Merry holiday wishes alone will not protect baked goods in their travels through the mail. They can lose their crunch, go stale, or just get tumbled around enough to crumble those perfect linzer cookies you’re so proud of.
Christmas Shipping Deadlines
Before you bother with all the logistics, you need to know if there’s still time for your cookies or other homemade treats to arrive by Christmas. Here are the 2019 shipping cut-off dates for the three major carriers:
- USPS Ground: Dec. 14 (Saturday)
- USPS First Class: Dec. 20 (Friday)
- USPS Priority: Dec. 21 (Saturday)
- USPS Priority Express: Dec. 23 (Monday)
- FedEx SmartPost: Dec. 9 (Monday)
- FedEx Ground: Dec. 16 (Monday)
- FedEx Home Delivery: Dec. 16 (Monday)
- FedEx Express Saver: Dec. 19 (Thursday)
- FedEx 2Day: Dec. 20 (Friday)
- FedEx Overnight: Dec. 23 (Monday)
- UPS Ground: Dec. 13 (Friday)
- UPS 3 Day Select: Dec. 19 (Thursday)
- UPS 2nd Day Air: Dec. 20 (Friday)
- UPS Next Day Air: Dec. 23 (Monday)
Now, on to the other nuts and bolts of successfully shipping cookies in the mail!
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Select Your Cookies Carefully
Unless you are spending big bucks to ship with an overnight service, plan to mail baked goods that will taste fresh and stay crisp for about a week. “When you bake at home, you don’t think about shelf life,” says Jenna Park, co-owner of Whimsy & Spice bakery in Brooklyn, New York. “But definitely for shipping you have to.”
You don’t want to ship any cookie or baked good that won’t hold up for three to five days sitting around your house in the container you plan to ship in. Not sure? Do a test batch and see what happens. Take these holiday-appropriate cookie recipes for a test drive.
The Best Type of Cookies to Ship
Drier, crispier varieties will last longer. “Shortbreads are probably the most fail-safe,” says Whimsy & Spice’s Park. Other good bets are sugar cookies, biscotti, or crisp gingerbread. Our pecan sandies and molasses crinkle cookies are also great options to ship. Soft, moist cookies have “less of a shelf life because the moisture will help it deteriorate,” says Rose Levy Beranbaum, journalist and author (of several baking bibles, and of “Rose’s Christmas Cookies“).
Not as Foolproof But Totally Doable
Opt for faster shipping methods for anything soft and moist, like brownies, bundt and tube cakes, and loaf cakes. The same goes for cookies with nuts, says Beranbaum—because nuts go rancid quickly, they shorten the shelf life of a cookie to about a week. For doughs with cream cheese in them (like rugelach), “five days is my rule of thumb for shelf life,” says Beranbaum.
Related Reading: How to Make Keto Christmas Cookies
Mail at Your Own Risk
“One of my favorite cookies I would never ship,” warns Beranbaum. “My lemon butter bars. Or cheesecake bars.” They are too soft, squishy, and perishable. She also says she’s hesitant to ship meringues because they are so delicate (but at least they still taste good broken).
Don’t Be a Crappy Packager
Cool Cookies Completely Before Boxing
To avoid an epic cookie-shipping failure, start by fully cooling your treats before trying to cram them into bags or tins or anything else but your mouth. You don’t want any extra steamy moisture caught in there to speed spoilage. That said, mail the cookies as soon as possible after baking, advises James Wigdel, spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service in San Francisco. This will get you the most out of the shelf life.
Use the Right Containers
You’ve got a few options: Beranbaum is a fan of Snapware containers because they have gaskets and form an airtight seal. Traditional tins are fine too, but you’ll need to tape around the lid to add a seal and hedge your bets against it popping off somewhere in transit. At the minimum, Wigdel says, you should use one of those inexpensive plastic food storage containers, such as the kind Ziploc makes.
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Keep Your Cookie Types Separated
The often-overlooked key to good packing is keeping your cookie types separated. “You want crunchy to stay crunchy and soft to stay soft. If you put them together, the crunchy get soft, and the soft turn hard,” says Beranbaum.
That doesn’t mean you have to ship multiple tins. You can separate the types with resealable bags, or class it up and get cellophane goodie bags, advises Park, and tie them up with a ribbon.
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If you’re just shipping one type of cookie, put sheets of waxed paper between the layers as you fill the tin.
Mind the Gap
No matter what is inside your tin or other container, fill in the gap at the top with crumpled waxed paper, says Jennifer Caccavo, a spokesperson for FedEx. You don’t want to give them any room to move around in there. If the cookies are in cellophane bags already, use crumpled tissue paper for a more festive effect.
Box ‘Em Up and Ship ‘Em Out
Once you have your treats secured in a container, use a sturdy corrugated box designed to ship in, says Kristen Petrella, a spokesperson for UPS.
Then be sure to have at least two inches of packing material on all sides. You can use crumpled newspaper, foam peanuts, bubble wrap, shredded paper, crumpled old plastic or paper bags, or do as Beranbaum does and fill up resealable bags with real popcorn and pack those around the treats as a bonus for the giftee. “Shake the box—if you can feel or hear any movement, add more cushioning!” says FedEx’s Caccavo.
Caccavo, Petrella, and Wigdel all advise you to write the recipient’s name and address on a note card stuck inside the box—if the exterior label falls off or becomes unreadable, the carrier can still get it to your giftee.
And skip the brown paper and string overwrap, since it “can potentially catch in package sorting equipment,” warns Petrella.
Seal the box with packing tape—not flimsy Scotch tape you stole from the office—clearly address it, and ship it out. And don’t wait too long!
Related Reading: The Best Mail Order Cookies, Cakes, and Pies You Can Have Delivered
Related Video: How to Make Your Sugar Cookies Sparkle
Header image courtesy of ingwervanille / Moment / Getty Images