Cookies make the best holiday gifts: Here are a top pastry chef's tips for shipping your baked goods

Easily send homemade desserts as gifts with these expert tips, no-fuss recipes and fool-proof shipping checklist

By Joseph Neese

Deputy Editor in Chief

Published December 13, 2020 5:44PM (EST)

Holiday Sprinkle Cookies (Courtesy Meghan McGarry/Buttercream Blondie)
Holiday Sprinkle Cookies (Courtesy Meghan McGarry/Buttercream Blondie)

After she graduated from New York's celebrated French Culinary Institute under the guidance of legendary Dean Jacques Torres, Salon resident pastry chef Meghan McGarry started a new tradition that allowed her to share her talent for baking with the people in her life who championed her career move from a budding Wall Street financier into the owner of her own spirited desserts brand Buttercream Blondie.

And so the story went: Every holiday season, McGarry transformed her home into a one-woman dessert factory. At its peak, more than 1,000 cookies a year were shipped from McGarry's workshop in care packages to family and friends.

"I felt like I was running Santa's workshop, except it was even more magical, because I was drowning in sprinkles and spirits instead of toys," McGarry tells Salon. "You don't realize how many cookies can actually fit into fill a large tin, but I made thousands over the years."

McGarry refers not only to her signature use of rainbow sprinkles but also to her creation of spirited sweets. The list of recipes she's developed over the years is as carefully curated as a wine list written by a studious sommelier. Her secret ingredients come from her bar cart, and they add an unrivaled amount of flavor to her desserts.

As the years passed, McGarry became increasingly inundated with questions from readers about how they could purchase her cookies and other desserts online. When she found herself suddenly at home like the rest of this year, McGarry finally had the space to create the first-ever Buttercream Blondie shop, which launches online next week with a signature cookie collection.

RELATED: These sprinkled and spiked butter cookies melt in your mouth — and they make the best holiday gift

McGarry's first product line is built as much upon her expertise as a trained culinary chef and seasoned recipe developer as the joy she received from sending care packages filled with cookies every holiday season to her family and friends. One core ingredient remains: love. 

"My favorite thing has always been to send people care packages," McGarry tells Salon. "I think there's something special about showing someone just how much you care about them through the act of creating something with your own two hands."

RELATED: Win the holiday baking swap with this spirited new take on classic raspberry thumbprint cookies

The holidays look a little different for all of us this year, no matter where you live. You may be unable to travel to see your loved ones, your wallet may be tighter than usual or possibly both. Now, more than ever, the best and most cost-effective gifts are the ones you can bake at home with love. If you can't get together, you can still experience a box of cookies at home together with the special people in your life over the phone or video. That's why cookies are the top item on Salon Food's gift list for 2020.

Preparing for nationwide delivery of the first-ever Buttercream Blondie cookies means McGarry is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to shipping desserts. Below are her top cookie recipes for shipping, her advice for baking cookies at home, and her check-list for ensuring smooth delivery. Consider this your one-stop shop for expert cookie advice:

Getting started: Read these no-fuss cookie recipes

  1. Apple Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

  2. Holiday Confetti Cookies

  3. Raspberry Almond Thumbprints

  4. Spiked Mint Milanos

  5. Sprinkled And Spiked Confetti Cookies

Tip One: Leave the delicate cookies for Santa

The best way to ship cookies is in a tin, where they'll be packed together fairly tight. Thus, you should avoid recipes that yield delicate cookies. Also skip cookies with creme fillings, and be careful about the icing you choose for decorating. Instead of mailing these types of cookies to friends and family, save them for at-home guests like Santa Claus. 

These five recipes from Salon Food all have McGarry's seal of approval for shipping: apple cranberry oatmeal cookiesholiday confetti cookies, raspberry almond thumbprints, spiked mint milanos, and sprinkled and spiked confetti cookies. Each one of these recipes reimagines cookies from holidays past, upping the nostalgia factor as much as enhancing the flavor. If you can't have cookies with your loved ones this year, you can help them recall the fond memories of doing so on holidays past.

One thing to remember: If you do make the thumbprints, pack them last on the top so the other cookies fin the tin don't mistakenly find their way into the jam filling. 

Tip Two: Personality is key

McGarry's biggest recipe for success with shipping? Instead of picking a tin that speaks to your own personality, select ones that make you think of the unique individuals who will be opening them after they arrive in the mail. If you're making cookies for your kid's teacher, for example, a tin with pencils and erasers on it may be the perfect choice.

If you choose a Baby Yoda cookie tin ready to send to your Uncle John, who is a "Star Wars" fan, in California, make sure to add some oatmeal cookies, because they're his favorite. Pick two or three cookies tailored to Uncle John's palette rather than overcomplicating things by taking on too many recipes. Narrow your focus, and make it personal. 

Tip Three: There's no reason to stress

Stressed spelled backwards is desserts, because baking is an organic way to eliminate stress. To make your baking experience as chill as your dough, McGarry offers her Golden Rules. First, set designate a special day for holiday baking. If Sunday is the day you're firing up your oven, dub it "Cookie Day." Second, make all of your doughs ahead of time. If Sunday is "Cookie Day," plan to power up your stand mixer on Saturday. Mix your sprinkled and spiked cookie doughs, and then refrigerate them overnight. This not only gives your flavors time to set but also has you ready to roll them out (literally) on the big day. 

Tip Four: Keep things cool 

Another advantage of letting your dough chill overnight is that it has time to cool, and your cookies will bake more evenly if they hit the oven chilled. Also, under bake cookies by about 30 seconds, because they will continue to "cook," or firm up, as they cool down. 

Temperature is also something you want to keep in mind when it comes to packing. If Sunday is "Cookie Day," and you bake in the morning or afternoon, wait to pack your cookies into their designated tins when the sun goes down. Warm cookies tend to be more fragile, so wait until they're completely cool to pack them up. After everything's wrapped, you can drop your packages off at the Post Office on the way to work the following morning. 

Tip Five: Use a cookie scoop

McGarry recommends using a cookie scoop when to scoop out your dough to not only ensure that all of your cookies come out of the oven the same size but also that they bake evenly. 

Tip Six: Go easy on yourself

It's OK if some cookies break during delivery. Why? If you bake any of McGarry's tested recipes, they're going to come out of the oven tasting delicious every single time. It's the thought that counts, and at the end of the day, flavor remains supreme.  

Follow the instructions on this handy shipping checklist:

  1. Make sure the tin you select is safe for food, and you line your tin with a piece of parchment or wax paper before you pack any cookies inside. 
  2. When you begin to pack cookies into your tin, you want to make sure they're snug enough so that they won't move around but also spaced enough so that you won't suffocate them. Give your tin a light shake to test: The goal here is to decrease movement.
  3. When you pack your tin into a box for shipping, bubble wrap it to further keep your precious cargo safe and reduce the impact of excess movement during transit (or a dropped box). 
  4. Safely nestle your tin in seasonal crinkle paper to add extra support in the event of unexpected impact. 
  5. All of McGarry's recipes have a good shelf-life, and they taste even better on day two. That being said, professional shippers are busier than ever this time of your, so be sure to opt for a priority mail option to ensure your cookies aren't stuck in transit for too long before they arrive. 

By Joseph Neese

Joseph Neese is Salon's Deputy Editor in Chief. You can follow him on Twitter: @josephneese.

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