How to have a socially distanced cookie exchange this holiday season


Every holiday season, Maya Madsen looks forward to a Christmas ornament party at one of her girlfriends’ homes, where everyone brings their own home-baked treats to share.

The Scripps Ranch mother of three is among millions of Americans who love baking cookies during the holidays and exchanging them with friends to double, triple or even quintuple the variety of treats in their family’s cookie jar. But these days, getting a group of friends together to hand-pick sweets from each others’ tins could become a super-spreader event.

So Madsen offered some tips on how to have a safe and socially distant cookie exchange during the pandemic.

Madsen, 51, is uniquely qualified on the topic of sharing cookies. She’s the founder and chief recipe creator of Maya’s Cookies, which this year became the nation’s No. 1 Black-owned vegan cookie company. From her commercial kitchen in the Grantville area of San Diego, she and her employees have shipped cookies to all 50 states since June.

Madsen said she and her friends have been puzzling over how to have a safe holiday exchange this year, and she thinks they’ve come up with a solution.

“I recommend dropping off cookies at the participants’ homes and having the party virtually over Zoom,” she said. “Why not make this year something to remember and look back on as ‘the year we celebrated virtually’? It will make a great toast next year when friends can gather safely, hopefully.”

Maya Madsen of Maya's Cookies in San Diego

Maya Madsen of Maya’s Cookies in San Diego offers her own tips for hosting a socially distant holiday cookie exchange this year.

(Courtesy photo)

According to a 2019 survey by Nielsen-Massey, holiday baking isn’t just for moms. A whopping 87 percent of millennials and Gen-Xers said they were likely to bake during the holidays and 59 percent said their baking was motivated by a desire to spend more time with their family. This year, families cocooning together at home for all meals and entertainment will likely mean a baking bonanza.

Making holiday cookies is fun, but it’s even more fun to share them. And fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that there is no evidence to support that COVID-19 is transmitted through food. However, the CDC recommends that before preparing food, bakers should always wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, and then wash them again after coughing, sneezing or going to the bathroom.

A 2015 study found that 49 percent of Americans use classic recipes for holiday cookies each year rather than trendy new recipes. But maybe this is the year to consider making a pandemic-themed sugar cookie to add a touch of sweetness to an otherwise sour year.

Salt Lake City mother of four Georganne Bell is a baking enthusiast famed for her 10-year-old cookie blog LilaLoa.com. One of her most timely recipes is her surgical mask decorated sugar cookies. Initially created last year as a fun gift for doctors and nurses, it’s become a timely and clever gift for a pandemic-era holiday cooking exchange. The recipe and decorating tips can be found at lilaloa.com/2019/09/how-to-make-decorated-surgical-mask.html.

A how-to guide

Never done a cookie exchange? Here’s how to organize one that’s pandemic-safe.

Start by defining your group of participating bakers and making sure that everyone is making a different type of cookie. Agree in advance on how many cookies each baker will make for other members in the group. A good rule of thumb is baking one dozen cookies for each participant. So if six people are baking, they should each make six dozen cookies, allowing one dozen for themselves and the other five dozen, bagged up separately, for each of the others.

Be sure everyone bakes on the same day or weekend, so everything is equally fresh, and then arrange the time and style of exchange. This could be a drive-and-drop plan, as Madsen suggests, or participants could meet in a park, wearing masks, and the bags can be set out on a table and each baker takes their turn collecting the other bags.

Maya's Cookie's holiday tin of eight cookies is on sale through the holidays.

Maya’s Cookie’s holiday tin of eight cookies is on sale through the holidays.

(Courtesy photo)

And what if your baking skills can’t possibly measure up to those of Bell’s or your friends?

Madsen is selling a gift-wrapped holiday cookie collection, with deliveries promised within three days of being ordered. The holiday box includes eight 3.5-ounce vegan cookies with two each of white chocolate peppermint bark s’mores, gingerbread, white chocolate cranberry and classic sparkle sugar cookie varieties. Delivered in a custom tin, it’s priced at $50 at mayascookies.com. A portion of all sales benefits San Diego charities for animal refuge and local underserved communities.



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