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CHEF'S TABLE: Cookie exchange becomes festive tradition

Food columnist and his daughter share popular family recipe

“Happiness is baking cookies. Happiness is giving them away. And serving them, and eating them, talking about them, reading and writing about them, thinking about them, and sharing them with you.” — Maida Heatter

It’s the final days before the holidays. Trees are trimmed, stockings are hung and hopefully you’ve managed to get all those last-minute shopping items off the list.

Christmas can be a stressful time. It’s hard to go out and find that perfect gift for friends and family. But in our house, we have a tradition that helps ease that stress and makes the holiday just a little sweeter: our festive cookie exchange.

Some culinary scholars believe our current definition of cookies could have been a happy byproduct of cake baking. The earliest modern cookies may have been nothing more than small scoops of cake batter used to test the mix and oven temperature. Technically speaking, a cookie is any kind of handheld sweet cake, crisp or soft, so this certainly seems a plausible explanation to me.

Cookie exchanges are a centuries-old tradition dating to medieval times. The classic idea is of a holiday party in which guests bring a selection of homemade cookies to trade with one another. Today, cookie-exchange traditions live on. They can be found in church groups, community gatherings and workplaces all over.

In our home we look forward to the cookie and sweet trays from our family bakers. Our clan is blessed to have many great cookie recipes and skilled bakers and I love the fact these traditions are carrying on. From chocolate-dipped peanut butter balls, Basler Läckerli (Swiss spiced cookie bars), English shortbreads, coconut thumbprints and gingerbread, our trays are overflowing with sweet treats every year.

It’s in that spirit of the cookie exchange that this year I’d like to share with you a family recipe that has a special place for us. The following is written by my daughter, Abbigale. She was tasked with a creative writing assignment and chose to share a special Christmas memory and recipe with her class. I hope you get a few moments to pause this season to do a little baking and make some memories of your own. From our family to yours, we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.


Hello everyone!

My name is Abbi and today I would like to teach you how to make my grandmother Gale’s famous, decadent and fully loaded four-chip peanut butter cookies.

Growing up my grandmother was my best friend and I always enjoyed spending time with her baking things. Some of my most cherished memories are of my favourite time of year in the kitchen. Christmas! I loved the holidays because I got to spend time making lots of festive holiday sweets, treats and cookies with her. Out of all the baking we did together, putting her special cookie tins together for gifts is my top pick.

The first step is to tell you about the ingredients needed for this recipe. This involves quite a few ingredients but is a simple and easy recipe that anyone can make at home. Grandma’s original recipe makes around 60 cookies.

The dry ingredients needed are:

1 cup of white sugar

1 cup of lightly packed brown sugar

2-and-a-half cups of white all-purpose flour

Half a teaspoon of table salt

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of baking powder

The wet ingredients needed for this recipe are:

2 cups of peanut butter

1 cup of softened butter

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon of vanilla

These wet and dry ingredients come together and blend into the perfect cookie dough. Now you’re probably wondering why they are called super decadent and fully loaded. That’s because they have not one but four types of chocolate chips! This makes them super yummy and the talk of any cookie swap.

Gramma always recommended the following blend of chips:

1 cup of regular semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup of peanut butter chocolate chips

1 cup of butterscotch chocolate chips

1 cup of white chocolate chips

These are the types listed in her original recipe but if you can’t use all the kinds or like a different kind of chip you can change it up and they will still turn out great!

A few other items you will need to bake these irresistible cookies are:

A preheated oven set to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or 177 degrees Celsius)

2 large bowls, one for wet ingredients and one for dry ingredients

1 wooden spoon for stirring

An electric mixer or handheld mixer for creaming the butter, sugar and eggs

Measuring spoons

Baking sheets and parchment paper or silicone mats to bake on

And a fork to top dress cookies

Now! What to do with these ingredients and just how to create decadent perfection.

The first step in any great baking session is proper “mise en place” or that is to gather all your ingredients and materials together before you start. So, make sure that the oven is set and your baking trays are lined with parchment paper. This is done so the cookies do not stick to the pan. Once that’s done it's time to start the cookie dough.

Now the magic starts. Using the electric mixer with a paddle attachment combine the two cups of peanut butter, one cup of butter and one cup or brown and white sugar and blend until it’s light and creamy.

Now I know what you may be wondering. “Why can’t I just mix all the ingredients at once?” Well, this is not a good way to make cookies. Your recipe will not turn out. Mixing butter and sugar first ensures that all the sugar is evenly spread throughout the dough as well as creates air in the butter for more volume and air in the cookies, which helps them rise as well as makes the cookies more appealing.

Now you will want to beat in the eggs one at a time until they are fully mixed and add the one teaspoon of vanilla. Once it’s together you can now set this mixture aside; this is called the wet ingredients.

In the second large bowl you need to make the dry ingredient mixture. To do this you combine two-and-a-half cups of all-purpose flour, one teaspoon of baking powder and one of baking soda as well as half a teaspoon of salt and stir with your wooden spoon.

Once you’ve completed this it’s time to form the dough. To do this, add the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients and mix slowly on low speed with your mixer. If it gets too difficult you can also use the wooden spoon or even mix with your hands. Once this is fully incorporated and a cookie dough is formed, and individual ingredients cannot be seen it’s time for the full load of chips!

Add a cup of each type of chocolate chips, regular semi-sweet chocolate chips, peanut butter chocolate chips, butterscotch chocolate chips and white chocolate chips and mix in with the wooden spoon.

Next scoop out one-inch-size pieces of the dough and gently roll them into a ball and place on a baking sheet. Try to make sure to leave a one- to two-inch gap between all cookies. Repeat this until all your dough is on trays. Finally using a wet fork gently press down on the cookie ball flattening it a little bit. Place the tray in the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Make sure they cool before removing the cookies from the trays!

And there you have it! A batch of four-chip peanut butter cookies.

I think this is a great recipe for Christmas baking. You can enjoy these cookies with your family or, like Gramma, package them up as special gifts for friends and family.

I really hope you have enjoyed my short presentation and that you are inspired to bake a batch of cookies and spend time with someone you love.

Abbigale Clements
Grade 10, Innisfil Secondary School

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Daniel Clements

About the Author: Daniel Clements

In his bi-weekly Chef's Table column, Daniel will be looking at everything from local crops and trends in the business to seasonal delights and the local restaurant scene
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