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Cookies approved by BestReviews baking expert that will wow your holiday cookie swap

Expertly reviewed by Andrea Boudewijn

Whether naughty or nice, everyone deserves delicious holiday cookies. Fortunately, many people host cookie swaps during the Christmas season that give participants a chance to share their favorite recipes. 

If you're looking for the perfect cookie recipe for an upcoming cookie swap, BestReviews baking expert Andrea Boudewijn can help. A Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef, she shared tips for preparing the treats and included three of her favorite recipes. She also provided a list of items you'll need to bake those perfect cookies.

In this article: Nordic Ware Baker's Delight 3-Piece Baking Sheet SetKitchenAid Artisan Series Stand Mixer and StarPack Home Christmas Cookie Cutters Set

What is a cookie swap?

Also called a cookie exchange, a cookie swap requires each attendee to bring a batch of holiday cookies to swap with other guests. Although each participant only makes one type of cookies, they are able to try numerous varieties. Hosting a holiday cookie swap is a great way to put in minimal effort, yet enjoy maximum benefits of the many types of cookies that are shared. 

BestReviews baking expert's favorite cookies for a holiday cookie swap

While there are many types of tasty cookies you can make, Boudewijn said you can't go wrong with shortbread or gingersnaps. Her other favorites will also delight any cookie connoisseur.

"The easiest cookies for me are the best," she said. "Thumbprint or Linzer cookies are pretty and easy to do in bulk, as well as standard sugar cookies."

But she adds a twist to this classic: "I like to make the standard sugar cookie special by adding something like cardamom, candied ginger, or black onyx cocoa to the mix. Sprinkle some edible gold flake on top after baking to make them extra special!"

Best cookie recipe for novices

Not all home bakers are pros. Whether you're new to baking or need a simple cookie recipe that's easy to make, Boudewijn recommends shortbread cookies.

"They're delicious, easy to dress up by altering the flavor or shape, and only need five ingredients," she said. "Simple!"

Shortbread cookies 

  • 12 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • Enough sanding sugar to sprinkle the tops for baking
  1. Set your oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer, paddle together the butter and sugar until just combined.
  2. Add in the vanilla, then in a separate bowl gently mix the flour and salt. Add to the mixer and mix on slow until the dough comes together.
  3. Lightly flour your work surface and turn the dough out onto it. 
  4. Shape the dough into a disk and double-wrap it in plastic. Place in refrigerator to rest and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Roll the dough out to a half-inch thick, and use your favorite holiday cutter to cut into shapes. 
  6. Place your shapes onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat, sprinkle with sanding sugar, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges just start to brown.
  7. Enjoy!

Boudewijn's preferred classic cookie

If you love gingersnaps, you aren't alone. This types of cookie has been a holiday tradition for generations. Boudewijn loves them, too, and highly recommends them for your cookie swap. 

"Gingersnaps are my favorite," she said. "They're thin and crispy and don't fill you up if you have two or three. There are gingerbread cookies that are thick and soft, and I love those too, but gingersnaps really say 'holidays' to me." 

Andrea Boudewijn's favorite gingersnaps

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup  sugar       
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar     
  • 1 egg        
  • 1/4 cup molasses    
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour    
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda       
  • 1 teaspoon salt      
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger     
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon    
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves     
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
  2. Add egg and molasses, and mix.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and spices.
  4. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for 30 minutes or at this point, store until needed.
  5. When you're ready to bake, make one-inch balls and roll in white sugar, then place on a baking sheet.
  6. Bake at 325 degrees F until crispy, about 12-15 minutes.
  7. Let the cookies cool, then eat.

Elegant option

Cookie swaps can be casual or elaborate. There are ways to make classic cookies stand out, Boudewijn said. "If you want to get bougie, leverage a more neutral recipe like sugar cookies, oatmeal, or biscotti and incorporate unusual flowers or herbs in your regular cookie recipes." 

She continued with more ideas to dress up this year's cookie treats. 

"I love to use edible gold flakes on top after baking, fennel pollen, bright yellow bee pollen, a sprinkled line of edible lavender on top, or sparkling sanding sugar on top. If you want to make a uniquely flavored cookie, consider using fresh grated or powdered cardamom, blood orange icing, small-chopped dried fruits reconstituted in Armagnac or Madeira."

Her tips for making cookies fancy work well with her favorite biscotti recipe. 

Andrea Boudewijn's biscotti

  • 3/4 cup sugar               
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter 
  • 2 eggs                   
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract        
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour     
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder          
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt                           
  • 1 1/4 cups slivered almonds        
  1. Heat your oven to 325 degrees and position the rack in the center of the oven.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and almonds.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the butter and sugar, then paddle until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla. Last, gently paddle in the flour mixture.
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat and divide the dough into three logs.
  6. Place the logs on a baking sheet and bake until browned, about 30 minutes.
  7. Place the logs on a cutting board and with a serrated knife, cut each into quarter-inch-thick cookies.
  8. Lay each cookie on its side and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the sheet, flip the cookies over, and bake for another 10 minutes.
  9. Cool and store in an airtight container.

Pro cookie baking tips

Boudewijn advised bakers to follow a few simple tips for a successful cookie swap.

  • Closely follow any cookie recipe. This will ensure precise results. "Each cookie recipe has its own quirks, and it pays to follow the rules," Boudewijn said. "For example, if it wants to be baked starting cold or at room temperature, do that."
  • Don't skimp on or substitute ingredients. You may end up with cookies that don't taste as expected. 
  • Include an ingredient list. This will prevent someone with allergies from eating cookies that might make them sick. 

Best essential items for a holiday cookie swap

Nordic Ware Baker's Delight 3-Piece Baking Sheet Set

Made with aluminum that distributes heat evenly, these baking sheets make delicious cookies that turn out perfectly every time. The pack includes three sheets of different sizes for different types of cookies and batch sizes. 

Sold by Amazon and Kohl's

KitchenAid Artisan Series Stand Mixer

KitchenAid's iconic stand mixer is the small appliance every baker needs to whip up cookie dough. It's a powerful machine with variable speed settings, a stainless steel mixing bowl and tilt-head design. 

Sold by Kohl's

StarPack Home Christmas Cookie Cutters Set

This pack of 18 stainless steel cookie cutters includes many popular shapes of the season, including candy canes, snowflakes and Christmas trees. 

Sold by Amazon

Homearray Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl Set

You'll get six stainless steel mixing bowls in this versatile set, including larger bowls perfect for mixing cookie dough. They nest together for easy storage. 

Sold by Amazon

ChefGiant Flour Sifter

This flour sifter is crafted of shiny stainless steel and holds up to eight cups. The simple hand crank is easy to operate to keep your dry ingredients free of clumps. 

Sold by Amazon

Kitchenatics Cooling Rack

A cooling rack is a must-have when it's time to take cookies out of the oven. This one is made of durable stainless steel that will last for many holiday seasons. 

Sold by Amazon

Di Oro Silicone Spatula Set

Silicone spatulas come in handy for stirring and scraping cookie batter out of bowls. This set includes three spatulas that are dishwasher-safe and free of potentially harmful bisphenol A. 

Sold by Amazon

Norpro Nylon Spatula

Because it can handle high cooking temperatures and won't scratch cookware, this nylon spatula is ideal for removing cookies from a hot baking sheet. 

Sold by Amazon

KitchenAid Rolling Pin

Rolling out cooking dough in preparation for cookie cutters requires a rolling pin. This one is made of solid maple by a top brand. 

Sold by Amazon

Reynolds Kitchen Unbleached Parchment Paper

Chances are you'll need parchment paper when you make a batch of cookies. Made by a trusted brand, this parchment is nonstick and includes 45 square feet per roll. 

Sold by Amazon


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Jennifer Manfrin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.

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