Hermit Cookie Recipe. A soft spicy hand-cake cookie that is the perfect holiday gift as well as a treat for your dessert table. This gingerbread cookie is dairy-free, vegan, and bursting with spicy flavors of cinnamon, ginger and molasses !
Spicy Hermit Cookie Recipe
I first got the idea for a spicy hermit cookie recipe while on Martha's Vineyard. This vineyard is a beautiful island off the coast of Massachusetts, and it is a magical place, even to a New Englander like myself. I say this because New England is awash with islands, but MV is something special.
Through the chilly winters here in DC, we remember warm summer vacations there fondly - bike rides to the wild Katama beach, the quaint Fourth of July parade, dawn walks on the Vineyard Haven dock and farmer's markets in Chilmark. And one of my favorite memories, the hermit gingerbread cookies from a bakery in Edgartown.
First let's talk about what a hermit cookie is.
Why are they called Hermit Cookies?
A plain 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 says sailors along New England coasts made them before long voyages because the molasses allowed them to keep for many months.
Hermits may have a varied history but one thing is clear. They never crossed the borders of New England states. (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine).
Personally I was born in Boston, Mass., but I have lived and still visit in Chicago, New York and St. Louis. And this is relevant because no one ever understands me in those locations when I talk about hermit cookies outside of New England.
How did the Hermit Cookie Get Its Name?
No matter the origin of the hermit cookie, everyone agrees on the language behind the name ‘hermit’. Apparently the name comes from the Dutch word "koekje" meaning little cake. And that’s exactly what it is.
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 is like a molasses handcake. 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 Bob's Red Mill sent me his 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 Make A Vegan Hermit Cookie
To make a plant-based hermit cookie, 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.
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.
Main Ingredients for Hermit Cookie Recipe
Flour - I used a mix of whole wheat and all purpose and sometimes use gluten-free all purpose.
Flaxseed eggs - I used ground flaxseed to make two plant-based eggs. One tbsp of ground flaxseed with 3 tbsp of water equals one egg.
Coconut palm sugar - Is a healthier sugar but you can also use brown sugar.
Molasses - This syrup is dark and smokey in flavor, and brings on the quintessential gingerbread flavors. Molasses comes in five flavors, blackstrap, light, and dark. All three can contain sulfur, but I try to buy unsulphured for a better flavor.
Spices - I chose winter spices such as cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg
How to Bake Hermit Gingerbread Cookies
I also tried baking them two ways:
The first time I made the this hermit gingerbread cookie recipe as long bars, sliced, angled like biscotti.
To do this, I created two dough rolls about 10 inches long by 2 ½ inches wide, flattened them, and lay them side by side on a parchment-covered cookie sheet. I baked them at 350 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 made this gingerbread cookie recipe, I made them as 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 cake. Hmm..a new name for hermits? Haha..
Advantages to a Hermit Cookie Recipe
There are advantages to making gingerbread-like hermit cookies as opposed to a cut-out gingerbread cookie. The most obvious is you don't have to roll it out and cut it into shapes. I know cut out cookies are fun but non-cutout cookies are best when you are short on time but still want an amazingly spicy cookie that is really pretty in presentation.
Other advantages are the dough freezes well long-term, the baked cookies are easy to store, and easy to transport in a lunch box. And they are nutritious, full of protein and potassium, and very high in iron.
How to Use These Hermit Cookies
These cookies are easy to wrap as a gift, and stay soft at room-temperature.
They are also beautiful when served on a platter, plain or frosted. I made a vegan cream cheese frosting here, but they are just as good unfrosted.
Another excellent easy dessert recipe is my homemade Marzipan recipe. Also known as Almond Paste.
Are you interested in more spicy ginger recipes? Ginger is a great detoxer, as well as an antiseptic. Try these recipes that depend on ginger:
Chocolate Spice Cake
Spice khao soi thai soup
Other Cookie Recipes of Mine to Try
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Hermit Cookie Recipe
- 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 tsp baking soda
- ½ cup hot strong coffee
- 2 flax eggs (2 tbsp + 6 tbsp water) (Or use ⅓ cup apple sauce)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free all-purpose flour)
- 2 cup whole wheat flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp cloves
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1 cup 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 ½ cup. Add in the raisins 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. 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.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 ½ cup. Add that ½ 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 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:Divide the batter into four portions.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, 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 350 F. 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!
Dee Dine is founder of Green Smoothie Gourmet, a plant based recipe blog, and author of the recent cookbook, Crazy Healthy with 4 Ingredients and another immunity-boosting smoothie shot book, 4-Ingredient Smoothies + Juices , due out in January 2021. On this blog you'll find incredibly easy recipes with hidden veggies for anyone wanting to eat healthier, regardless of diet. Dee has graduate degrees in sciences and journalism, editor at The Feedfeed and a nutritional expert at WikiHow. More about Dee Dine here.