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Jul 06, 2019 8:48am

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Blog Recipes and Tips From Julia Usher

Packing Cookies for the Long Haul

If you’ve ever worked in the wedding cake business, you’ll appreciate why I always approached delivery day with an impending sense of doom. After putting hundreds of hours into each wedding cake, I shuddered at the thought of any misstep that might put my “babies” at risk. Bridezilla or not, few brides have tolerance for lopsided tiers, fingerprint-pocked icing, or - God forbid - cake on the dance floor. Delivering cakes is a high stakes operation, and so too is transporting decorated cookies - especially if you approach the trip unprepared. But, fortunately, I’ve already done much of the agonizing for you. If you follow these instructions, your next cookie excursion should be uneventful - and I mean “uneventful” in the best of ways!

To know in advance: Most of these tips focus on packing for long-distance air travel, which requires extra compact packing. But since most of you will be packing for shorter journeys, I start with a few quick tips for car travel. For other cookie storage instructions (such as how long to let icing dry before covering cookies, optimum storage time to ensure freshness, etc.), check out my new book Ultimate Cookies. It covers these topics - and more - in great detail!

What you’ll need for packing about 150 cookies:

  • 3 to 4 large (about 26 1/2 x 18 1/2 x 3-inch) heavy-duty corrugated cardboard bakery boxes (for car travel) or 2 cupcake caddies* (for air travel)
  • Bubble wrap, the type with small (3/8-inch) bubbles
  • A few 30-gallon garbage bags (for car travel) or 13-gallon garbage bags (for air travel)
  • Painter’s masking tape, i.e., the blue stuff that easily peels off surfaces
  • Parchment paper, ideally flat sheets such as those used to line bakery boxes
  • Scissors

*Note: Not all cupcake caddies are created equal. I use the Container Store’s Snap n’ Stack 2-tier caddy because the cupcake inserts flip over to make another flat surface for stacking cookies. They also fit perfectly under plane seats, so they needn’t be stored in overhead compartments or checked, where they’ll most likely meet an unhappy fate. (Psst . . . check out this page for the latest discounts on Container Store products.)

Packing Tips:

For car travel:
1| I prefer to use broad, heavy-duty bakery boxes (top photo) that accommodate many decorated cookies laid in a single layer. I never stack fully decorated cookies on top of one another, simply because if the decorations have any amount of relief, they will most certainly get rubbed off with even minimal jostling in the car.

2| To keep cookies from sliding and hitting the sides of the box, it’s best to line the box bottom with bubble wrap rather than parchment paper (second photo). If the boxes will be exposed to humid conditions, it’s also best to contain them in garbage bags to keep the cookies completely airtight until their big reveal. Large 30-gallon bags are needed to fully enclose a 26 1/2 x 18 1/2 x 3-inch bakery box that fits a full-size sheet pan, the size shown in the top photo. I buy my boxes wholesale, but similar boxes, and smaller versions, can also be found online.

3| Lastly, if you’re wondering about all the blue painter’s tape on the boxes, I use it primarily for labeling the box contents (since it easily peels off when I need to relabel the box). But I also use it to reinforce the box corners, once assembled. (The boxes come flat.)

For air travel:
1| In this case, large bakery boxes will not do, unless you plan to check them, which will be the last you see of whole cookies! Given the amount of book-touring that I do, it was essential for me to find a more compact mode of transport. So, as you can well imagine, I was delighted to discover that the 2-tier Snap n’ Stack caddies (third photo) can be converted to 4-tier caddies simply by turning their interior white cupcake holders upside down. As with bakery boxes, I like to line the bottom of each tier with bubble wrap to prevent cookie-skidding; I also tape the wrap in place with painter’s tape.

2| If you have to travel with as many cookies as I do (about 150 at a time), then there’s no getting around the stacking of cookies, unfortunately. Typically, I travel with 50 or so fully decorated cookies and another 100 in WIP (work in process), which are either undecorated or simply topcoated, and therefore more amenable to stacking. This number fully fills two cupcakes caddies, which is as much as one is allowed to carry on. If you need to fly with more than 50 decorated cookies, then design them with a minimum of relief so that decorating details will not rub off when stacked. (Marbled and rubber-stamped cookies are perfect choices in this case, since they can still be very showy even if completely flat.)

Long ago I learned the hard way to avoid stacking iced cookies directly on top of one another. Even if they’re simply topcoated and have no do-dads on top that could rub off, oils on the underside of the cookies will leave spots on the icing on the cookies underneath. To separate cookie layers, I prefer to use parchment paper to bubble wrap, as the latter can also leave marks on the cookie icing. Plus, parchment paper takes up less room and allows me to fit more cookie layers per caddy tier. I also prefer to use sheet (unrolled) parchment paper for this task. It lies perfectly flat so there’s no risk of corners curling up and breaking off delicate piped icing details. (Seriously, this can happen!)

This said, I usually start by cutting out 16 pieces of parchment paper (fourth photo), 2 for each of the 4 tiers in each caddy, since 3 cookie layers can fit on each tier.

3| Next, I put my un-iced cookies down as a first layer, directly on the bubble wrap, and spread them evenly across all of the caddies (fifth photo). Distributing them this way minimizes the number of cookies that sit on iced cookies. Even when cookie layers are separated with parchment paper, cookie oils can sometimes leach through the paper and spot icing, so this is just an extra safeguard against spotting.

4| Plain topcoated cookies form the second layer on each level (sixth photo), since they have no decorations on them that can rub or break off in transit. Again, I separate layers hereafter with parchment paper, for the reasons noted in Step 2.

5| Last in, on the third and top layer in each tier, are all of the finished cookies (seventh photo).

6| I’m almost done. Next, the lids get snapped into place on each caddy, and the seams of the caddies get sealed with my beloved painter’s tape. (The lids otherwise fit quite loosely and are definitely not air-tight . . . and we all know that humidity is the enemy of iced cookies!)

7| The finishing touch: the caddies get cloaked in garbage bags. (I cut a slit in the bottom of each bag and then slide the caddy handle through the slit). Even if it doesn’t rain while I’m traveling, I like to keep inquiring eyes off the cookies. Otherwise, I get too many silly questions (Are those real cookies? Can you eat them?) and too many requests for tastes! My cookies are precious cargo, so tasting and tampering are entirely disallowed - at least until the cookies land safely back on the ground!

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Yes Mam!  They most assuredly are precious cargo!  Beautiful as well I’m sure.

By AmyRuth on June 01, 2012

Thanks, Amy Ruth! I hope this tutorial was helpful to you!

By Julia M Usher on June 03, 2012

Great post Julia - thanks!

By Anne @ Have a Cookie! on November 29, 2012

You’re welcome, Anne. I learned the hard way, so happy to share what works for me.

By Julia M Usher on November 29, 2012

Thank you for the info on packing large amounts of cookies, I bake a lot of them and couldn’t figure a safe to travel with them! Lisa

By Lisa Cook on August 30, 2015

Thanks, Lisa! I travel all of the time with them this way - just got back from Argentina, in fact, with two caddies in tow! Happy decorating and traveling! :)

By Julia M Usher on August 30, 2015

Do you think I could stack them if they’re half iced? Which means I’d stack the un-iced part on the iced part of the cookies. Thank you!

By Dee on December 01, 2015

Hi, Dee, I’m not completely sure what you mean by half-iced, but I generally avoid stacking uniced or iced cookies directly on top of iced ones, as they can rub against one another, and delicate icing details and borders can get knocked off. And even if the cookies are completely flat, the butter from the top cookie can leach into the icing of the cookie underneath, leaving spots. If you have to stack them for more space (and I have), then it’s best to stack only completely flat cookies (so no details get rubbed off) and to put a piece of parchment paper or paper towel between them to prevent the butter from leaching through. Some still might get through, but this is the best safeguard I know. Thanks for the good question!

By Julia M Usher on December 01, 2015

Thanks for the reply, Julia! Sorry I wasn’t clear enough. I plan on icing the lower half of the cookies. Can I stack the top un iced part on the bottom iced part? And alternate? Or is it possible for me to place a sheet of parchment paper between layers?

By Dee on December 04, 2015

Hi, Dee, I’m still not completely envisioning what you’re trying to do, but I generally never stack uniced or iced cookies directly on iced cookies for the reasons I noted above. If I have to stack them this way to get more in the container due to limited carry-on space, I will either put parchment paper or paper towel between them, but as noted above, you may still get oils leaching through the paper if they sit too long on top of each other.

By Julia M Usher on December 04, 2015

I need to ship wedding cookies that have a confectionate sugar icing.  They are lemon flavored and are a drop cookie.  How would I ship these so the icing doesn’t melt and the cookie doesn’t crumble. Shipping from Pittsburgh, PA to LA for my son’s wedding and how should I ship them by UPS

By sherryesser on August 06, 2017

Hi, Sherry, I don’t do much shipping any more, but when I had my bakery, I individually bagged cookies (the bag acts as a cushion), and packed them vertically in a box; then placed that box in another box surrounded by popcorn/bubble wrap. But, mind you, I was shipping highly decorated cookies; you may be able to get away with less protection on simple drop cookies. Best of luck!

By Julia M Usher on August 08, 2017

I’m making cookies for my cousins wedding in March. There will probably be 150-200 individually wrapped, sugar and royal icing cookies, and I am TERRIFIED something will go wrong. Since I’m wrapping them ahead of time, can I just stack them flat on top of each other in containers? Have you ever had any trouble carrying them on (issues getting through security?) My other thought was to ship them ahead, but I’m afraid that would cause more damage than flying potentially would.

By Katie on February 14, 2018

Hi, Katie! Sorry for the delayed response. For some reason, I never got notification of your message. You can stack the cookies as long as there are no decorations on top of them that could rub off by having them placed this way. I’ve only had trouble getting them through security when a security agent has picked up a box and tilted it. You have to watch them like a hawk, and advise them that if they need to check the package or adjust it on the belt that the box cannot be tilted, the items are extremely fragile, and you would prefer to handle the box at all times. But I’ve never had a security machine tag them for additional opening or screening.

By Julia M Usher on February 16, 2018

I have to transport 150 meriange cookies from SF to Seattle. Any ideas.

By Joanne on February 20, 2018

Hi, Joanne, My process would be exactly what I described above, though I would probably line the boxes with parchment paper, as you wouldn’t want the meringues sticking to shelf liner material. And then make sure the boxes are completely airtight, and then wrapped in plastic and/or bagged in big plastic bags (garbage bags) to be sure they’re doubly airtight. Meringues are quite susceptible to humidity, and will get sticky if exposed to even the slightest bit of it. Hope this helps.

By Julia M Usher on February 22, 2018

Hello Julia, do you know if there is a way I can preserve baked Cookies for a week? I want to give them to my sister but the problem is, I will get on a plane, stay somewhere for a week, then get on another plane, and reach her,do you have any advice that could help me? thank you in advance!

By Hamsa Samaha on March 24, 2018

Hi, Hamsa, Decorated cookies actually have a pretty long shelf life. If you just box them in an airtight container (i.e., sealed plastic), they should be fine for a week. You could also individually wrap them in cellophane bags if you wanted to be on the safe side, but, if you have a lot, I’d just put them in sealed plastic containers and save myself the trouble of bagging them all. Best of luck, and thanks for reaching out!

By Julia M Usher on March 26, 2018

Thank you so much for replying Julia!  i LOVE sugar cookies but unfortunately my sister across the country doesnt, do you think chocolate chip cookies would last? for how long?

Also, in an airtight container, do I store them in a freezer or fridge or do I just leave them outside?
In case of having to store them in a freezer or fridge, how should i deal with them after I take them out and head to my next flight? would ice crystals have formed on them? or do i just grab tge box and leave?
I’m sorry for being such a hassle! thank you once again.

By Hamsa Samaha on March 26, 2018

Hi, Hamsa, Yes, chocolate chip cookies should work fine if stored the same way - airtight container at room temperature. No need to chill baked cookies.

By Julia M Usher on March 26, 2018