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Sugar Swap

by Leslie Feldman
Get in the holiday spirit with a cookie exchange.

Among the sugary pies and rich holiday desserts, there’s an oft-forgotten treat taking shape this holiday season. Cookies are an exceptional test of creativity and a sweet way to share the yuletide cheer with a friend or loved one.

During a cookie swap, a host invites friends, family and neighbors to bake several dozen batches of one type of cookie, and then swap with other guests. It’s a holiday party for the sensible baker, as every guest leaves with dozens of cookies on hand for the holidays, in a variety of unique flavors.

For Sue Heindl, of Haddonfield, baking has been her way of connecting with neighbors and friends each year, through a “Girls Night Out” holiday cookie exchange she’s hosted in her home.

“It is a wonderful social event for us and we get to enjoy good food and great company,” says Heindl. “We don’t require guests to bake cookies, but if they do, we ask that they make up to six dozen of the same kind of cookie and go home with the same amount they brought.”

It’s not just classic chocolate chippers, either. Each guest typically brings something different and unique to avoid overlapping.

Some of the usual favorites include peanut butter kiss cookies, lemon bars, pecan sandies, toffee bars and cut-out decorated sugar cookies.

For Linda Voorhis, organizing a cookie exchange with the Vegetarian Society of South Jersey came to fruition through her love of baking and her commitment to vegetarianism. When she became a vegan, Voorhis started working to convert all of her original dessert recipes to suit her new lifestyle. She and many fellow VSSJ members found there was a serious lack of vegan and vegetarian bakeries in the area.

“It was difficult, if not impossible, to find any place to purchase delicious vegetarian or vegan cookies, and since many of our members enjoyed baking, I thought it would be fun,” Voorhis explains.

Last year’s inaugural swap was a big success, with the group sharing a mix of creative desserts, from the classic (veganized) chocolate chip to a cookie filled with shaved coconut and dipped in chocolate. “People got very creative, and no two were alike,” she says.

For those with any type of dietary issues, enjoying typical holiday treats can be a challenge.

Those with celiac disease don’t have to miss out this year; a gluten-free exchange is planned at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia location in Voorhees.

Cinnaminson resident Orla Pease and her 5-year-old son, diagnosed with celiac disease at 18 months, plan to attend the exchange for their fourth consecutive year.

Pease says going somewhere where she can tell her son, “Go ahead, eat what you want,” is priceless.

“Every year, we get to try out new cookies. The first year, we made and decorated Santa Claus cookies with sprinkles, and the kids were so excited to be allowed to eat them,” she says. “Last year, we made Nutella cookies and chocolate crinkle cookies and they were awesome.”

New to the tradition is Stacey Weldon, who ran an exchange last year for the MOMS Club of Mount Laurel. The key to a successful swap is organization, she says.

Last year, the host asked people to e-mail recipes ahead of time and compiled a little booklet with all the recipes for each attending guest.

“You get to try varieties you might have never even known existed, and if you like it, you have a new recipe,” she says.

“And who doesn’t enjoy spending time with friends and getting to eat sugary treats?”

Vegan Spiced Snickerdoodles

l 1/2 cup canola oil
l 1 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup extra for topping
l 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
l 3 tbsp almond or soy milk
l 2 tsp vanilla extract
l 1 2/3 cups flour
l 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
l 1 tsp baking soda
l 1/4 tsp salt
l 1/2 tsp cinnamon + 1 tsp for topping
l 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper. Mix together oil, 1 cup sugar, syrup and the almond or soy milk. Add vanilla extract and stir until combined. Sift in remaining ingredients and mix well, forming a soft and pliable dough. Using clean hands, roll pieces of the dough into walnut-sized balls. On a small flat plate, mix the reserved 1/3 cup sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon together. Roll one side of each dough ball into the sugar topping, then push with fingers to flatten dough into disks. Place sugar side up on cookie sheets, at least two inches apart—the dough will spread and flatten as it bakes. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until cookies are crackled on top. Remove from oven and cool.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

Xanthan gum, brown rice and tapioca flours can be purchased at specialty grocery stores.
l 8 oz unsalted butter
l 2 cups brown rice flour
l 1/4 cup cornstarch
l 2 tbsp tapioca flour
l 1 tsp xanthan gum
l 1 tsp salt
l 1 tsp baking soda
l 1/4 cup sugar
l 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
l 1 egg
l 1 egg yolk
l 2 tbsp milk
l 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
l 12 oz semisweet chocolate chips (Check that it’s produced in a gluten-free facility.)

Preheat the oven to 375 °F. Over low heat, melt the butter in a saucepan, then pour into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugars and butter. Using an electric mixer, cream together on a medium speed until mixed, approximately one minute. Add the egg, yolk, milk and vanilla extract and mix until combined. In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, cornstarch, xanthan gum, salt and baking soda. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture to the butter mixture, folding in until a soft dough forms. Add chocolate chips and stir until well combined. Chill the dough for one hour until firm. Then, roll and place walnut-sized balls of dough on cookie sheets. Bake for 14 minutes, rotating the pans halfway, until browned. Remove from oven, cool and enjoy.

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 10 (December, 2011).
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