Shipping news: well-traveled treats

I live 1,066.87 miles from my mom. So, much as I’d love to, I can’t just drop by with a just-baked batch of homemade cookies.

I love to bake. Mom does, too; but these days, she finds it increasingly difficult. Heading towards 90, her hands don’t work like they used to. Scooping cookie dough is a long process. Pie crust doesn’t roll out smoothly. Thank God for her bread machine, which kneads the dough for her famous pizza.

Mom is getting older, but thankfully she still has her appetite. And one of our greatest joys is the regular back-and-forth we have around cookies.

“Mom, I’m going to send you some cookies. What kind do you want?”

Her selections run the gamut. Double-Shot Mocha Chunks are definitely the default, but she loves sugar cookies, oatmeal, lemon, butterscotch, all the old favorites – except molasses, which I think remind her of the Depression, a hungry time she’d rather forget.

Since I do it so often, I’ve got the “mailing goodies to Mom” thing down pat. But it occurred to me, with the holidays coming on, that some of you might appreciate my sharing the things I’ve learned about successfully sending a package of homemade goodies on a 1,000-mile trip.

And that includes sharing the mistakes I’ve made along the way. After all, that’s our motto here in the King Arthur Flour test kitchen: We make mistakes so you don’t have to.

So, let’s rule out the things you SHOULDN’T do when mailing cookies cross-country – and arrive at the things you SHOULD.

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I like the medium-size Priority boxes ($12.65 to mail), which come in both flat and taller shapes. The larger, flatter box is ideal for brownies, bars, and candy.

I’ve tried various shipping methods, and have settled on the U.S. Postal Service’s flat-rate Priority Mail box as the best option. The goodies will arrive in just 2-3 days, not too much the worse for wear if I pack them carefully. And I always know the price ahead of time: Priority Mail is priced by the box’s size, not its weight (so long as you choose the “flat rate” box).

Besides, it’s really easy to go to the post office, select the size box I want, go home and fill it up, and bring it back to the post office to mail. No figuring out the location or hours of the nearest pack & ship, and wondering about weight and price. With the post office, I know it’ll be $12.65 to send a medium-sized box of goodies anywhere in the country.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “$12.65 is a lot of money to pay for a box of cookies.” It is indeed – if that’s how you choose to see it. But I consider $12.65 a very small price to pay for making my mom happy.

By the way, see that roll of packing tape? The paper clip on the end prevents the end from sticking itself to the rest of the roll, so that you have to first find it, then try to pick and scrape it off… Just thought I’d share that tip, which has saved me a ton of aggravation over the years.

OK, let’s get to the goodies.

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If you’re mailing brownies or bars (these are Crazy Blonde Brownies), it helps to line your pan with aluminum foil, which will become wrapping after the bars are baked. Be sure to leave overhang on both ends, so you can lift the baked bars out of the pan easily.

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Plastic produce containers are useful for sturdy treats – like this Chocolate-Cranberry Bark

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…but not so good for cookies. You’ll see why in a minute.

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I’m packing this flat Priority box with the blonde brownies, the chocolate bark… and a couple of “souvenirs” from the beach. Mom enjoys these little extras.

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My other package (a large Priority box) includes sugar cookies (in both plastic container and bag), biscotti, and a can of almonds, since there’s extra room. I figure crumpled newspaper is sufficient padding for the journey.

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Into the car, down to the PO, onto the scale…

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And 3 days later, success! The boxes arrive in Florida. As do I – I’ve flown down for a visit, arriving the same day as my goodies.

But wait a minute… I can hear crumbs shaking around inside when I pick up a box.

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Despite very hot weather, the bark’s made the journey just fine.

But the cookies…

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…not so good.

Even the sturdy biscotti suffered some damage, so clearly, crumpled newspaper padding isn’t the way to go.

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What about using other types of food as protective packaging?

I bake up more cookies – Snickerdoodles and Fudge Drops this time – and stir together a batch of Choco-Mallow.

I take advantage of some pantry items Mom says she doesn’t need. Leftover marshmallows from the Choco-Mallow go into the bottom of the box, followed by the goodies, followed by a bag of almonds and some K-cups to secure everything in place.

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Zoom, zoom, I fly back home…

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…and find the cookies survived the trip better than they did when snuggled in wadded-up newsprint. But still ended up partially crumbled.

OK, plan C: come on down, bubble wrap!

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Bubble wrap in the bottom. A layer of Fudge Brownies (brownies baked in an 8″ x 8″ pan snuggle nicely into a medium-size Priority box). A layer of Chocolate Chip Cookies. Then some more of that sturdy chocolate bark; and a bag of Vanilla-Orange Cranberry Cookies.

Notice I said a BAG, not a plastic container. Another thing I learned: cookies do best when packed in a shallow, flat bag; try not to stack them any higher than two layers deep.

Also, smaller cookies – drop cookies made with a teaspoon cookie scoop, rather than tablespoon scoop, so that they’re just 2″ to 2 1/2″ in diameter – are less likely to crumble than larger cookies.

Without another quick trip to Florida planned, I decide to send this box to a willing friend in Colorado.

Willing both to take pictures of the goodies after their journey, and willing to enjoy said goodies as well! Thank you, Brendan!

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I mailed the box Saturday. It arrived in Colorado Monday, a journey of 1,816.5 miles – somewhat the worse for wear, it looks like.

BUT –

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The goodies were good to go!

Brownies moist and intact. Check.

Cookies uncrumbled. Check.

Bark not melted. Check.

Recipients happy. CHECK.

Your takeaways?

•USPS Priority Mail is reliably fast and relatively cost-effective.
•Choose cookies that are pretty sturdy to begin with; i.e., pizzelles aren’t a good choice.
•Spread cookies one or two layers deep in plastic zip-top bags.
•Consider sending bars and candy – both seem to do quite well.

Oh, and one final piece of advice – sending a birthday cake through the mail isn’t a particularly good idea.

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Trust me, I tried it.

Hey, it was only 190 miles; I figured, what could go… wrong.

Still tasted good, though – mashed icing and all!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Kassie

    Any suggestions on mailing cinnamom rolls? I’ve gotten some requests to mail the ones I bake and sell but I don’t know how to get them to the destination guaranteed that they won’t be dry or stale in texture. Also, pre frosted or frosting separate from the baked rolls? Priority mail seems to be the way to go! Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Kassie, if you have the option to vacuum-pack them, that definitely helps! We definitely recommend mailing them un-iced, however. For mailing to family and friends, we often suggest sending them along with the icing recipe, so that they can finish them off on their own and it’s almost like you baked them together. For customers, though, we’d suggest either forgoing icing altogether or figuring out a way to get your icing into a safe and sealed container in the same box. Good luck on your shipping endeavor! Kat@KAF

  2. Deborah

    I am sending decorated cookies to my brother. This is probably not a good choice of cookie. However, I was thinking that perhaps using my Food Saver vacuum sealing machine for each layer of cookies (so they couldn’t Move around) with bubble wrap between layers might help them arrive in one piece. Has anyone tried this method before?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Deborah! We haven’t tried that technique before. If you give it a go you’ll want to be careful that you don’t vacuum seal them too tightly or your icing may get squished. Bubble wrap on the bottom of the box and between the layers would definitely be a good idea though! Best of luck! Morgan@KAF

  3. Gretchen Foster

    I like to send plates of a variety of cookies. I have learned to wrap each variety separately in plastic wrap so my lemon cookies don’t end up with a peanut butter aroma.
    Also, for packing material I sometimes use a plastic bag filled with plain (unbuttered, unsalted) popcorn.

    Reply
  4. Marie

    Hi, I have been successfully shipping birthday cakes to my daughter since she went to college in 1980. First, make the cake in a loaf pan, frost as usual, place on a cake board, then wrap in wax paper (her suggestion). Place the cake in a shoe box, then in a medium size flat rate box, pad bottom, sides and top. Mail away. The wax paper is easier to scrape the frosting from and put back on the cake when necessary according to the recipient, I continue to do this every spring as she lives far away.

    Reply
    1. Cindy Gonyea

      I ha e been shipping outrageous amounts of baked goods to my son d family for the last six years when they moved from Massachusetts to Arizona and I found that wrapping the cookie by two in wax paper before putting tem in whatever box I can find (I save all boxes that come through the house that I think are good for this use so I usually have a collection ) then pad the shipping box with newspaper or bubble wrap. I have yet to have any of the goodies broken or smashed during shipping.

  5. Theresa

    Trying use a plastic cake plate (you know the ones that walmart has their cakes on) when you do the cake. Make sure to tape down the sides again with heavy tape and cushion the cake that way. I have done that with my boyfriend.

    Reply
  6. Marisa Plemer in Hawaii

    I decided to make chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies using some whole wheat and AP KA flour, half butter/half Earth Balance vegan butter. I took the suggestion about making small teaspoon size cookies. I’ve had great success sending cookies inter island from Oahu to Maui to daughter by wrapping cookies bottoms together in Saran and packing into the plastic firm packaging for apples I buy at Costco. Into each rounded depression for Apple place the Saran wrapped cookies. Then use bubble wrap around the apple container (Costco sells with between 9-12 apples in each). Daughter says ginger snaps I baked arrived totally perfect. But today I’m sending cookies to Alaska so I need to use a Flat Rate Priority box that will hold this plastic apple container. Have to experiment with sizes…THANK YOU KA BLOG LADIES FOR GREAT HELP POINTING ME TO THIS SITE! Hurray for King Arthur Flour! I Buy lots of it here for my baking and use the many good recipes.

    Reply

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