Almost all of our holiday traditions are imperiled by COVID-19. Boisterous family meals, glittery cocktail parties, and gatherings to exchange presents could all become super-spreader events. But there is one holiday tradition the pandemic can’t mess with: mailing cookies. The 2020 baking boom was one long training session for turning out dozens upon dozens of snickerdoodles, thumbprints, rugelach, and brownies in the last month of this shitty year.
But after the cookies are made, what’s the best way to make sure they arrive in one piece? Twelve Eater staffers conducted a (somewhat) scientific experiment to determine which cookies travel best and which shipping methods ensure cookies arrive intact. Nothing ever has to be perfect, but in a year full of uncertainty, getting cookies from one end of the country to the other would be… nice.
For mailing, the experiment settled on three methods, each of which offers a different trade-off between beauty of presentation and annoyingness of packing. The first method, from Martha Stewart Living, is the most traditional: Pack the cookies in a Tupperware or tin without much wiggle room and put them in a box with a good layer of padding. The second method comes from Sally’s Baking Addiction, which calls for packing cookies in a tin and then placing padding around the tin, with the additional step of sandwiching cookies together in pairs and wrapping them in plastic wrap. The final method comes from Jessica Vitak, who bakes 4,000 cookies a year and shared her intel as part of Eater’s expert guide. This method calls for putting cookies into plastic baggies and wrapping those baggies up in bubble wrap before packing it all up to be shipped.
Then, we divided cookies into three main types: hard and crunchy (think shortbread and biscotti), soft and chewy (chocolate chip, snickerdoodle), and bar cookies (brownies, blondies). Staffers each baked a recipe of their choice, each of which fell into one of these categories, and used one of the three shipping methods above.
The original form of the experiment was a 3-by-3 grid of cookie type and shipping method, so that each type of cookie was sent by each method. However, some wildcards entered along the way. Amanda Kludt’s shipping guy suggested a new method, which called for padding the cookies in a Tupperware but dispensing with any padding outside the Tupperware before sending them off. We threw in a spoiler crumbly cookie into all of the shipping methods, to see how much of a risk it is. Shipping methods were not rigorously followed. We are not scientists. But with dozens upon dozens of cookies that all made it to Los Angeles, there are three major conclusions to be drawn:
- Shipping cookies successfully is not that hard
- The type of cookie doesn’t matter nearly as much as how it’s shipped
- The enemy of cookies is other cookies
Shipping method No. 1: Cookies in a tin
Cookies sent using the most traditional method, packed into a tin with padding and then wrapped in more padding before being placed in a box, were also the most hit or miss in terms of how they looked upon arrival. With enough padding and/or the right kind of cookie, this method can definitely work, but it’s risky.
Both Jaya Saxena’s tiny, sturdy blondies and Monica Burton’s Mexican wedding cookies (our designated crumbly cookies) battered against each other in their boxes, arriving intact but with lots of crumbs. Nick Mancall-Bitel’s chewy peanut-butter miso cookies fared the best; they were wide and flat, as well as slightly chewy, which maybe enhanced their stability; they were also packed with parchment paper crammed into every crevice, which ensured they could not bump into each other, but that shipping method might be annoying to scale.
Shipping method No. 1.5: Amanda Kludt’s shipping guy
When Eater’s editor-in-chief took her cookies to her shipping store in Brooklyn, an employee talked her out of putting any padding around her package at all, and instead stressed that all her cookies needed was ample padding inside their tin. The cookies sent by this method (Matt Buchanan agreed to also test it out) fared about as well as the cookies sent in tins and padded boxes: hit or miss. Kludt’s iced sugar cookies, which were fragile to begin with, arrived with a dusting of crumbs sheared from their edges, and one was broken in two. Buchanan’s peanut butter-miso-white chocolate cookies (spot the trend) remained totally fine, although they were also more padded with parchment paper. The TL;DR is if you want to send cookies in a tin, don’t worry about adding a lot of additional padding around the tin; worry about padding the cookies inside the tin.
Shipping method No. 2: Sally’s Baking Addiction
Wrapping cookies in pairs before putting them in a box solves the major problem of a box as shipping vehicle: chaos. Each cookie is anchored to another cookie and surrounded by a soft layer of padding that prevents them from injuring any of their other boxmates. Probably the prettiest box I got was from Lesley Suter, which was filled with crinkle paper and maple sandwich cookies perfectly bound together. It’s also a good method for sending two types of cookie: Rebecca Flint Marx sent both brownies and blondies, both of them perfectly moist, and the plastic wrap kept them from sticking together when stacked. Parchment paper might have done the same, but the plastic wrap meant they didn’t stick to each other laterally, either.
The downside, of course, is that this method uses an unholy amount of plastic wrap, takes more time for the sender, and then requires the receiver to unwrap all the cookies. The process wasn’t that arduous, and maybe kept them fresh longer, but it took a little of the pleasure out of unwrapping the treats. If you want to send cookies in a tin and not lose too much time wondering if you’ve added enough padding, this method is probably the safest.
Shipping method No. 3: Jessica Vitak’s Baggie Method
Putting cookies into small baggies, wrapping those baggies in layers of bubble wrap, and then shipping them in a box was overall just as successful as the plastic-wrap method, if not more so. This is likely because the cookies are in a soft container, so they’re not as easily jostled, and the baggies can be thoroughly encircled with bubble wrap. It also offers a great deal of flexibility, especially if you’re sending multiple kinds of cookies. Brenna Houck sent both spicy, flavorful molasses cookies and shortbread cookies, and neither took on the flavor of the other when separated in baggies within the same box.
The main downside of this method is when the cookies arrive, there is no tin or even Tupperware to open, just bubble wrap to hack through, and then a bunch of baggies. It’s not super aesthetically pleasing if you’re sending something as a gift. This method works best if you want to go for volume and variety: lots of different kinds of cookies, which might be tough to fit together in a tin and would risk cross-contaminating each others’ flavors, can all be sent successfully in a big ball of plastic. But don’t skip the bubble wrap! Left alone in just a plastic bag, the cookies will pulverize each other. They must be immobilized for their own good.
A note of caution about powdered sugar
Lots of classic holiday cookies are dusted with powdered sugar. It’s cute! It’s like snow! It will not travel well! Cookies dusted in powdered sugar and put in baggies mussed up the baggie, creating an unpleasant effect. Plastic-wrapped cookies and cookies sent in tins seemed to absorb their powder, leaving them a bit dull.
If you want your cookies to arrive in a pretty box, pad them neurotically. If you want to send the max amount of cookies, consider the baggie method. With a little care, they should arrive safely.
And they’ll be worth the effort. At Eater, we work all over the country, but we usually get to see each other in person once or twice a year. This year, it’s been a lot of Zoom. Getting boxes of cookies from all my coworkers felt surprisingly lovely; something about the cookies being homemade made it feel like we were hanging out together when I unwrapped them. If worries about the quality of your bakes or the efficiency of the mail is what’s been keeping you from sending out your own batches of cookies, don’t let that stop you: All of the packages I received made me think fondly of their senders during a time when we feel far apart. And all of them were delicious.