Kick off season's festivities with a cookie exchange

For The Tennessean

Ah, just imagine it: A friend on your doorstep holding six dozen homemade holiday cookies.

Happens all the time to Robin Olson of Gaithersburg, Md. But don't think she doesn't work for it.

Every year since 1989 — with the exception of one, when she had a newborn — Olson has played host for a holiday ''cookie exchange'' at her home. She invites a bunch of people, has them bake six dozen cookies each, and when everyone gets together, places them on a dining room table and lets each guest pick what they want. (She bakes and participates as well.) Now, doesn't that sound tasty?

Olson believes the event could be fun for anyone — but through years of trial and tribulation, she's learned a thing or two. So if you decide to have your own, take heed:

• Send out invitations at least a month in advance. Over-invite, because not everyone will show up, and have people RSVP with the kind of cookie they're bringing to avoid duplicates.

• Tell people to make their cookies at least three days in advance so they can dry out, which makes them easier to transport. It also will help avoid last-minute cancellations because the cookies haven't been done.

• Set out hors d'oeuvres to eat during the party, not plates of cookies.

• After the cookies are displayed, have each guest talk about what she brought. Then have the group travel in a line around the table, taking a few cookies from each plate as they go. Make sure everyone brings an empty container for filling.

• Olson makes it a women-only party, with no kids. Sunday afternoons often work best, she said, when dads can stay home with the kids and watch football.

• Remember, some people will put a lot of time into baking and it's not fair if they come home with easier no-bake cookies, bars or meringues. For that reason, the main ingredient of all cookies must be flour — because it has to be baked. Chocolate chip cookies are not allowed, either. Think Christmas!

The tastiest cookies are usually the ones someone else made.