‘Tis the season for cookies! Gather your friends for a cookie decorating party, where everyone gets to bring home some sweet treats when all is said and done.
When I was a kid, I remember going to cookie decorating parties and cookie exchanges at a friend’s house every holiday season.
Every year, I looked forward to it.
And I haven’t done it since I was a kid… so we’re bringing it back this year since I have kids of my own, one of whom is old enough to be able to decorate a cookie without a complete kitchen explosion. 😉
So this year, I wanted to write a how to guide for hosting a cookie decorating party since it’s something I plan to do and hope you do, too! It’s so much fun for the kids, who will adore the decoration (and eating!) process, and it’s fun for the adults, too. Especially once you let go that it’s gonna get a little messy.
Cookies that are fantastic for sharing at a cookie exchange or a decorating party: Potato Chip Cookies / Chocolate Gingerbread Biscotti / Peppermint Chocolate Crinkle Cookies / Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies
Need some more cookie inspiration, but don’t know where to begin? Check out my Christmas recipe index, where you will find some of my favorite recipes for the season, including a ton of dessert ideas and other treats!
Supplies you’ll need to host a Cookie Decorating Party
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- Cookies and icing (we’ll talk specifics in a bit!)
- Food coloring to dye the icing, if you so desire
- Tipless piping bags
- Wax paper to spread over decorating surfaces so that your entire kitchen isn’t a sticky mess
- Sprinkles and other edible cookie decorations, plus bowls/containers to place these in
- Take away boxes for guests to bring their cookies home in (or paper plates!)
How to host a Cookie Decorating Party
To host a successful cookie decorating party, you need a few things, like cookies, icing, things to put the icing in, sprinkles and more.
As mentioned above, you’re going to need:
- Food coloring. This isn’t necessary, but I enjoy using the gel variety to add a bit of color and pop to the icing. If it’s not your jam, using the white icing is perfectly acceptable and can be a lovely winter white!
- Pastry bags for the icing. I like the tipless variety because they require less fuss.
- Wax paper. This will protect your countertops, though there are no guarantees that this will keep them 100% clear. Have cleaning supplies on hand to easily wipe up any spills after the party.
- Sprinkles and other decorations. These are highly recommended to make decorating super fun! Depending on the age of your guests, they can make patterns or just simply sprinkle the decorations on top of their cookies. Either way, it’s fun!
- Boxes to send home with guests. Because if you’re hosting this party, you don’t want to keep all the cookies to yourself… right? Take home boxes are a brilliant idea and send guests home with their treats, mess-free!
Make (or purchase) your cookies and icing
If you’re baking them yourself, I recommend making All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies or Greek Cut Out Cookies. (If you’re in the market for a dairy free cookie, these Super Soft Sugar Cookies from Simply Whisked are gold.)
If you’re in the market for an easier cookie, purchase the premade ones that you can cut out yourself OR slice and bake.
You can also purchase cookies from a local bakery to make life easier, too.
On the icing front, we love this Easy Sugar Cookie Icing because it mixes up easy and it totally workable. While it’s wetter than some icings, it spreads easily and works in a pastry bag or with a plastic knife.
You could also purchase jarred icing, though it will be thicker than this recipe and you’ll need several jars of it.
That said, if purchasing the pre-made stuff makes your life easier, you should absolutely do it!
Make the cookies and icing 1-2 days beforehand. The icing will keep in the fridge, and all you need to do is let it come to room temperature before the party. Also, you might need to add a little extra milk or water when it comes to temperature because it might be a little thick to work with.
Set everything up the day before
I’m of the mindset that when you’re hosting friends, you should set everything up in advance.
So when I’m hosting a cookie decorating party, I’ll do the following things the day before to make my life easier the day of:
- Bake the cookies and make the icing.
- Wipe down the kitchen counters and clear away any messes.
- Clean up the downstairs of my house.
- Decorate with whatever I see fit (though let’s be real: my usual holiday decorations are going to be what I use to decorate for a cookie party, and I hope that the decorations are already out so I don’t have to worry about them)
- Get out the platters/dishes/tools I’ll need during the party so I know everything that is needed. This helps me wrap my head around what needs doing (and what I’ll need) while also keeping me calm when guests arrive.
Host like a pro!
Since you’ve done the prep work and gotten your supplies and cookies and icing together, you should be all set the day of!
Before guests arrive, I do the following things:
- Let the icing come to room temperature, then divide it into pastry bags. (You might have to thin it out a little if it’s thick from the fridge. Use a little water or extra milk if that’s the case.)
- Place cookies on a platter for guests to choose from.
- Divide sprinkles and other decorations into smaller containers so guests can decorate their cookies with them.
- Wipe down the counters once more.
- Spread out the wax paper in the area where guests will be decorating their cookies.
- Place the prepared icing bags and sprinkles in the area, too, so everything is ready to go.
Once guests arrive, I stop any prep work.
I want to spend time with my people when they’re in my house, so I prep everything in advance, and when they arrive, it’s go time!
Erin’s Cookie Decorating Party Menu Ideas
Obviously, you’re going to want COOKIES to decorate! I highly recommend using a more plain sugar cookie for the decorating while serving a few different varieties for snacking. (I love to serve up Peanut Blossoms and Quebec Maple Pecan Drops as a little something special on the side to the sugar cookies.)
Here are a few other items to have on hand for guests, if you’re feeling up to it:
- Pepperoni Pizza Rolls and Snack Sandwiches for snacking
- Vanilla Hot Chocolate or Strawberry White Hot Chocolate for sipping
- Citrus Cranberry Sangria or Cranberry Mules for adult sipping
Easy entertaining tips for hosting success
- Purchase your cookies from a local bakery or get slice and bake ones! There’s no shame in making it easier on yourself, and these cookies will make your life significantly easier!
- Order cookie boxes to send guests home with their decorated treats! You can also use paper plates if cookie boxes aren’t your speed.
- Feeling fancy? Give your guests different cookie options to decorate! Or have other cookies for them to munch on as they decorate their cookies!
Frequently Asked Questions
How many cookies should I make or have on hand? I like to have 3-4 cookies for each guest to decorate, plus 1-2 extra for them to nibble on as they’re working on their decorations.
What varieties of cookies are good for a cookie decorating party? Honestly, sugar cookies are the best kind of cookies for decorating because they have the most versatility. You can cut them out into a variety of shapes and add icing, sprinkles and more without taking away from (or throwing off) their deliciousness.
What time of day is the best time to host a cookie party? That depends on you and your guests. If you’re having kids for this party, I suggest late afternoon or even the evening, when you can feed everyone pizza (get that stuff delivered!) and then decorate to your heart’s content.
How can I get my kids involved? Kids, as a whole, LOVE cookies! Get yours involved in the preparation portion with the baking and icing making, then let them help you decorate the house before guests arrive. My older daughter is always incredibly proud whenever she shows off what she’s done to her friends (and has told them she helped bake the cookies we’re eating), so your kids might enjoy that, too.
What should we listen to at a cookie decorating party? Obviously, now is the time for a holiday playlist! I really dig this one from Spotify.