Holiday Cheer In Times of COVID: Taking An Annual Cookie Celebration on the Road

Community activities, summer camps, family milestones, and everyday life at work and school have all been affected by COVID adaptations. Holiday traditions will also look different, but they don’t need to be less joyful. Working with safety in mind, spreading holiday cheer is something 2020 can’t take away from us.

Holiday cookie celebration at the Shaws before COVID.

Hosting an annual “Cookie Celebration” has been a December highlight for Montclair’s Gina Shaw. Over the last 16 years, she and her family have hosted throngs of treat lovers in their home to welcome the holidays as the days get colder and darker. What started as a small open-house dessert party pre-kids has joyfully blossomed into a 100-plus person party with families from several towns enjoying community, Hot Cocoa Cookie Cups, and catching up with friends.

The family’s yearly event is a flurry of activity starting weeks prior with prepping dough, gathering ingredients, and planning out additions to the desserts, usually one or two new recipes a year. With a spre4ad that includes cake pops, red and green spiraled “Whoville” cookies, frosted bars, and a variety of cakes, brownies, and an “Adults Only” punch, friends and family look forward to the party all year, especially the kids. Over the years, the party has become an opportunity for friends with busy schedules and lives that went in different directions to re-connect during the holidays.

Baking prep starts weeks ahead of time.

When faced with the need for COVID-related changes, Gina refused to settle for a less-than-festive event. She mulled over options, and finally wondered, “Why not make the party mobile?” The family has kept the event-feel by sending out an Evite and asking everyone to RSVP as usual. With a minivan and its occupants decked out in holiday decorations, Gina and her family will be dropping off treats and plates full of holiday cheer all around several area towns. The “Cookie Express” will have an organized, mapped-out route for deliveries to save time, but they’re prepared for lots of laughs and a few surprises along the way.

We asked Gina what made it so important to keep the cookie tradition going in a year when no one would have faulted her for bowing out just this once. Gina explained, “We all have just lost so much that it was important to us this year. School, special events, family traditions, holiday rituals, even just the ability to hug the people we love. We wanted to let our friends know that even though we can’t be together in person this year, we’re thinking of them and hoping to help make the holidays special in at least a small way. It’s going to be hard for everyone to make it through this winter, but maybe it will help just a tiny bit to have a few favorite treats made with love.”

And her friends agree! Jennifer Metzger, who has attended the holiday event for many years, said, “I am so touched that Gina is bringing the party to everyone. It’s a little light and warmth (and sweet) when we all need it most.” Another friend, Lisa Lawrence, said she’s thrilled this highlight of her family’s Christmas will continue this year, “We all really need this, and we are so grateful to their friendship and spirit to bring the traveling Christmas cookie celebration around town.”

Many families and friends will be making adjustments to their holiday and end-of-year plans as they balance safety with celebrations. Let us know about unique or creative ways you’re adapting in comments!

As a special treat, Gina is sharing the recipe she uses to make the most popular item at the annual party:

Hot Cocoa Cookie Cups

Ingredients

• 1 package Pillsbury Sugar Cookie Dough • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream • 2 tablespoons hot cocoa mix • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips • Mini pretzels • Bag mini marshmallow

 

Instructions

Cookie Cups:

• Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

• Make sugar cookie dough according to package instructions.

• Grease a 24-unit mini muffin tin with baking spray. Roll 1 tablespoon of dough into a ball and put in each muffin cup.

• Bake for 12-14 minutes at 375 degrees. As soon as you take them out of the oven, make a “cup” depression in each one by gently pressing down with something like a rounded tablespoon or a shot glass. Let cool completely before taking them out of the tin.

Ganache: 

• Put chocolate chips in a heat-safe bowl.

• Bring the whipping cream to a boil.

• Stir in the hot cocoa mix. When fully blended, remove from heat and pour over chocolate chips.

• Let the mixture sit for 3 minutes. Then, stir until the chocolate chips are melted and the ganache is smooth.

Final product: 

• Break off the loops on some mini pretzels to use as handles.

• Melt the white chocolate chips (either in the microwave or using a double boiler). Dip ends of the pretzel loops in white chocolate and attach to the sides of cookie cups as handles. (The trickiest part! Hook the top of the “handle” over the rim of the “cup” so it has support as the chocolate firms up.)

• Spoon the chocolate ganache into the cooled cookie cups and top with mini marshmallows.

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