Sunday, December 12, 2010

Virtual Cookie Exchange

Once again, it's that time of year when the one holiday tradition that many bakers look forward to is upon us. The annual Holiday Cookie Exchange! Remember those? If you’ve never experienced one before, let me tell you, you’re missing out – unless, of course, you chose the month of December to start your diet, in which case I suggest you stop right here and go find something else to read such as “How to make celery last throughout a Holiday Cocktail Party.”

I’m of the opinion that cookie exchanges exist so that a bunch of friends can get together catching up on all the "goings on" in their lives and eat cookies till they split. Aside from getting to spend time with friends, additional benefit is that you go home with a cookie tin full to the brim and a pocket full of recipes. I’ve been to many variations of these parties over the years and remembering back about parties from years past made me homesick thinking of my special friends that don't live in Texas. That’s when the idea popped into my head about taking advantage of our virtual world and do my own cookie exchange with a twist.

So a week ago, I asked some of my out-of-the-area girlfriends that I correspond with online if they’d be willing to share one of their "tried and true, make it every year" cookie recipes. I told them that I wanted to bake each of them to feel like I was in the kitchen with them. Naturally, they were up to it and the recipes started coming in. As I was baking each recipe, I started soulfully thinking about each recipe and each wonderful friend that it came from. Before I knew it I was laughing out loud and feeling this overwhelming warmth - and not because the oven was on! It was certainly no substitute for the real thing, but it eased my heart and gave me a feeling of kinship with each lady as I worked through their recipes – and of course, I still walked away with more than a pocketful of recipes and a tin full of cookies. For this holiday season, it provided me with a sweet reminder as to why these ladies are so important to me – I’m jus’ sayin’!

Anise Biscotti - This recipe comes from Karen Bushaw, a childhood friend that grew up across the street from me. We had lost touch for about 9 years before reconnecting this past summer and it was if we never skipped a single heartbeat. I think some friendships can just do that. Her Italian family played a very strong role in my life. Growing up, I watched them and their cooking more than they probably will ever know and I still make some of their recipes today for my family. She is a very beautiful lady inside and out and I am honored to call her my forever friend.

Anise Biscotti

Mix in One Bowl:
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 cup shortnening
4 3/4 cup flour
3 tsp. baking soda
3 tsp. anise flavoring
6 eggs

Pre-heat oven to 350º

Form dough on cookie sheet into a long log and flatten till about an inch thick. Bake at 350º for 15 minutes or light brown*, let them cool slightly, and cut diagonally and place back on the cookie sheet, side down, browning both sides of cookie and turning when brown - about 5 minutes each side.

* I find that 15 minutes is not always enough ;)

Cranberry Oatmeal White Chocolate Chip Cookies - My friend Lisa Marks shared this recipe with me. She lives in Northern California and along with her daughter, join Johnee and I every summer for our annual Mother/Daughter trip. Although I've known her since our childhood, our friendship has grown over the last ten years and I value her guidance, wisdom and amazing listening skills every day. We try to chat every other day online to stay connected.

Cranberry Oatmeal White Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups oatmeal
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries (craisins)
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup coarsely chopped almonds

Beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add to butter mixture. Mix well. Stir in oatmeal, cranberries, chocolate chips and almonds. Drop by teaspoonful onto un-greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until light golden brown.

Grandma Mahugh's Candy Cookies - This next recipe comes from my friend Katie Dickson, also in Northern California, who continues to bake her Grandma's "secret recipe" every year. Giving away the "family secret" comes as no surprise to me because in the nearly 30 years that I've known her she has always been the kind of friend that will give you the proverbial shirt off her back if she thinks it will bring you comfort. Her Grandma had a special home filled with love and I know that if Grandma were still with us she would be filled with joy to know that Katie continues in her legacy to embrace kids who need love and acceptance and focuses every day in giving of herself.

Grandma Mahugh's Candy Cookies

4 cups rolled oats
1 pkg (1 lb) brown sugar
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 cup crushed wheaties
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 tsp almond extract

Mix all ingredients together with electric mixer. Refrigerate over night. Roll into balls. Keep the mixture cold. If it gets to warm, pop back in the refrigerator. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. If you do not use parchment you will see the brown sugar caramelize. Be careful not to burn the bottoms of the cookies. If you use parchment, it won't burn but it also won't be the original cookie. So experiment and see which you like best. I personally like the parchment cookies better. My uncles like the caramelized version.

Orange Coconut Balls - This tasty recipe comes from Amy Hadley, a very special lady I met here in Austin a few years ago. Wait! Before you think I broke the rules by including a "local", let me explain. Last year, she and her husband made a bold move and decided to pack-up and live for a year in Prague. She is an amazing and talented woman and if you would like to follow her "Prague Adventure", please visit her website at She is funny, witty, crafty and organized and her contagious personality will grab you in a minute. She says this recipe is one of the most popular in the Bowlin house every year... "my brothers pop them like they're... well, candy".

Orange Coconut Balls

1 stick butter (1/2 c.)
1 lb. box powdered sugar
1 6 oz. can frozen orange juice concentrate
1 lb. box vanilla wafers, finely crushed

Mix well and form into balls. Roll in shredded coconut mixed with finely chopped pecans (or walnuts).
Store in airtight container. Can be frozen.

Soft Molasses Cookies = This last cookie recipe comes from another Austin friend who moved away to Arizona - hopefully to return home soon! Amy De Medici is someone that brings a tremendous amount of light into a room and fills it with love. I truly appreciate her insight and believe her to be a true gift. She recently lost both her grandmother and father and this particular cookie was one her Grandma always made.

Soft Molasses Cookies (Granny Wallace)

2 1/2 cups shortening
3 cups sugar (white)
3 eggs
3/4 cup molasses
6 cups flour
2 tbls soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 to 1 1/2 tbls of ground cloves
1 to 1 1/2 tbls of cinnamon

Roll pieces into small balls, flatten a little if you want and place on cookie sheet*. Bake for 8 minutes at 375 degrees.

* I tweaked this a bit by rolling the balls in sugar before placing on the cookie sheet

Peppermint Crinkles

This blog wouldn't be complete without including my own. Here's my recipe for Peppermint Crinkles (my new personal favorite). I found this link with the same recipe so I've simply pointed to it here.


  1. This blog post brought tears to my eyes and it wasn't because I'm included (although I am proud to call you friend and to be included). I think one of the most special things about you is your ability to link memories, feelings, and love to your cooking and now I feel like I want to sit down with all these friends and have my own cookie exchange! Thanks for all of this and for the gift that is YOU! xoxo

  2. Those all sound so amazing! It's time for me to get my Christmas baking on. But my favorite part of your virtual cookie exchange was your description of how your heart grew and grew and grew in the kitchen during this! How fun. I can picture it perfectly.:)

  3. This was certainly one of my more memorable cookie exchanges and not because I did all the baking. I truly made myself believe I was in the kitchen with each of you while making your recipes. Thanks all for participating.

  4. Good to see you again at ATX Swappers. Your cookies are lovely!