How to Plan a Cookie Decorating Party, According to a Baker Who Hosts One Every Year

This sweet event is sure to become an annual tradition.

Adding the Icing on Baked Christmas Cookies

The most wonderful time of the year, in our opinion, officially starts when you host a Christmas cookie decorating party. Maybe it's the warmth of the oven or the scent of frosting in the air, but it always puts us in the holiday spirit. Making and sharing cookies with family and friends is one of our favorite traditions, and luckily, it's an especially easy one to start.

For tips on how to throw one that is sweet, not stressful, we reached out to Christine Fiorentino, a food writer and home cook based in New Jersey who competed on The Food Network's Julia Child Challenge this year. Fiorentino's mother, also an avid cook and baker, hosted a cookie party ahead of every Christmas when she was growing up, and Fiorentino has kept the ritual alive, holding cookie swaps and decorating get-togethers for her kids, family, and friends. "It can sound daunting to host, but it doesn't have to be," Fiorentino says. "It really gets you into a good mood and sets the tone for the rest of the holidays."

Pick the Right Date

Aim for mid-December. "My mom always hosted her party within two weeks of Christmas," says Fiorentino. It kicks off the holiday fun and gives you an opportunity to prep some things for a celebratory meal in advance. "While the flour, sugar, and butter were out, she would always make something else that she knew she'd need later on, like pie crust or other cookies," she says. Your guests will also appreciate having treats to enjoy and share all month long.

Choose Recipes

Three to five different cookie recipes is a reasonable number, Fiorentino shares. "Don't do more than that unless you have an enormous kitchen!" she says. This amount also gives guests a variety to take home without creating chaos.

As for Fiorentino's cookie staples? Aim for a sugar cookie for decorating ("You need a basic sugar cookie dough you can roll out and use with cookie cutters, especially if there will be kids," she says), something with chocolate, and something with chopped fruit or a fruit filling.

Shop for Supplies

In addition to the ingredients for your chosen doughs, you'll need equipment to bake, dry, and decorate. Consider your crowd and how ambitious they are; kids may not need piping bags and tips, but adults might (of course, there are cases where the opposite is true!).

Regardless, you'll need plenty of mixing bowls, baking sheets, and cooling racks. You need enough baking sheets to put a full batch in your oven—and you may want extra for guests to use as their decorating station.

To make the most of your counter space, consider buying a few stacking cooling racks. You'll also need parchment paper. This is not the time for Silpats; Fiorentino likes to use If You Care parchment, which is recycled. You can also lay it down to protect your counters and make clean-up easier.

Individual Supplies

If your decorating involves piping frosting, you'll need piping bags and tips. For kids (or to keep it super simple), you can use butter knives or spreaders or even popsicle sticks for icing. Fiorentino sets out individual ramekins for people to tint their own icing, but you could dye frosting ahead of time to streamline. You'll also want enough parchment to make "placemats" for everyone to use when they are decorating their cookies.

For the Table

Provide a few rolling pins, bottles of food coloring, and cookie cutters. "Plastic is okay, but metal ones are better because you get a sharper edge," Fiorentino says of the latter.

Also, set out bowls of sprinkles in different sizes, colors, and shapes. "Just don't get the old-school sugar sprinkles, because they'll melt in the oven," says Fiorentino, who likes anything that's soft to bite into, like sugar snowflakes and rainbow jimmies. Candy, like Red Hots, butterscotch chips, regular and mini chocolate chips, gum drops, and marzipan, works, too.

Set Up Stations

Plan what will happen where and select spots for measuring and mixing dough, rolling it out on the counter or island, and letting cookies cool if your party will include making as well as decorating them. Place copies of the recipes at each station for people to reference, and print extras to pack in their tins to take home.

For kids, we suggest you abbreviate the process by making the dough in advance and letting them slice, decorate, bake, and cool. For very little ones, consider the method Fiorentino used for her daughter last year: Roll sugar cookie dough out onto a quarter-size sheet pan and let them decorate the block instead of creating small cookies. It's easier and less messy—and kids love breaking up and eating the giant cookie when it's cool.

Don't Forget Snacks

Even cookie artists can't survive on sweets alone, so serve something savory your guests can snack on while they create. Fiorentino's family always does mini pizzas; they buy or make the dough, sauce, and toppings in advance and prep basic pies. Then, everyone builds their own and they pop them in the already-hot oven to cook while they snack on crudités and onion dip.

Plan a Sweet Send-Off

Have enough large tins so everyone to take one or two of each cookie home. If you have time in advance (or if you've made all the dough ahead of your party), it's nice to send people home with a roll of frozen dough, too. If you have kids over, gift this to their parents at pick-up.

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