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Recipe: Comfort and Joy

Here are seven tips for hosting a virtual holiday cookie exchange, with recipe ideas included.

It may take a little extra time and creativity, but a holiday cookie exchange can be held virtually and it’s worth the effort according to experts.

“There’s a famous quote, ‘If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ It’s so true for me as I find great joy in developing easy, flavorful recipes,” says Cindy Gilbert, McCormick Test Kitchen chef. “My friends have come to me for years requesting tips and tricks, and over 20 years ago, they anointed me the annual holiday cookie exchange leader. This past year has been challenging, but I knew I wanted to keep the tradition alive while following social distancing guidelines.”

Here are Gilbert’s top seven tips on hosting your own virtual cookie exchange, along with her favorite delicious McCormick cookie picks.

1. Keep the virtual guest list small and local. Your family and friends’ safety is the most important thing, and no one wants to bake a ton of cookies. Aim for five to 10 people.

Gingerbread Men Cookies: No winter holiday is complete without gingerbread men. They’re cute and can be decorated with raisins, cinnamon red-hot candies or royal icing.

2. Invite cookie enthusiasts. Invite people who enjoy being in the kitchen and welcome sharing their recipe secrets! Tell them they’re going to be sharing the story behind their choice.

Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies: This tasty recipe crinkles from the confectioners’ sugar, and the deep chocolate red color and taste add up to a cookie you’ll be proud to share.

3. Package cookies in separate portions. Ask participants to package each serving in individual containers or resealable bags of six cookies per serving.

Easy Lemon Cookie Truffles: This is a perfect no-bake option. Lemon extract adds a bright citrus flavor to this easy four-ingredient treat that starts with store-bought sugar cookies.

4. Arrange the exchange. About an hour before the virtual get-together, set up a table outside, in a cul-de-sac or school parking lot. Everyone can take turns grabbing their cookies quickly and safely. Or, arrange no contact porch drop-offs during a set time.

Holiday Meringue Cookies: These deliciously airy, light, and low-fat meringue cookies are the perfect confection for any holiday celebration. Add your favorite food coloring for a festive twist.

5. Request the recipes. Ask guests to provide a recipe card in their individual packages, or as the host, you can compile the recipes and share through e-mail.

Double Ginger Gingersnaps: A personal favorite of Gilbert’s, these are a ginger lover’s dream! Ground ginger and crystallized ginger make the flavor pop on these cookies, which are crispy on the outside and chewy inside.

6. Share stories via video conference. Many guests like to tell the stories behind their cookies. By scheduling time to connect, you’ll likely hear some heartwarming or hilarious anecdotes and maybe even some helpful tidbits.

Sugar Cookie Thumbprints with Spiced Jam: Inspired by a bakery treat, this holiday twist on a classic uses cinnamon or ginger-spiced jam.

7. Have fun. Take time to ask how everyone has been and give them a chance to share what other traditions they’re planning this year. While the party is about cookies, it’s also about connecting, having fun and picking up a few new recipes to try.

Pecan Cookie Balls: These buttery melt-in-your-mouth cookies, also known as Mexican Wedding Cakes, make a great addition to any holiday cookie exchange.

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With a little creativity and the perfect cookie recipe, you can reinvent your favorite baking traditions for a safe and festive holiday season.