Christmas Tray

Sometimes the best gift  is the simplest – Learn how to create the Sweetest Gift-Cookie Trays! It’s easy, it’s cost-effective, and best of all, it is delicious!

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A Tough Call

The giving of gifts at Christmas has elevated to the point where we need to start saving December 26th in order to have enough money by December 25th of the next year. And each year, someone else gets added to the list, and the gifts get even more expensive.

Not too long ago, we made the tough decision to limit our gifts not only to family only, but also to have at least fifty-percent of our gifts made by hand. If you are a crafter, you know that even the supplies you will need can be costly, but you can still save money, if you are smart and careful.

Our biggest issue with this decision is our wonderful neighbors. It isn’t that we feel we need to buy them some big, expensive gift. We just want to do something that tells them they are important. I could knit dishcloths, but I don’t think the men would really enjoy that.

But we did know of something that everyone would love. It has the added benefits of being economical, loved by both the men and the women, and is delicious as well. So we made the Sweetest Gift-Cookie Trays!

The Art of Homemaking Manual

Where Cookie Trays Started

Our cookie trays originated with our bank. Once we moved to the farm, that was no longer a viable option. However, it was easily done for our neighbors.

For our cookie trays, we usually select five to eight items. At least three, sometimes four, are actually traditional cookies. Some of the others are bar cookies, and fudge. There is always a handful of Peanut Brittle on the trays and a loaf of a fruit and nut bread. If we need a filler, we use cellophane bags of Party Mix.

Here’s the best part. One batch of cookies usually yields approximately 4 to 5 dozen cookies. Each tray has around 6 to 8 of each flavor. If you do the math, one batch of Chocolate Crinkles will cover six trays, with some left over for us.

Think you may want to try creating the sweetest gift of cookie trays for your own neighbors, and a few friends? Here is how you do it.

Cookie Tray

First – you need Cookie Trays

I often check the Dollar Stores after the holidays for the plastic seasonal trays. Most times, these are marked down by 50%, which means I can get them for as little as $1.00 each (one year I got them for fifty cents each, so I bought all they had – which gave me two years’ worth!)

Trays don’t have to be the same. They don’t even have to be trays. They can be tins, containers, or baskets. You only need to make sure they hold the amount of cookies you want. For instance, a simple teacher appreciation gift may be a tin or basket that holds 6 to 12 assorted cookies. A neighbor that has a large family may garner a larger tray.

We do purchase the paper doilies to line the trays. Throughout the year, I will purchase a package according to the size trays I have on hand. In most cases, I have enough doilies to last me two years.

As festive as it may look, I refrain from using tissue paper to line my trays. Tissue paper is for wrapping gifts. It is not food-grade, so I hesitate to use it since I have no idea what was used to make it.

Second – How Many  Cookie Trays?

Knowing how many trays you plan to make will determine the number of items you put on them. For us, we usually prepare five to eight trays. Three of those are smaller, as they go to a single person. Although one recipient only has two people in the household, they have a large family that comes for Christmas.

To fill up a small tray, you only need three or four items. A selection of four cookies, with three of each cookie on a tray makes a full dozen. This is plenty for one person. However, for the larger trays, we usually do an assortment of seven to eight items, with at least six of each cookie.

There are two exceptions to this rule. We add one small loaf of fruit bread (Banana Nut, Strawberry Nut, Loyalist – a blueberry bread, etc.), which is placed in the very center of the tray. One section has a good handful of our homemade peanut brittle.

Sweetest Gift

Third – Choose Your Cookies

I am constantly in search of great cookies to use on our trays. They are the perfect sweet. They can be held in the hand and eaten in a couple of bites. There seems to be no end to the flavor and ingredient combinations.

For our trays, we have found that the favorites are: Tea Cakes, Chocolate Crinkles, Spiced Oatmeal, and Chocolate Chip. We have also done a Cinnamon Swirl, Amy’s Cookies, Peanut Butter, Snickerdoodles, and a White Chocolate Macadamia Nut.

There are also bar cookies. Lemon Bars are easily the favorite. But we also do a Crème de Menthe bar, brownies, and pecan squares, to name a few. In addition to cookies, we always add Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge – a recipe my Dad used to make for his Christmas baskets. We count the fudge as a ‘bar cookie’.

Regardless of the cookie you bake, you want to know the yield. The Chocolate Crinkle recipe makes approximately 60 small cookies, and around 48 larger ones. The Spiced Oatmeal, on the other hand, will make approximately 36 larger ones, and 42 to 48 smaller ones. We opt for a small to slightly medium-sized cookie. The idea is to make them bite-sized, so the recipient can enjoy a little bit of all of them.

To keep it from being too uniform (all circles), the Tea Cakes are cut into heart shapes. Occasionally I will use a Christmas tree cutter. If you choose a tea cake or other cookie that needs to be rolled and cut, just choose your favorite shape.

As I mentioned before, we also add a touch of ‘Lagniappe’. The center is a loaf of bread that is approximately 4” x 6”. We add a handful of Peanut Brittle, and occasionally we add small bags of Party Mix. Each year the ‘menu’ differs slightly, according to what we have on hand.

Christmas Cookie Tray

The Cookie Tray Lay-Out

When we are ready to assemble our trays, we line them up on the table. Each tray gets a doily. In the center we place a loaf of bread. From there, we stack and layer our first flavor of cookie, with two cookies up against the bread, three in the next row, four in the next.

Next to that, we carefully stack a bar cookie. This is repeated around the tray, with the Peanut Brittle filling in the gaps. If there are any ‘hole’s (where you can see the doily) we fill it in with a cookie, or small cellophane bags of Party Mix.

Once the tray is loaded down with goodies, you just need to cover it with either plastic wrap or tin foil. Put a bow on top and voila!  You have created the Sweetest Gift-Cookie Trays!

Now for my favorite part. There are plenty of cookies left over, as more than likely you won’t use them all. Some I save for our own guests. But I always grab a small plate, select what I want, then have a seat in my rocking chair and enjoy with a cup of hot chocolate or tea. It is at that moment that the Christmas Season begins for me!

The Farm Wife in the Kitchen

Do you love to bake, and have some delicious cookie recipes? Please let me know what you would put on your own trays! I am always searching for the next great cookie!

Want a great Sweet Bread recipe to add to your cookie tray?  Try Kathi’s ‘My Mother’s Pumpkin Bread‘.  Talk about delicious!

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Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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