I Mailed 12-Dozen Cookies Across the Country and Here’s How It Went

updated Dec 4, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Shipping cookies was a holiday tradition long before COVID-19 took away our office parties, gift exchanges, and cookie swaps. There’s tons of advice out there about mailing cookies (including my tips), but this year I wanted to put those tricks through a real-life test. Because after all that we’ve been through, who wants to end 2020 with a box full of broken, crumbled cookies?

In November, I spent an entire day baking recipes deemed sturdy enough by Kitchn editors. Then using what I know, plus popular advice from our archives, as well as a few shipping experts, I packed up six different cookies (plus a couple of bonus treats) and shipped the sweets from my home in Idaho to upstate New York. On the receiving end were Kitchn’s Lifestyle Director, Lisa Freedman, and our photographer, Joe Lingeman, who were tasked with the very tough job of eating the cookies and reporting back.

To properly test the tips, I packed a few things differently in Lisa and Joe’s boxes. Some suggestions worked better than others — with a few key learnings coming from each box. I discovered a way to ship delicate sugar cookies, found the best (and most delicious!) way to keep your cookies from sliding around, and a whole lot more. Ready to unpack those boxes to see what I learned? Here we go!

Credit: Meghan Splawn

How I Chose My Cookies

Experts (including myself) generally agree that the most shippable cookies come from two general categories — “hard and crunchy” and “soft and chewy” — so my big baking day included a few varieties from each camp. From the “hard and crunchy” category I chose Mandelbrot, which are similar to biscotti, and classic sugar cookies. On the “soft and chewy” side I made chocolate chip cookies, soft gingerbread cookies, and peppermint frosted chocolate brownies. And because I can’t help myself, I added bags of muddy buddies and a pan of Rice Krispies treats to the mix to make sure each box had a good variety of flavors and textures.

On the receiving end, Lisa’s job was to report back on the tastiness of the cookies and critique my packaging, and Joe was in charge of documenting the “after” photos (but, of course, he and his family also tasted the treats and gave me their tasting notes).

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Packing Up Hard and Crunchy Cookies

Biscotti and Mandelbrot, shortbread, and classic sugar cookies all qualify as well-built for shipping. Their hard and crunchy texture makes them strong enough to get tossed around during shipping without turning to crumbs. However, my experiment proved that how crunchy cookies are packaged really matters.

I placed a dozen Mandelbrot cookies snuggly in each plastic bag and padded them on all sides with individually wrapped Rice Krispies treats. In both shipments. But despite all of that, two or three cookies broke in each package. The takeaway? Pack large, hard and crunchy cookies in smaller packages so they don’t break each other with their sturdiness. Pad around the bags with bubble wrap or Rice Krispies treats.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Sugar cookies are beloved for winter holidays, but their intricate cut-outs and delicate icing actually make them incredibly difficult to ship. In the past, I spent days baking, decorating, and carefully packaging elaborate sugar cookies just to have them break or shatter during shipping. For this experiment, I tried cutting the cookies into small, simple snowflake shapes, but you could also choose a small circle or square. I skipped the royal icing (its moisture soaks into sugar cookies and softens them considerably) and used white chocolate, which dries hard, and sprinkles instead. I also tried two different methods for packaging. I wrapped a handful of cookies tightly in a clear treat bag and twisted the top just above the cookies and I also stacked 10 snowflakes in a tube shape in a plastic bag. I was delighted with the results of both. Lisa was pretty excited, too. “Two sugar cookies cracked and one arm of one of the snowflakes broke off,” she said. “But I’m happy to say that literally everything else is intact!” Based on this experiment, I learned that if you want to ship sugar cookies, the key is to simplify the shape and decorations and pack them in small quantities.

Get the recipe: Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Packing Up Soft and Chewy Cookies

Soft and chewy cookies are usually sturdy enough to stand up to travel. Plus, classics like chocolate chip, molasses, and any and all brownie variations are guaranteed crowd-pleasers. For this category, I had a lot of tips to try out.

The first suggestion came from Lisa herself. She insisted that I pack the cookies bottom-to-bottom, so that they act as a support for each other. For the chocolate chip cookies, I packed one bag using Lisa’s method and stacked the cookies on top of one another in the other bag. As if the classic couldn’t get anymore perfect, chewy chocolate chip cookies ended up being the easiest to ship. In both shipments, no matter how they were stacked, not a single cookie broke or cracked. The bag, tightly sealed with a twist tie, kept the cookies fresh for nearly a week.

Get the recipe: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The chewy ginger cookies didn’t fare as well, but not because they cracked or broke. I packed these warmly spiced cookies in a cute, takeout-style box. Although I lined the box with parchment, pulled the paper over the cookies, and sealed the box with a sticker, the cookies still arrived stale. “The ginger cookies would have been better earlier,” Joe shared a little sheepishly. “But they are delicious!” The next time I ship soft cookies, I’ll wrap the cute box in a tight layer of plastic wrap to seal them better.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Bar cookies are the real heroes of holiday cookie shipping. Feeling a little rebellious and wanting to include both chocolate and peppermint, I chose a more delicate brownie and frosted it with a candy cane frosting. Ideally, you would ship square bars nestled in a square tin or box and that would be enough to keep them secure. I went a step further and froze the brownies before shipping to make sure they were as firm as possible before they went into the box. Then I crossed my fingers that the frosting and crushed candy canes would disguise any cracks or chips in the brownies. I was kept up one night worrying that the brownies would sweat as they thawed in transit, so I breathed a big sigh of relief when I heard the following from Lisa: “I know you were worried that the brownies would be stale after all this time, but the frosting sort of helped to seal in the moisture,” she told me. While I’m sure frosting helped, I believe the brownies did so well because they were padded by parchment paper and tissue paper and then packed in a sturdy metal tin.

Get the recipe: Chewy Brownies

Credit: Joe Lingeman

My Favorite Takeaway

I made batches of both Muddy Buddies and Rice Krispies treats as bonus treats, but the Rice Krispies treats were the sleeper hit of this experiment. Cut into squares and sealed with plastic wrap, the soft bars made splendid packing material. I tucked them in around the hard cookies and wedged them between treat boxes and the shipping box to keep things from wiggling around. They’re easy to cut into custom shapes to fit any nook or cranny that needs to be filled. They might weigh a little bit more than packing peanuts, but they are infinitely tastier.

A Note About Shipping

Even though I chose the three-day shipping option for the cookies, Joe’s took five days and Lisa’s took a full week to get to her. It’s hard to know how those extra days affected the goodies, but it was an additional reminder that wrapping tins and boxes in plastic wrap is probably a good idea since your treats might be traveling for longer than you anticipate.

Looking back on this cross-country cookie experiment, I’m so glad I did a trial run because now I have real ways to improve my baking, wrapping, and packing just in time for my holiday shipment. And it was also a good reminder to cut myself a break. Even though everything in Joe and Lisa’s boxes wasn’t 100% perfect, their enthusiastic reactions were proof of the power of a box of homemade goodies. As soon as her box arrived, Lisa sent me this message: “This was SOOOO worth the wait. This is the best thing I’ve ever gotten in the mail, including, say, tax refunds!” Take that, 2020!