The Sweetest Party


With sweet treats to taste, new recipes to try, and old friends to become reacquainted with, what’s not to look forward to?

Part of the fun of the holiday season is getting to renew traditions with friends and family.

For a number of Ocala friends, one of the nicest December traditions is the cookie exchange party at Pamela Stafford’s home. This year’s party marks the 10th anniversary of the sweet celebration.

The tradition began when a few friends compared Christmas cookie notes.

Pamela Stafford (center) celebrates with the rest of the guests.

“We all baked a lot of cookies for the holidays,” explains Pamela, “and we were ready for some new recipes. Someone suggested, ‘Why not have a cookie exchange?’”

And so, that first year, about 50 to 60 friends and friends of friends gathered on the designated day at Pamela’s to swap cookies and recipes. The idea was so successful they decided to hold another one the following year, then another.

“At one time we even made cookie recipe books for everyone to take home,” says Pamela. She explains that it got a little out of hand, however, when the group’s numbers and invitation list continued to climb.

Now, attendees bring along recipes for the cookies they contribute, which other guests can copy and take home with them, if they wish. The invitation list has grown to nearly 150, with about 75 to 100 guests attending each year.

Each is asked to bring six dozen homemade cookies (not chocolate chip or oatmeal), along with the recipe for the cookie printed on an index card.

Some people bring new creations each holiday season and tell Pamela proudly, usually by July, that they have found the recipe they’ll be bringing in December.

Six dozen cookies is a lot, even for women with large families or those planning their own parties. Some freeze their cookies and bring them out at intervals during the holidays; some give them away to worthy causes. And some say they send them quickly to their husbands’ offices, “to get the temptation out of the house.”

Like any big event, a lot of planning goes into making the cookie party a success. The first year, Betty Moshier helped Pamela plan and host the event. She moved to Georgia before the next year’s party, so Barbara Ryan stepped in to co-chair with Pamela. Barbara continued her chairing/hostessing duties until she and her husband moved to South Carolina earlier this year.

Now Eva Gonzales, a long-time friend and cookie exchange devotee, is partnering with Pamela. And, as in past years, this month the hostesses will welcome guests with fresh, homemade cakes made from scratch and other goodies, along with the traditional frappuccino punch and hot wassail.

Several guests told us that the holidays wouldn’t be the same without the exchange party. Fortunately, Pamela says with a smile, the tradition will continue, “… as long as I can find a new enthusiastic co-chair when the last one moves away!”

Holiday Treats To Try!

Enjoy some of the recipes that have been shared at Pamela Stafford’s annual Christmas cookie exchange party.

Peanut Patties
Contributor: Judy Webb

 6  oz. package of semi-sweet chocolate pieces
 1/2  cup sweetened condensed milk
 1/2  tsp. vanilla
 1  cup tiny marshmallows
 1/2  cup peanut butter
 1 1/4  cups peanuts

In heavy saucepan, combine chocolate pieces, marshmallows, and sweetened condensed milk. Cook over medium heat until melted. Stir in peanut butter.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Stir in peanuts. Drop candy from a spoon onto waxed paper.

Store leftover candy in refrigerator in tightly covered container.

Yields 3 dozen cookies.

Rum Balls
Contributor: Beryl Willmot

 1  box vanilla wafers
1  1/2  tablespoons cocoa
 1  cup powdered sugar
 1  cup ground nuts
 3  tsp. corn syrup
 1/2 cup rum

Mix ingredients in large bowl. With hands, form into balls. Roll in powdered sugar or nuts.

Peanut Butter Chip Orange Cookies
Contributor: Arcella Taylor

 1/2  cup butter, softened
 3/4  cup sugar
 2  eggs
 1  tsp. vanilla
 1  tsp. baking soda
 1/4  cup orange juice
 1/2  cup shortening
 3/4  cup light brown sugar
 1  tbsp. freshly grated orange peel
2  1/4 cups flour
 1  tsp. salt
1  2/3  cups Reese’s peanut butter chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat butter, shortening, and sugars in a large bowl until fluffy. Add eggs, orange peel, and vanilla. Beat until blended.

Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add alternately with orange juice to butter mixture and mix well. Stir in peanut butter chips. Drop by spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake until lightly browned. Cool and remove from cookie sheet. Cool completely.

Holiday Biscotti
Contributor: Laura Allen

 2  cups all-purpose flour
1  1/2  tsp. baking powder
 3/4  cup of sugar
 1/2  cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
 1  tsp. grated lemon zest
 1/4  tsp. salt
 2  large eggs
 3/4  cup pistachios (unsalted), coarsely chopped
 2/3  cup dried cranberries
 12  oz. quality white chocolate, chopped
  red and green sugar crystals, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a heavy, large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend.

Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl until blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour mixture and beat until just blended. Stir in the pistachios and cranberries.

Form the dough into a 13-inch-by-3-inch log on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until light golden, about 40 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes.

Place the log on a cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick slices. Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake until pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool completely.

Stir the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until the chocolate melts. Dip half of the biscotti into the melted chocolate. Gently shake off the excess. Place the biscotti on a baking sheet for the chocolate to set. Sprinkle with sugar crystals. Refrigerate until the chocolate is completely set, about 35 minutes.

Note: The biscotti can be made in advance. Store in an airtight container up to four days, or wrap in foil and freeze in re sealable plastic bags up to three weeks.

Posted in Ocala Style Features

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