How is everyone settling into 2018? The beginning of the year is hectic, but every year I forget that because of the lazy dream that is the end of December. For some, the holidays are chaotic, but for me, they’re slow. The end of my year, every year, is just eating, drinking, and going to Christmas parties, where you bring gifts of wine that you bought based solely on how much you like the label. But then January shows up and all the holiday decorations come down, everyone is eating Whole30, it’s freezing, and I’m expected to go outside? Of my house?!
The only good thing about January is that I switch from holiday movies back onto my regularly scheduled program of foreign ghost movies. (We watched a really terrifying Iranian one on Netflix the other day called Under the Shadow. Whoa.) I only recognize two seasons: Christmas and Halloween.
But let’s get to the matter at hand here: Cookies. My favorite cookie (excluding my Christmas go-to, the Chocolate Crinkle) is oatmeal raisin. Some might say I have bad taste in cookies. Some might even say that the humble oatmeal raisin is barely a cookie. But I won’t die on this hill–I’m not even a huge fan of cookies in general. Cake? Pie? Yes. Cookies… eh, sometimes. I know this might be dangerous to admit online, for the whole world to see. I have the same fear when I tell people I don’t really like wine (except for the labels). People stare at me like I’ve never even seen those “Rosé All Day” t-shirts.
I tried a new kind of cookie this week that might seem old-fashioned, too savory, and to have too many raisins. But it’s a winner. The Spicy Hermit cookie.
Very similar to a chewy gingerbread, recipes for the spicy hermit cookie was first printed as far back as the 1870’s, showing up in Midwestern newspapers. The earliest mentions of the cookie in the Northeast show up around 1896 in Buffalo, New York. Even though the recipe made it into Midwestern newspapers first, this particular recipe likely has its origins with the English-Scottish colonists in New England, as it is very similar to English plumb cakes and gingerbread recipes from Medieval times, which use molasses as an ingredient (instead of honey, a traditional ingredient in German gingerbread).
Where the name of the cookie comes from is also a mystery. It may have been chosen to describe the cookie’s lumpy, brown appearance, like a hermit’s robe. Another possibility for the name comes from the idea that these cookies would keep longer than others, because of their high fat and sugar content, and could be stored away, like hermits. In some recipes, the cookies are referred to as Harwich Hermits, which suggests they may have been created, or at least popularized, in Harwich, Massachusetts. In the cookbook, 250 Treasured Country Desserts, it’s said that because of their ability to keep for long periods, sailors on the New England coast would take the cookies out to sea with them.
There are thousands of recipes for hermit cookies. Sometimes they’re soft, sometimes they’re crisp. Sometimes they are made as a drop cookie (in the 50’s and 60’s they seemed to be a popular addition to children’s packed lunches), and sometimes as a bar. For this post, I made them into bars, because why should round cookies get to have all the fun? And also, it was a test to see if I like cookies better if they’re in bar form. Spoiler: I do.
Spicy Hermit Cookie Bars
Makes approximately 16 bars. This recipe is a variation of Ina Garten’s, changing the ingredients slightly, and using this article about the science of cookies to tweak the recipe for a more cake-like bar.
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and browned
1/4 cup dark molasses
2/3 cup golden raisins, minced
1/2 tsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg white
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
3-4 tbsp heavy cream
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, and salt.
In a pan, melt the butter until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes. You will know it’s done when it begins to smell nutty, and stops popping. Allow to cool.
In a bowl, combine the egg and egg white. Beat briefly until scrambled. Add in half of the brown sugar mixture and beat until smooth. Add the remaining brown sugar and beat until smooth and light brown in appearance. Stir in the molasses.
Pour the browned butter into the flour mixture and stir to combine. Next add the egg and molasses mixture, and the raisins and orange zest. Stir until combined. The mixture will be quite craggy and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour, but overnight is best.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two small, or one large, cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Pour the dough out onto a floured surface. Shape into a disc, cut it in half, and roll each half into a log about one foot in length.
Place each log on the cookie sheet, at least three inches apart.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 18-20 minutes, turning the pan about halfway through.
Remove from oven and allow to cool while you make the glaze. To make glaze, stir together the confectioner’s sugar and the heavy cream until smooth. Drizzle the mixture back and forth over the still-warm bars.
Allow to cool completely, cut into 1 1/2-inch bars, and enjoy!
A soft and chewy cookie bar, spiced with ginger, clove and nutmeg, rich with molasses–and of course, studded with raisins–is my kind of cookie. You might like it too, even if you prefer to drink your grapes instead of bake with them.