these are by far the best brownies you will ever have, they are simple to make, and they lend themselves to any kind of embellishment — a scoop of vanilla, coffee or raspberry twirl ice cream; ice cream and berries; hot fudge, caramel or raspberry sauce. They sky’s the limit. If however you don’t want to bake, just do the Italian thing and serve everyone a bowl of high quality vanilla ice cream and pour over it a steaming demitasse of espresso. Instant affogato.

      And by the way, your One-Two Punch is genius. Sheer genius. I LOVE a party punch bowl!

  8. cookie dough already working its way from my stomach to my ass….haa haa good one. I really dislike cookie walks, cookie parties and anything else that requires me to exchange my delights for some foreign cookie

  9. I have forced my colleagues to swear that they will euthanize me if I ever show up in a “teacher” sweater, let alone a holiday one. Are the molasses crinkles the chewy kind?

  10. Like the idea, a cookie swap but I’ll have to pass. The dealer, I mean purveyor, of one of the ingredients for my Festive Holiday Fudge has been detained by the local authorities and might not be available for about five to ten years. Good idea though.

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