Old Fashioned Spice Hermit Cookies (vegan, dairy-free)
Martha’s Vineyard, the island off the coast of Massachusetts, is a magical place, even to a born and bred New Englander like myself. If you’ve ever read the children’s book “If Once You Sleep on An Island?“, you’d understand somewhat the magic of an island.
I actually discovered MV with my high school friends and later I met my husband whose family owns a home there. Now we spend time during the summer there, so Martha’s Vineyard will forever be in our family history.
Through the chilly seasons back in DC, we remember those warm summer details fondly – bike rides to the wild Katama beach, the quaint town parade on Fourth of July when town managers throw hard candies at parade watchers from open convertibles, walks on the dock in downtown Vineyard Haven on misty mornings, and Saturdays meandering through the farmer’s market in Chilmark..
And one of my favorite memories is of the hermit cookies from a bakery in Edgartown.
An Ancient Recipe: Hermit Cookies
The cookies are a cross between a molasses cookie and a gingerbread cake so they are really hand-cakes. And they aren’t exclusive to this bakery. They are an ancient cookie recipe, some say dating back to the 1800s. But it seems to have stayed within the borders of the states of New England (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine).
As you probably know if you’ve been following me, I was born and raised in Boston, but I have lived in Chicago, New York and St. Louis, and no one there ever understands me when I ask about hermit cookies.
Now, of course, I haven’t had them in a few years because they aren’t typically made vegan. And that, my friends, has been a big sacrifice on my part. Walking past the bakery doors and not stopping to make a hermit run. My family chuckles at me because, actually, I have to admit, they were my favorite more than anyone else’s. It’s as though, my husband tells me, I was born with a cinnamon-ginger-spice-deficit and have been trying to make up for it ever since.
This month, Bob’s Red Mill sent me his organic stone ground whole wheat flour and as soon as I saw the bag, all brown and old fashioned looking, a bell went off in my head.
A hermit bell.
And I set about re-constructing the recipe completely plant-based.
Making a Plant-Based Hermit Cookie
I swapped the shortening for coconut non-GMO shortening, used coconut palm sugar, Bob’s flour and flax eggs. There were a few other tweaks and since I had never made hermits of any kind before, I actually had to make the recipe three times to get it right.
Even with this last version that I am sharing, I think a few changes could still be made – perhaps another flax egg, perhaps a bit less clove and more cinnamon or ginger. I also tried baking them two ways:
The first time I made them the traditional way, creating two dough rolls about 10 inches long by 2 1/2 inches wide, flattening them, laying them side by side on a parchment-covered cookie sheet, and baking them at 350 degrees F for about 16-18 minutes. This is the traditional way and my recipe came out best this way, cooked through.
The second time I tried making them like a traditional bar cookie, pressing them into a square pan lined with parchment paper. The dough didn’t cook through in the middle. It might have been because it needed a longer cook. Still, I prefer the traditional log formation best. Once the logs are cooked, one slices them at a diagonal to make a sort of fat biscotti hand cakes. Hmm..a new name for hermits? Haha..
Let me know what you think and I’d welcome any recommended changes, especially from fellow New-Englanders, who like myself, grew up with this wonderfully haunting cookie always within hand’s reach.
Old Fashioned Spice Hermit Cookies (vegan, dairy-free)
Makes 30-40 cookies
- 1/2 cup molasses (I used original or dark)
- 1/2 cup non-gmo coconut shortening
- 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
- 1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 cup hot strong coffee
- 2 flax eggs 2 tbsp + 6 tbsp water
- 1 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
- 2 cup stone ground whole wheat flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp cloves
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1 cup unsulfured raisins
Line a quarter cookie sheet with parchment.
Stir together two tablespoons of flax eggs with six tablespoons of water and let sit 5 minutes before using.
Make coffee very strong, you'll need 1/2 cup. Add in the raisins to marinate in the coffee until ready to add to the mixture.
Mix the Hermits
Use a cake mixer or a hand-mixer to blend together the shortening and both sugars in a medium bowl. Stir in the molasses.
In another larger bowl, add the two flours, soda, salt, and spices by stirring them through a fine sieve. Or, of course, you can use a sifter. And sometimes I just stir the powders together vigorously.
Add the wet shortening mixture to the large flour bowl, and mix the batter until thoroughly combined
Drain the raisins, reserving the coffee in a measuring cup. Top off the cup of coffee until it reaches 1/2 cup. Add that 1/2 cup of coffee to the batter and mix again until thoroughly combined.
Fold in the raisins, and store the batter, covered, in the refrigerator for 1 hour before baking.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F.
Bake the Hermits
You can just press the dough into 2 8-inch square pans and bake like a bar cookie, but the traditional way to make a hermit cookie is thus:
Divide the batter into four portions.
Hand form 4 logs that are roughly 10 inches long, 2 1/2 inches wide, and flattish. I baked two logs at a time.
To do this, set two logs at a time, side by side, on the parchment-lined quarter cookie sheet and bake the logs for 16-18 minutes at 350F. The cookie log is done when a few cracks appear on top.
Pull out the pan and let the cookie logs cool a minute or so, then slice at an angle, at 2-3 inches wide intervals. We got about 8 cookies per roll.
We iced ours eventually, but we also kept some with no topping. Other traditions are to sprinkle sugar or cinnamon before baking.
If you try making hermits, tag me on Instagram! I'd love to see!
Thank you Bob’s Red Mill for sponsoring this post. The recipe, ideas, content and opinions expressed here are all my own. I do recommend you try Bob’s Red Mill products, you will be so inspired by all their healthy unique products!