My friend and I have been hosting a holiday cookie exchange for more than 20 years. I’ve made the same cookie for every cookie party. I think I would be banned from my own party if I ever changed up and tried something else. I found the recipe in a book titled Merry Cookie! which was published in 1991, but I’ve seen other versions of this recipe around. These little gems are called Santa’s Whiskers.
It’s a simple butter cookie with pecans and candied red and green cherries, rolled in coconut (hence, the “whiskers”). My favorite part is that I whip up the dough sometime after Thanksgiving and throw the rolls in the freezer. Then the day of the party, all I have to do is slice and bake.
Cookie Exchange Wisdom
I have a couple tips to improve your participation in a cookie exchange. First, don’t try a new recipe for cookies the day of your cookie exchange. Pick a cookie you’ve made a few times. This way you’ll be confident in the prep and baking time. You also won’t be disappointed with cookies you don’t like.
Second, decide in advance how much time you want to put into your baking. December is always busy. Do you really want to take the time to ice 72 unique gingerbread people? As I mentioned, I prefer slice and bake cookies for exchanges. This gives you the freedom to break up the work between different days. I also suggest picking a recipe that makes pretty cookies without post-baking decoration.
A friend of my didn’t follow either tip one year. She tried a new recipe the morning of the party (party starts at 2pm). At 1:30pm she realized the icing still wasn’t dry so she was using a hair dryer on the cookies minutes before the party. The cookies were great, but she was pretty frazzled when she arrived. We still laugh about that.
Santa’s Whiskers Tips
I’ve learned a few tricks in making these over the years. Don’t chop the candied or glacé cherries in the food processor. They turn to mush. Rinse the cherries under warm water to get rid of all that excess sticky goo. Don’t overbake. You want them barely brown. Be careful if you have unsupervised teenagers in the house when these cookies are in the freezer.
After both of my girls had moved on after college, we were having one of those “did you know” conversations that always astounded me. I thought I was the all-knowing mother. Ha! I mentioned that my triple batch of Santa’s Whiskers seemed to be making many more cookies than I remembered. After they both burst into laughter, they confessed they had been going to freezer during the weeks before I baked the cookies and slicing off chunks of the cookie dough to eat. My oldest even taught the younger daughter how to slice off the nubby ends, take some dough, then reapply the nubby end. She also had a procedure in which she took dough from each and every roll, so as not to arise suspicion. It worked like a charm until they both moved out of the house and no one was there to steal cookie dough.
Santa’s Whiskers Recipe
1 C butter 1 t baking powder
1 C sugar ½ t salt
2 T milk 3/4 C chopped red candied cherries
1 t vanilla 3/4 C chopped green candied cherries
2 ½ C flour 3/4 C flaked coconut
Cream butter and sugar; blend in milk and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture with cherries and nuts. Mix until blended. Form dough into rolls 2 inches in diameter. Roll the logs in coconut, wrap in waxed paper and chill for at least 8 hours. Slice the cookies 1/4 inch thick. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet (I always bake on parchment paper) at 375 degrees, 12 minutes.