T he Wellesley Cookie Exchange Cookbook (1986) is a good place to start your Christmas baking, if you don’t mind cup and spoon measurements (which, although everyone agrees are less precise than avoirdupois or metric weights, are still the preferred measuring system in the United States).
A “cookie exchange” might seem like a very American concept, but gathering together for communal cooking and eating is popular in many cultures.
Author Susan Mahnke Peery writes in the introduction that this cookie exchange, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, “is a wonderful occasion for dressing up, eating loads of tempting holiday food, sipping wassail and heady eggnog, and having a fine time socialising with friends whose busy lives intersect all too seldom.
“But at eight o’clock, [hosts] Mary and Laurel ring a little silver bell and all of the guests turn to the serious business at hand: exchanging cookies. Each participant has brought a batch of cookies – perhaps a family favourite like thumbprint cookies, or an heirloom recipe such as Zimtsterne or almond crostata, or extra-fancy holiday cookies like frosted sugar plums or perky gingerbread men.”
She continues: “Each woman selects one or two cookies from each batch until she has assembled a collection of several dozen different cookies, delicious booty to serve family and guests during the busy holiday season at hand.
“There are cookies whose recipes emigrated across the Atlantic generations ago from Italy, Germany, Austria, Norway; cookies rich with sweet butter and nutmeats and with frostings as lavish as velvet and old lace; cookies baked by busy hands and redolent not only of spices and citrus but also of tradition, fellowship, and the love of giving.
“That’s what each person brings and takes home every year from the cookie exchange.”
The recipes in the book are easy and homey, although a lot of them rely heavily on canned or packaged products. The more interesting ones tend to be the old-world recipes, such as linzer squares; lebkuchen; rice jam cakes; Viennese crescents; topfen triangles; pizzelle; Italian chocolate cookies; spicy nut rugelach; Swedish ginger cookies; Moroccan almond rolls; and Greek honey spice cookies.