Top Cookie Exchange Cookies

Hosting a cookie exchange is fun because rather than make super-impressive cookies, your job as host is to make sure others have fun (and provide extra containers). It’s the guests who have to worry about whether their cookies taste good and are as pretty as the others. I get so nervous going to cookie exchanges that I usually just don’t, but this year I accepted an invitation and am already feeling anxious.

Just to be safe, I made a list of cookies that are guaranteed to be good at any cookie exchange. I may use it, and maybe you can too.

Sparkle Cookies – This recipe was adapted from a Los Angeles Times article about a Canadian cookie called the Sparkle Cookie. I don’t have the article anymore, but I remember they said it might be the best cookie in the world….or something like that. You might agree when you taste one.

Orange Slice Cookies – They’ve been appearing here and there at Austin cookie exchanges, but if you live elsewhere maybe you can introduce them to your town. A lot of people haven’t seen orange wedge gumdrops in a cookie so that’s notable.

Apricot Orange Shortbread Bars – Just ignore the photo I took because it’s not very flattering to the cookie. If you put more care into cutting them and arranging them on a tray, they’d look better…pretty, actually. They’re messier than some of the other cookies listed, but not outrageously so. Most importantly, they taste good and are unique.

Pineapple Cheesecake Squares – I’m pushing the envelope a little here in terms of messiness and transportability, but even though they’re primarily cheesecake and taste a little better cold, these would go over well at a cookie exchange. At least I think so. I like getting cheesecake type cookies in my cookie exchange stash. I just re-chill them when I get home.

Chai Spiced Almond Cookies from Bon Appetit — This is such a great cookie. It’s a traditional snowball/Mexican Wedding cookie, but you bite into it and get all the flavors of the season….or India, depending on your perspective. Great recipe.

Scratch Version of the Million Dollar Peanut Butter Cookie. These aren’t very festive, but people will forgive their appearance when they bite in and get the creamy peanut butter center. If you are creative, you can come up with a way to make them look more holiday-ish.

Peanut Butter Blossoms – It wouldn’t be a cookie exchange without peanut butter blossoms. The problem is, there might be too many of them at the party. I think at one point they were so ubiquitous people stopped making them. Or maybe that’s my imagination. I just feel like I haven’t seen them at parties lately. Oh wait, I haven’t been to any parties lately.

Pecan Sables/Sandies — And old one from Gourmet, this recipe puts the commercial sandies to shame, especially if you use European style butter. Only make these if you’re going to a cookie exchange where the other guests appreciate the finer things in life…or at least the finer cookies

If you’re going to a more casual cookie exchange where the focus is on drinking and you think 90% of the people will bring store-bought cookies and the homemade cookies will be made from refrigerated dough and you know that if you bake from scratch people will mock you and call you “Betty Crocker” or say “Boy, I’m just too busy to bake from scratch…good thing YOU have the time.” Then you can make these Fiesta Fudge Cookies.
They’re cute and they look like they took some effort. Plus, you can tell your busy friends “Don’t worry. The recipe starts with a mix. Even you could make it.” This recipe was invented by Priscilla Yee.

Another alternative for this type of exchange? Cake Balls.+

There’s always that one person who brings candy to a cookie exchange. If you want to be her/him, you could take Orange Creamsicle Fudge. It’s pretty good and there’s always someone in the crowd who is really grateful because they just looooooooooove orange cream flavor.

Oatmeal Cookie Guy’s Cranberry Crunch Cookies – People go crazy over these and they fit the holiday theme.

Chocolate Biscotti – Biscotti is good because you can make it a few days ahead of time and not worry about whether it tastes fresh. This is one of my favorite recipes.

Baklava Bars – This is another one that start with a mix. Frankly, you’d spend about the same amount of time making regular baklava, but the thing about this recipe is the cookie mix base makes the cookies more approachable (somehow? Is that the right word?) than plain old baklava. For instance, if I eat a piece of baklava I feel like I’m missing out on eating a cookie. This recipe rolls it all up into one.

Four Seasons Chocolate Ginger Cookie – Another chocolate cookie with flavors of the season.

S’mores Cookies – No one will complain if you bring these.

Frosty Fruit Bars – This is an old Mystic Seaport cookbook recipe. I haven’t made it in a while because the last time I did I ate so many I got sick. Please ignore the goofy comment thread below it where we all kept saying “rock” and using exclamation points and all caps. I think it was all the Jack Daniels.

Roxanne’s White Chocolate Peppermint Pistachio Bars – Seasonal and easy to transport. These also stay fresh for a while.

Well, that’s all I can think of for now. I’ll add more ideas as they come.

Related posts:


  1. Jan says

    Those sound good! Have you ever made Biscochitos Anna, the kind with anise in them? I’m thinking about trying them, thot i’d check you out first for a recipe.

  2. says

    This is great, thanks for putting these recommendations together. I bookmarked the Sparkle Cookies, and plan to make them for “the girls.” I want a cookie for chocolate lovers that will impress. Looks like these are just the ticket. 🙂

  3. says

    What a fantastic list!! There are so many cookies here I haven’t tried and would like to make. I must say this for the umpteenth time. The apricot almond shortbread bars are one of my all time favorites from your site. They are so very good. And the Tex Mex Chocolate Cookies are lots of fun to make and share. I love the layers of flavor in that cookie.

  4. Karen says

    Lots of great ideas, thanks! I love the Tex Mex cookies, they are fabulous. I’m very curious about the white chocolate pistachio recipe, something out of the ordinary.

  5. Teresa says

    The sparkle cookie recipe is the same recipe as Gesine’s “Starry Starry Nights” from Confections of a Closet Master Baker.

  6. says

    Teresa, I noticed that too when I read the book. Maybe she and Thomas Haas got it from the same source. It would be interesting to know the origin prior to the article that made it famous in 2002. The honey is an interesting addition. Interestingly, the Tex Mex cookies also have funny. Thanks for stopping by Cookie Madness.

  7. Amanda says

    That’s an impressive list of cookie recipes!! Going to check them out in a sec. I’ve been making several different kinds of cookies this year instead of the same old same old, it’s been fun!

  8. Anonymous says

    Great post. I would add Julia Child’s Hungarian Shortbread, made with raspberry jam. It’s buttery, it’s beautiful, easy to make in quantity and looks Christmas-y with the red jam and a dusting of powdered sugar.

  9. Jennifer says

    I was just thinking that my “usual” holiday cookie lineup needs a update…thanks for the fantastic list, Anna!! The chai spiced almond cookies sound especially good…you think I could substitute almond butter for some of the dairy butter?

  10. says

    Anna, you read my mind–I was just thinking ‘when work calms down , maybe I should bake some cookie goodie packages for the holidays, but what should I include?’ I was going to email you to suggest a post about good durable cookies that were easy and mixed well together as a spread–this list is perfect!

  11. says

    Jennifer, I’m not sure you’d get the same great texture if you swapped out some of the butter. Plus, the almond flavor might overshadow the other flavors. Then again, you can always experiment!

  12. Mollie says

    These recipes all look delicious! The link to the peanut butter blossoms doesn’t work; it links to the tex mex cookies. Any way you could share the link?


  13. katherine says

    You read my mind! I have a cookie exchange coming up and was trying to figure out what to make. Thanks!!

  14. Laura E. says

  15. Louise says

    Peanut Blossoms were a Pillsbury Bake-Off winner for Freda Smith of Gibsonburg, OH, in Contest 9, 1957. The recipe is on the page after Anna’s in the Pillsbury “Best of the Bake-Off Cookbook” published in 2008. It’s in the Bake-Off “Hall of Fame” as one of the most requested recipes.

  16. Louise says

    Anna, do you know which of these cookies hold up well? I need to start my marathon baking next week for the cookies we ship to family and friends. I’ll send you a long list of ones I know do really well. I’ll have to try the Pecan Sables. I make a terrific Brown Sugar Pecan Shortbread from David Levowitz’s “Room for Dessert” that keeps and ships well, but a variation would be good too. And I just learned that “Baked” brownies hold up well for shipping.

  17. says

    Laura, thanks for the other links. I’m not making the German Chocolate Cake until Friday, so between now and then I could work on a Peanut Butter Blossom comparison post.

  18. says

    Laura, thanks for the other links. I’m not making the German Chocolate Cake until Friday, so between now and then I could work on a Peanut Butter Blossom comparison post.

    Louise, you must try the pecan sables. They’re incredible! They should keep well too.
    The other alternative is the chocolate biscotti which is sure to ship well.

  19. Erin McMilon says

    Thanks for sharing this list with us – I am headed to a cookie exchange tonight, no one would DARE bring store bought cookies – I made the Pecan Sandies and they are WONDERFUL – I haven’t made a cookie like that before and I am so sorry about that – This recipe gets an A+ and I know the other ladies in the exchange will be asking for the recipe! THANKS!

  20. Louise says

    I’ll let you know how the Apricot-Orange Shortbread survive. We used to make a similar recipe when I was a kid, a half a century ago. The recipe somehow got lost, but these look like what I remember. We’ll see what my taste memory says. I remember that my mother and aunt would always bake the bars and cut the bars before adding the topping. There would be a sticky mess on the cookie sheets around each cookie. This was way before parchment paper was used for home baking. 🙂 Oh, no. Now I’m crying from the happy memories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *