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Even in these busy times, baking holiday cookies for friends and family remains a favorite way to translate love into food.

Inviting someone to bake cookies and bring them to your party, amid the busiest weeks of the year, might seem presumptuous. But "the cookie party gives back," writes Robin Olson, who founded Cookie-Exchange.com in 1997.

"It rejuvenates, and gives meaning and inspiration to the holidays, embodying the qualities that we all love best -- friendship, food and festivity."

When it's time for a cookie exchange, though, cookies can get complicated. Not just the recipes, though many bakers will ponder how fancy to get, imagining their cookies on a table surrounded by the efforts of others.

In "The Cookie Party Cookbook," Olson offers her take on cookie exchange conundrums after more than a decade as the Internet's cookie exchange expert. By now she has heard it all, so in addition to more than 200 pages of recipes from around the world, Olson offers advice on classic exchange annoyances.

How many unrequited invitations should a friend get before they're cut off? What should you do about the person who brings pedestrian store-bought cookies? Which distribution method works best for you -- the Group Circle, Reverse Swap, Free-for-All?

For the most part, experienced cookie-swappers have well-worn traditions that work for them. If you're starting out, or are considering rethinking your cookie event, Olson provides plenty of suggestions that are anything but half baked.

A sample timeline is included, with suggestions for possible invitation styles. (Note to dreamers: By Olson's reckoning, you're months too late to get an event started this week.)

Should your cookie exchange have a theme, for either the party or the cookies themselves? If you have experienced bakers on your guest list with lots of cookies in their repertoire, a cookie theme might help them decide what to share.

Are cookies the only food you plan to serve? For some hosts, a buffet set up in another room works well.

Will baked goods be the only entertainment? Olson has suggestions for party games.

In the end, rookie exchange hosts may find that deciding on the rules of their first event "will become a lesson in assertiveness training," Olson writes. She counsels hosts to politely listen to people's suggestions, then do what they want. "You are allowed to hold the party the way that you want because, after all, it's your party."

The Cookie Party Cookbook

By Robin L. Olson

St. Martin's Griffin

341 pages, $19

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com