‘Tis the season for holiday parties and who better than Camille Styles to offer some smart ideas for keeping it festive. Styles has a very popular lifestyle blog and the author of a new book, Camille Styles Entertaining: Inspired Gatherings and Effortless Style (one of our Best of 2014 in Crafts, Home & Design).
The book has party ideas for every season so we asked her to share one for the holidays. As it happens, she wrote about hosting a Holiday Cookie Swap Party just as we finished 12 days of cookie recipes. Cookies and cocktails–I’m so there.
This cookie swap party is one of my favorite gatherings in my new book, Camille Styles Entertaining: Inspired Gatherings and Effortless Style. The book features fresh, inspirational party ideas for every season. Brimming with creative hors d’oeuvres and cocktail recipes, floral design tips, and inspiring table designs—it’s a guide to the simple details and creative shortcuts that make everyday moments feel special.
Every December, my dear friend Myra throws an all-girls cookie swap (with strict instructions to leave the kids and husbands at home!), and we all gather at her house for an afternoon of great company, glasses of bubbly and, of course, way too many sweets! It’s a holiday tradition that all her guests have come to look forward to each holiday season, and this year, I decided to host my own sugar-fueled version.
Here’s the way my cookie swap works: each guest brings a big batch of their favorite homemade holiday cookies with recipe cards to pass around, and at the party, are given a “to-go” box in which they collect a sampling of everyone else’s signature treats. After a couple hours of mixing and mingling, the ladies leave with a box of two dozen or so different kinds of cookies to sample, and (if they’re feeling generous) share with family and friends! It’s a delicious, and slightly dangerous, way to kick off the holidays, and guests are guaranteed to discover a few new recipes that are destined to become family traditions.
This party is all about indulging: taste-testing lots of different cookies and saving healthy eating resolutions for the new year! Before everyone showed up, I set up a cookie buffet with a few of my family’s favorite cookies, then let guests add to the mix as they arrived with their creations. One of the great things about a display like this is that it can be completely prepared and set out before the party, allowing me to be hands-off and sip prosecco with my girl friends!
Get the look.
One of my favorite things about having a party around the holidays is that my house is already all decked out! Candles flickering on the mantle and greenery garlands in the entranceway already set the tone for a festive gathering, so all that’s left for me to do is setup the cookie buffet and adorn the table with pinecones and evergreen branches.
I approach designing the buffet just as I would any other focal decor element, considering the colors and proportions of the serving pieces, and using natural elements to add interest and fullness. When choosing serving pieces, I always look for ways to vary the levels of the different pieces — it gives a balanced feel, and it’s much easier for guests to reach the different platters on the table when they’re not all at the same height. For this display, I incorporated a beautiful mix of cake stands and tiered pieces — some new and some collected from thrift stores through the years — that literally elevate the cookies to an artistic display.
Copper and evergreen.
For the simplest, classic holiday look, we filled a vintage copper pitcher with loads of red Ilex berry branches and placed it on the center of the cookie buffet. Change the water and snip the bottom of the branches once a week, and this arrangement can last all the way through the holiday season!
When creating a vignette with flowers and natural elements, think in terms of three’s for the most pleasing arrangement. We combined a single stem peony, a cluster of festival bush branches in an aged copper vessel and a little grouping of pine cones that filled in any gaps. To finish the look, we laid down a “runner” made from cedar branches interspersed with pine.
Better with Cocktails.
Create a festive atmosphere with a bubbly bar — champagne, prosecco or cava will do the trick just fine! Set out glasses so guests can help themselves, and place skewers of sugared cranberries nearby for the ultimate seasonal stir stick. To make them, boil equal parts sugar and water until sugar dissolves, then submerge cranberries in the simple syrup. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a cooling rack, and allow to dry for an hour. Roll cranberries in a shallow bowl filled with sugar to coat, then allow to dry completely.
Packing it all up.
It’s crucial that your guests have the right-sized vessel for toting home all their cookies… and it’s nice if it’s cuter than a ziploc baggie! I love to collect vintage Christmas tins at antiques stores throughout the year; they make a really special party favor that guests can use to pack up all their cookies. You can also find sturdy cardboard “to-go” boxes at restaurant supply stores – just line them with tissue paper and seal with a sticker or tie with twine. Give guests a couple sheets each of parchment paper to be used as liners between layers, protecting the more delicate cookies.