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How to Make the Perfect Cookie Tray for a Special Occasion

Claudia has been writing recipes online for many years. She enjoys coming up with unique and tasty dishes, especially sweet treats.

Tips and tricks on putting together the perfect cookie tray for Christmas or any other special occasion.

Tips and tricks on putting together the perfect cookie tray for Christmas or any other special occasion.

Around the end of November, I start thinking about cookies. Specifically, I start thinking about my holiday cookie baking. I go through all of my books, magazines, and recipes, whittle my cookie list down to a somewhat manageable one, and start planning out my baking strategy.

For almost 30 years, I have made sweet treats for friends and family during the holidays. It used to be just one or two types of cookies, but it now tops out at about nine or ten varieties. There have been lean years when I just didn't have the time—or the funds—to bake a lot, and there have been years when it seemed like I had baked every cookie known to man.

Having done this for so long, I have come up with what I think is the perfect way to make a cookie tray. It's easier than you think.

Plan Ahead and Pencil It In

Get a general idea of how many cookies you'll be making and what types they are. Take a look at your calendar and decide when you'll have time to bake. It usually takes me a weekend to make all of my cookies, but I have also done it over many weeks.

I find that if I have a cookie that is easy to freeze, then I go ahead and make it early and freeze it. This helps me with time management.

How can you go wrong with these Peanut Butter Cracker Candies? (Hint: You can't!)

How can you go wrong with these Peanut Butter Cracker Candies? (Hint: You can't!)

Choose the Cookies

This is my favorite part of the process. Maybe it's because my analytical side comes out.

Gather up all of your cookbooks, magazines, and favorite family recipes and start a list. Don't worry about how long it is. It will get shortened. I always ask my husband and daughter what they would like me to include. I also consider other family members. For example, I know my mother absolutely loves simple butter cutouts, so I make it a point to include those. Add anything else that may catch your eye.

Once you have a list (at this point, mine is usually about 40 varieties long), it's time to start making it smaller. This may take a little while, but make the list easy for you to handle. That could mean 3 varieties of cookies or 11. Whatever works best for you.

I have pretty specific types of cookies that I like to include which I think make a beautiful and tempting display.

TypeFlavors Variations

Drop Cookies

Mint

Balls

Chocolate

Bars

Jam-filled

Sliced (or Refrigerator)

Ginger spice

Shaped

Nuts

Candies

Coconut

Fancy

Dried fruits

Cutouts

Cinnamon

Tassies (or Cups)

Peanut Butter

Butter Cookies

Citrus

Every year, I have at least one of each type listed above. What I play with is the flavor variation. For example, one year I might have a coconut ball, one year I might have chocolate coconut drop cookies. Whatever recipe I choose, I like to have at least one cookie with coconut incorporated in it.

I follow this guideline with the other flavors as well. Every year I have a chocolate-and-peanut-butter combination, a fruit-filled cookie, and so forth down the list. It's the recipes that I like to change up from year to year.

You can't go wrong with one of each type of these goodies on your cookie tray.

You can't go wrong with one of each type of these goodies on your cookie tray.

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Very Berry Cookie Truffles add a light, fruity touch to your cookie tray.

Very Berry Cookie Truffles add a light, fruity touch to your cookie tray.

Consider Dietary or Allergy Restrictions

It's always important to think about any dietary or allergy restrictions that the recipient may have. Double-check with the person to find out what cookies on the tray may make someone sick. It may be best to leave those varieties off.

I also add a little note on the cookie list that I include with the trays saying that they contain nuts or other ingredients that may not be suitable for everyone.

Use your best judgement about these kinds of restrictions. It's better to err on the side of caution rather than have someone get sick.

Everyone loves mint, and these Mint-Marshmallow Cookie Candies don't disappoint!

Everyone loves mint, and these Mint-Marshmallow Cookie Candies don't disappoint!

Include a Cute List of the Cookies

Don't forget to type up a cute little list of all of the cookies that are on the tray. People like to know what they are eating, or what they may want to avoid.

If you are sending your tray to a big group of people that you don't know very well, you may want to add a note that some of the cookies have nuts in them.

Below is an example of the list I include.

Finish off your perfect cookie tray with a list of the cookies included. People love to know what kind of goodies they are getting. Here's an example of the one I usually use.

Finish off your perfect cookie tray with a list of the cookies included. People love to know what kind of goodies they are getting. Here's an example of the one I usually use.

These White Chocolate and Orange Tassies are a non-traditional twist for your cookie tray.

These White Chocolate and Orange Tassies are a non-traditional twist for your cookie tray.

  1. Have your list of recipients ready.
  2. Line up all of the cookies on a table or countertop.
  3. Have your trays and containers ready. My rule of thumb for assembly is if it is for someone close by, I use a tray. If it's someone further away or that I send to, I use containers and sandwich bags to separate the cookies.
  4. Start assembling the trays. Begin with someone on your list and give them a few of each variety. If I'm giving them to a big family, I give more. Alternately, if I am taking some goodies to a couple, or single friend, I scale back on the number of cookies.
  5. Seal containers and trays and place in the refrigerator.
  6. Give out as soon as possible so the cookies don't go stale.
For the ball cookie on your tray, try these Toasted Coconut Mocha Truffles. Yummy!

For the ball cookie on your tray, try these Toasted Coconut Mocha Truffles. Yummy!

Considerations When Shipping Cookies

I send a box of goodies to my brother every year, but I always worry that they will get stuck in the mail for a long time and go bad, so I make sure to:

  • Send them out the fastest way possible. (Warning: it can get a little pricey.)
  • Send out early in the week so they aren't on the road the whole weekend.
  • Take out cookies that don't travel well. You don't want to send anything that has lots of cream or other ingredients that spoil quickly.
  • Tell the recipient to look for the package. Along with cookies, I send Christmas gifts to my brother, all in one box. I like to remind him that they are in the box so he doesn't set everything aside to open later.
Filled with raspberry jam, delicious Linzer cookies are a fancy addition to a cookie tray, and they always wow your friends and family.

Filled with raspberry jam, delicious Linzer cookies are a fancy addition to a cookie tray, and they always wow your friends and family.

There are always some family favorites and old standby recipes that I put on my trays. But try to be creative and mix it up a little bit. Add a few things that people don't normally see on a cookie tray. Here are just a few suggestions.

Traditional Cookie Tray FavoritesUnique and Interesting Treats

Sugar Cookies

Chocolate Date Orange Bars

Peanut Blossoms

White Chocolate Orange Tassies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Toasted Coconut Mocha Truffles

Chocolate Fudge

Fruit Cake Cookies

Divinity

Cardamom Snaps

Thumbprints

Mocha Fudge

Gingerbread Men

Lemon Zucchini Cookies

Of course there are thousands of cookie recipes out there, so have fun and make your home-baked treats stand out from the others by adding in a couple of lesser-known recipes.

And remember, whatever you put on your cookie tray, your friends and family will be grateful that you thought enough about them to give them a homemade gift. It always means so much, especially in this busy world.

If you think you want to try out one of the cookies pictured, here are the recipe links to a few of my favorites.

Cookie trays are a wonderful gift any time of year.  Here are some tips and tricks on putting together the perfect tray for Christmas or any other special occasion.

Cookie trays are a wonderful gift any time of year. Here are some tips and tricks on putting together the perfect tray for Christmas or any other special occasion.

© 2015 Claudia Mitchell

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