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Some for you, more for me

Cookie swaps mean bakers can have variety without all the hard work

NEWTON -- Oh, the holidays, time for snow and mistletoe, and festive cookies, of course. But for the working world caught in the holiday rush, the pressure of making grandma's holly-berry cookies or winter snowballs can become more of a burden than a joy.

That wasn't the case this year at Erin Giesser's home, where one evening recently her neighborhood friends gathered to reduce time spent rolling and cutting doughs. Their solution was a cookie swap, in which each guest arrives with one type of cookie and leaves with a medley of surprises, a few confections from everyone's stash. They tasted as they collected, discussing everything from recipes and rolling techniques to the intelligence overhaul bill and ballet lessons.

This is the second year Giesser has held the party. Last year, at the first event, she recalls, "Some women really got into it, scoured through cookbooks. Others begged their babysitters to bake for them or just bought theirs at the grocery store." Each cookie comes with a story, most involving a prized family recipe.

Newton resident Laurisa Neuwirth had her own traditions. "When I was growing up, my mother always bought her cookies at the bakery, and, in her tradition, I did the same." Neuwirth's Weissella cookies came from Trader Joe's.

If you think the swap idea came straight out of "Betty Crocker's Cooky Book," circa 1963, it's likely it did. But today's cookie parties are not necessarily hosted exclusively by Stepford wives.

Boston resident Bob Brier surveyed several of his urban male friends to see who had heard of a cookie swap. No one knew about the parties, but many seemed intrigued. The concept may be a holdover from another generation, but the swaps are still taking place.

At Giesser's party, zimtsternes, or German cutter cookies made of ground hazelnuts, almonds, and egg whites, blanketed the dining room table, along with pecan sandies, florentines, and thumbprint cookies. The point is to trade cookies, then "put them in the freezer, to take some out when company comes by," says Giesser. "Last year, I was eight months pregnant, and I quickly realized that the cookies were just as good frozen."

For the cookies to last through the holidays, you have to practice sweet-tooth self-control, host the party just days before the holiday crunch, or strategically hide them from friends and family -- even from yourself.

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