Each year since the girls were elementary-school age, we’ve decorated Christmas cookies with their godmother. We’ve tried this a variety of ways — including baking and decorating in the same day (whew! don’t do it!) — and I think we’ve finally got Christmas cookies down to a science. Here’s how we we host our Christmas cookie decorating party.
set your cookie decorating table
Your dining table will do double-duty: as place to nibble on snacks, lunch or treats, and as a place to decorate your cookies.
- Start your dining table with a tablecloth.
- Top it with 30-inch wide wrapping paper used as a table runner. Cookie decorating gets messy and the wrapping paper is easy to dispose of when you’re done.
- For a centerpiece, start with a riser, then add ornaments in a pedestal bowl and small flower arrangements scattered around the ornaments.
- Chose heavy-duty plastic plates in dinner and lunch sizes. Use the dinner-size plastic plates for cookie decorating and the lunch size for snacking.
- Instead of napkins, go with new kitchen towels (like I did in my pie baking party).
- Chose two drink options: one for water and a mug for cocoa or a lidded bottle for milk.
You’ll also need two large white melamine platters to hold the cookies that are waiting to be decorated.
On the dining room sideboard, I add a little tray with hot chocolate mix-ins, like mini marshmallows, caramel balls, peppermint sticks, chocolate chips and candied stirrers.
PARTY PREP & SUPPLIES
This party does take a lot of prep so that your guests can focus on decorating. If you don’t want to bake cookies and make frosting, you can buy cookie decorating kits on Etsy (and, I’m sure locally). But if you have slightly older kids to help, you can spend a few days baking and prepping and it just gives you more fun time with your kiddos.
THREE DAYS BEFORE THE PARTY
- Choose three or four cookie cutter shapes or take your kids to the store and let them choose. Try to pick simple shapes; they will be easier to cut out and handle without breakage. Choose cookie cutters that are metal and about 1-inch deep; they are easier to work with. Keep the size around 2 to 3 inches. (The cookies will bake more evenly and it makes storage easier to have all the cookies about the same size.)
- Bake one or two types of cut-out cookies. Sugar, of course, and maybe gingerbread or chocolate. You’ll want at least a dozen cookies per guest.
- For cookies that won’t spread, I’d use this recipe for gingerbread and this recipe for sugar cookies. And for royal icing, I prefer using a recipe featuring meringue powder.
- Try this Joseph Joseph rolling pin that helps you roll out just the right thickness of dough. Parchment paper is your friend, and so are light-colored baking sheets instead of dark, non-stick baking sheets.
- Store cookies in air-tight containers like Tupperware. Separate the layers of cookies with wax paper.
TWO DAYS BEFORE THE PARTY
- Mix three colors of frosting. You don’t need to go overboard with colors, but do choose gel food coloring instead of liquid drops. You’ll get more intense colors.
- Assemble frosting bags with tips and couplers, add frosting to the bags, and secure with bag clips or bag ties (bag ties are less expensive). Semi Sweet Designs recommended this video from Karen’s Cookies about how to add frosting to piping bags; this is so smart! Store icing bags in the fridge.
- You probably will want to buy piping tips in person; the built-in shipping costs on Amazon makes buying one size tip in bulk too expensive. I’d probably get Wilton #3 tips for each bag. It’s just easier if everyone is working with the same tools.
- If your guests are younger, it might be easier for them to handle decorating squeeze bottles (also available at WalMart).
DAY BEFORE THE PARTY
- Frost one sample cookie of each shape. Sometimes guests can get stuck on how to start decorating, and having a sample can help get them over the hump.
- Set out cookie containers. Trim several layers of wax paper to fit each container. Store the wax paper in each container until needed. Label one container for each guest.
- Set your party table. You may want to add an apron and chef’s hat to each place. These items can do triple duty: chair decoration, keeping guests clean, and party favor. We added masks because, you know.
- Add the mini mason jars to the table for holding sprinkles and disposable appetizer spoons for scooping sprinkles. Give each guest 3 jars of sprinkles in a variety of colors. Guests can share their jars. (Don’t let kids shake sprinkles out of the bottles they come in. Big mess.) Choose some jimmies and some nonpareils.
MORNING OF THE PARTY
- In your kitchen, set out cookie sheets and/or cooling racks. Label one for each guest. Put one cookie container on each tray/rack. As guests finish decorating on their dinner-size plates at the table, offload the cookies to the trays/racks to finish drying. You also can have guests decorate right on the cookie sheets, but that creates a messy area for drying and takes up considerable space at your table. If you need to stock up on inexpensive cookie sheets for drying (not baking), hit the dollar store or order in bulk from Dollar Tree.
- At the end of the party, pack the cookies into the containers, and send guests home with their cookies.