Hermit cookies are soft spicy bar cookies made with brown sugar, molasses and gingerbread spices. Both vegan and gluten-free option, they are easy to make and originated long ago in New England.
Old fashioned hermit cookies are a soft bar cookie full of spices and raisins. They have a uniquely candy flavor thanks to the addition of raisins marinated in coffee. Originally from my home based, New England, they are gaining popularity and I hope soon will be an everywhere-thing. Like when baking my gingerbread cookies decorated with my vegan royal icing, your kitchen will smell like a holiday dream.
Why You'll Love Hermits
These soft cookie bars are outrageously spicy. Full of cinnamon, molasses, and winter spices such as cloves, ginger and nutmeg, these cookies are a cousin to gingerbread cookies and a delight to bake.
They are nourishing. Using flax seed for eggs, no oil, and a mix of whole wheat flour and all purpose, these cookies are delicious and full of fiber and protein, potassium, and very high in iron
They are special diet friendly. If you need a vegan or dairy-free cookie, this fits the bill. To adjust them to be gluten-free, I provide an option in the recipe card.
So how do we make these cookies? First, here are the ingredients needed. They are pretty simple and probably are in your pantry right now.
Flour - I used a mix of whole wheat and all purpose and sometimes use gluten-free all purpose.
Flax seed eggs - I used ground flax seed to make two plant-based eggs. One tablespoon of ground flax seed with 3 tablespoon of water equals one egg.
Brown sugar - I use coconut palm sugar with is a healthier brown sugar but regular brown sugar is fine.
Molasses (the most important ingredient!) - This syrup is dark and smokey in flavor, and brings on the quintessential gingerbread flavors. Molasses comes in three flavors, black strap, light, and dark. All three can contain sulfur, but I try to buy unsulphured for a better flavor.
Shortening - I used a plant-based shortening that is actually nutritious, a mix of red palm and coconut oils.
Spices - I chose winter spices such as cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg
Raisins and coffee are also the special secret ingredients in this recipe.
How to Bake Hermit Cookies
Step 1: Gather ingredients, prep the flax seed egg, make the coffee and soak the raisins.
Step 2: Mix up the wet ingredients.
Step 3. Mix up the dry ingredients.
Step 4. Add the wet to the dry, add in coffee and fold in raisins.
Step 5. Chill the dough 1 hour and bake.
To bake, I suggest two ways:
First way: Put the batter into 2 (8-inch square) pans and bake as bar cookies. Slice and eat.
Second way: Divide batter into 4 and roll each into a flattish log about 10-inches by 2 ½ inches wide. Bake two at a time on a quarter cookie sheet lined with parchment.
Slice in angles like biscotti. Glaze or not! The bar style is the traditional way to bake a hermit cookie. But you can also just roll them and bake them as traditional molasses cookies.
1.Soak the raisins in a cup of instant coffee or freshly brewed.
2.For best flavor, pay close attention to the molasses you use. There are a few famous brands such as Plantation and Wholesome but the taste really matters in this cookie so I highly recommend you buy Grandma's Original Molasses. If you can't buy that brand, make sure you buy one that is unsulphured since the process of sulphering (to preserve it) changes the flavor negatively.
3.To make the hermit cookie plant-based, I had to make a few changes to the ingredients. I swapped the traditional shortening for non-GMO plant-based shortening, and used flax eggs instead of eggs.
History of Hermit Cookies
There are actually several theories surrounding the origin of this cookie. The first is that the hermit cookie is a bar cookie dating back to the early 1800s when a local Vermont baker would make a brown sugar cookie stuffed with spices and raisins and serve them to local hermits, lonely elderly who lived alone. Another story involves a cookie that sailors along New England coasts favored to bring on long voyages because the molasses allowed them to keep for many months.
Hermits may have a varied history but one thing is clear. They rarely crossed over to other states, although I've heard the recipe has popped up in some provinces in Canada.
I think this because I was born in Boston, Mass., but I have lived in Chicago, New York and St. Louis. And with each move, I was always surprised to learn that no one ever knew what I was talking about when I mentioned Hermit Cookies.
What is a Bar Cookie?
A bar cookie, according to Merriam Webster, is a sweetened baked good made into a rectangular shape and denser than a cake. Yep, that's a hermit cookie.
Does a Hermit Cookie Taste Like Gingerbread?
Sort of. A hermit cookie looks like a molasses hand cake. And they taste like a gingerbread cookie and a spice cake had a baby.
Now, of course, I haven't had these cookies in years because they aren't typically made vegan. And that, my friends, has been a big sacrifice on my part: Walking past the Martha's Vineyard bakery doors these past summers and not stopping to make a hermit run.
Then, one day, someone sent me some organic whole wheat flour. 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 hermit cookie bars in a recipe completely plant-based.
How to Serve These Cookies
To serve these cookies traditionally, shape them into flattened logs and slice them as you would biscotti. You can keep the cookies at room temperature for a week so they make the perfect gift.
They are also beautiful when served on a platter, plain or frosted.
Other Cookie Recipes
- Linzer Cookies
- Chocolate Sugar Cookies
- 2-Ingredient Holiday Cookies
- Samoa Cookies, 4-Ingredient & No Bake
- Healthy M&M Cookies
- Milano Cookies
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- ½ cup molasses (I used original or dark)
- ½ cup organic shortening
- ½ cup organic cane sugar
- ½ cup coconut palm sugar (or brown sugar)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ⅓ cup hot strong coffee
- 2 flax eggs (2 tablespoon ground flaxseed + 5 tablespoon water) (Or use ⅓ cup apple sauce)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free baking flour)
- 2 cup whole wheat flour (or 1 cup oat flour + 1 cup gf baking flour)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 2 cups raisins
- Gather and measure ingredients. 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 or brew ⅓ cup of strong coffee. Pour over raisins and set aside to marinate in the coffee until ready to add to the mixture.
Mix the cookies
- Use a cake mixer or a hand-mixer to blend together the shortening, flax eggs and both sugars in a medium bowl.½ cup organic shortening, ½ cup organic cane sugar, 2 flax eggs, ½ cup coconut palm sugar
- Stir in the molasses.½ cup molasses
- In another larger bowl, mix up the two flours, soda, salt, and spices.1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 2 cup whole wheat flour, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon cloves, ¼ teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon ginger
- Add the wet mixture to the large flour bowl, and mix the batter until thoroughly combined.
- Drain the raisins, but reserve the coffee and add it to the batter and mix again. Add water to the coffee to make sure the level of liquid reaches ⅓ cup.⅓ cup hot strong coffee, 2 cups raisins
- Fold in the raisins, and store the batter, covered, in the refrigerator for 1 hour before baking. I normally cut a soft X in the batter so it chills in 4 quadrants.
- When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F.
Bake the cookies
- You can 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:
- Step 1. Divide the batter into four portions.
- Step 2. Hand-form 4 logs that are roughly 10 inches long, 2 ½ inches wide, and flattish. I baked two logs at a time. To do this, form two logs at a time, side by side, on the parchment-lined quarter cookie sheet. They don't have to look perfect; as they bake, they will raise, spread slightly and crack like cookies.
- Step 3. Bake the logs for 18-20 minutes at 350 F. The cookie log is done when a few cracks appear on top so if you don't see cracks, leave them in a minute longer.
- Pull out the pan and let the cookie logs cool a minute or so. They may have bumped into each other, but once cool you can gently pull them apart.Then slice at an angle, at 2-3 inches wide intervals. I get about 8-10 cookies per log.
- We sometimes iced ours with my Vegan Royal Icing, but we also kept some with no topping. Other traditions are to sprinkle sugar or cinnamon before baking.
- They stay soft and stay fresh covered and at room temperature for a week. Then refrigerate or freeze in a container as you would other cookies.