How to Ship Cookies and Other Treats for the Holidays

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.

Here are the tips you need to know to ship your baked goods and have them arrive on time and intact for Christmas.

SELECT YOUR COOKIES
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.

The Best Type of Cookies 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 Rose's Christmas Cookies. 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.

Not as Foolproof But Totally Doable: Use faster shipping methods for anything soft and moist, like brownies. 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.

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
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.

Also, 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. Tins are fine too, but you'll need to tape around the lid to add a seal and hedge your bets against the lid 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.

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. If you're just shipping one type of cookie, put sheets of waxed paper between the layers as you fill the tin. Either way, fill in the gap at the top with crumpled waxed paper, says Jennifer Caccavo, a spokesperson for FedEx.

BOX AND DELIVER
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 writing 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! Here's our last-minute slacker shipping chart.

DROP-DEAD DROP-OFFS FOR DELIVERY BEFORE CHRISTMAS

First Class: December 20
Priority Mail: December 21
Express Mail: December 22
USPS delivers only Express Mail to select areas (major cities, check with your post office to be safe!) on December 25.
Ground: December 16 (but better to ship earlier if possible)
Standard (overnight): December 22
FedEx does not schedule deliveries on December 25.
Caccavo says sometimes altruistic carriers will do volunteer deliveries in the event of severe weather, but don't count on it!
Ground: Most likely December 20
If you're shipping coast to coast, UPS advises customers to use its "time-in-transit" maps online to determine the exact number of days to allow for shipping to your recipient. It's possible you will need to ship earlier.
3 Day Select: December 20
2nd Day Air: December 22
Next Day Air: December 23
UPS does not deliver on December 25.
Mail and shipping deadlines on this page were updated on December 1, 2011.

Roxanne Webber is the former senior features editor at CHOW.com.