These soft and chewy, gingery cookie bars are the ultimate holiday cookie.
They originated in New England in the 1900’s, and supposedly gained their name because the flavor improves on day 2 or 3, after being stowed away like a “hermit”—perfect for making ahead and giving as gifts. This is a modern version, with brown butter, crystallized ginger, and raisins. I just can’t stop eating them!
My mother-in-law once raved about the “best cookie she ever tasted in her life,” and she managed to get the recipe from a friend in Calgary, Canada—Sam’s hometown.
I was reluctant, because neither Sam nor I usually like dried fruit in cookies. But his folks convinced us how fabulous these fruity “ginger cookies” were, and I decided to brave the very basic recipe she gave me.
The whole process was agonizing!
I had scoured the internet for a recipe with similar ingredients and instructions, and discovered that they were actually called “Hermits.” But I couldn’t find exact details on how long or wide to make the logs of dough, how big to cut them, how many cookies it would turn out, etc. If you’ve been following any of my other posts, you’ll know that I LOVE details, so this one was a challenge.
The baking times were very tricky, but I FINALLY got it right, and they were outstanding. (I now realize that since the recipe was from Calgary—which is at a higher altitude—I should’ve reduced the oven temp by 25 degrees.)
I was still in search of a better version
I’m not a fan of cloves—a predominant note in the Calgary recipe, which also has dried apricots and raisins or cherries. I was sure that a different combination of spices would make this cookie really shine.
The problem with making something everybody likes is that they will compare everything similar to that and tell you not to bother!
I tried Iced Hermits from Martha Stewart’s Cookies (fabulous book!)—also with crystallized ginger.
I thought they were quite good (though a bit rich), but Sam vetoed them in favor of the originals.
You can imagine my delight when I found a detailed recipe for Hermits in my Cook’s Illustrated Baking for the Holidays 2012 magazine.
Now I love this magazine even more! (You can find them for a great price at Costco.)
They test hundreds of recipes to find the perfect version, explaining the science of each step and method, complete with beautiful photos and directions.
I couldn’t wait to try their recipe, which sounded fantastic.
Day One—The Single Batch
The first time I made the brown butter, I took it off the heat before reading that I needed to add the spices. When I added it to the raisin/ginger mixture, it didn’t incorporate to form a paste. (The recipe says to mix till well incorporated.)
So I started the brown butter from scratch, thinking that once I had cooked in the spices and it was still hot when I poured it over the raisin/ginger mixture it would incorporate better.
a) to always have extra ingredients,
b) that the mixture doesn’t have to form a paste, and
c) that I should ALWAYS read the recipe from top to bottom. (This I knew already, but it’s amazing how many times I still miss a step or an ingredient.)
I have also learned not to wash or toss things too hastily in case things like this come up, so at least the food processor was still useable and I happened to have some ginger already measured out.
It’s all about the bake time
I was really bummed when I tried to lift one log and found that it was stuck to the parchment. Underdone!!
This is after me checking it from 14 minutes on (recipe says 15 – 20) and basically leaving them in for the full twenty. (I recommend 20 – 22 if you refrigerate them overnight and keep the dough refrigerated in between.)
This is the exact same problem I had with original hermits, and why I find them so tricky! It’s difficult to tell when they’re done enough, because the middle looks soft, but if you over bake them they lose their chewy charm and just get hard like rocks.
I started off with a small whisk, because that’s what I used to mix the confectioner’s sugar with the orange juice. But when the glaze didn’t look nearly as pretty as their pic, I switched to a bigger whisk. Still, the end result did not look very professional.
I was ready to stop baking and stop blogging completely
(A bit of an overreaction, I guess!)
That was when Sam said that he should start a blog about being married to a crazy food blogger!
Poor guy—can’t be fun.
While some of the cookies were under-baked, we decided they are definitely worth making again. They have a rich, complex flavor and the chewy texture is what makes them truly special.
Day Two—Right Back on the Horse with a Double Batch
This time I used two ovens, so I had more control over the baking process. (Or you could just bake them one at a time on the middle rack of one oven.)
I baked them for about 20 minutes, only removing them when I was sure the top didn’t feel too soft.
After finding a clip on Better Homes and Gardens on how to drizzle icing, I used a ziplock freezer bag (more durable) and… voila!
I subsequently made my own YouTube clip on drizzling icing on these hermits—click here to view it >>
Have you tasted or made a Hermit Cookie?
If you’re a ginger-lover you have to try this recipe!
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Holiday Baking 2012
Cookies can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
You can find Crystallized ginger in the spice aisle of most grocery stores, but a small jar can cost upwards of $8. I found a bag of candied crystallized ginger at Whole Foods and also found some at Gelson’s in their produce section with the fancy nuts and dried fruit. Wouldn’t have found it if I didn’t ask.
Trader Joe’s Uncrystallized candied ginger also works perfectly in this recipe, and only costs $1.50 for 8 oz—way cheaper than most crystallized ginger. Chop it up with a bit of granulated sugar to prevent your knife from sticking.
The dough is very sticky and a bit difficult to work with; I found that putting a little flour on my hands and the board helps.
Weigh your dough to get an idea of how much each piece should weigh—mine were about 8oz each. (Have four small squares of parchment ready to go!)
Roll them near the edge of your board so it’s easier to scoot onto your baking sheet.
Brush off extra flour with a pastry brush.
I left the other pieces of dough, wrapped in the parchment, in the refrigerator, to make them easier to work with.
I cut the cookies into 1 ¼-inch bars; I think 2-inch (which the Cook’s Illustrated recipe calls for) are a bit too wide.
I posted this question on Norene’s Kitchen on Facebook—a wonderful place for foodies to ask questions and share what they make and bake:
If the flavor of a cookie improves on day 2, when is the best time to freeze it? The day you bake it, or wait till the next day? Or will the flavor continue to improve the day after you remove it from the freezer?
I would freeze them the day it’s baked. Why not do a test run and try both methods to see what works best, freezing half the day you bake them and the other half on day 2. Let us know your results.
Norene Gilletz is the leading author of kosher cookbooks in Canada.
Please visit her wonderful website for recipes for Jewish holidays and more: www.gourmania.com
I decided to freeze them the day I baked them; in three layers—separated by parchment paper—in the gorgeous Rubbermaid Container that I found at Costco.
They come in a set of three rectangles at Costco—one deep and two shallow, with tightly fitting red lids. LOVE LOVE LOVE them!
A bench scraper (aka dough scraper) is a fantastic tool and really helps cut the dough and keep your board clean in this recipe. Highly recommend!
In case you’re a baking freak like me and love details, here are the instructions from the original hermits from Calgary:
Cream butter and sugar. Add the egg and molasses. Mix well. Add the baking soda and spices. Mix again.
Mix in the dried fruit.
Add in ¾ of the flour and then determine whether you need the remaining ½ cup. (The guessing game about how much flour to add totally stressed me out!)
The dough is a bit sticky but if you add to much flour the cookies are too heavy. These cookies are baked in logs. Take a big ball of dough in your hands and gradually lengthen it. Bake 10-12 minutes in a 400 degree oven. When the cookies are done, sprinkle a bit of sugar on them, let them cool a bit and then cut them.
Can you see why it made me nuts?
- 1 cup (4 1/2 oz) raisins
- 2 tablespoons (3/4 oz) finely chopped crystallized ginger (see notes)
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter (right out of the refrigerator)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour, plus more for the board
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 3/4 cup packed (5 1/4 oz) dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup mild/light molasses (recommended: Grandma's Molasses - original)
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
- 3/4 cup (3 oz) confectioners' sugar
- Process raisins and ginger in food processor until mixture sticks together and only small pieces remain, about 10 seconds. Transfer mixture to large bowl.
- Cut butter into 5 pieces and heat in small saucepan over medium-low heat, swirling pan occasionally, until nutty brown in color, about 10 minutes. Watch it carefully because once it starts to brown it can burn easily. Stir in cinnamon and allspice and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir butter mixture into raisin mixture until well combined; let cool to room temperature. (Note: It will not form a paste but will still have some liquid around the raisin mixture. Set on a wire rack for faster cooling.)
- Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in bowl to combine. Stir brown sugar, molasses, and eggs into cooled butter-raisin mixture until incorporated. Dump in flour mixture and fold in with a rubber spatula just until combined. Dough will be very sticky.
- Refrigerate, covered, until firm, at least 1 1/2 hours or up to 24 hours. (I prefer 2 - 3 hours. I think the flavor of the molasses gets a bit too strong overnight and the dough becomes a bit too stiff.)
- If using one oven, adjust racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. (I think it might be better to just do one batch at a time in the middle of the oven.)
- Use spatula to turn dough out onto a large piece of parchment paper. Cut dough into quarters, using a bench scraper. Each piece will weigh about 8 oz. (It's really helpful to have a scale to divide the dough evenly.)
- See notes for more details on this step. Work with two pieces of dough at a time, putting the rest of the dough in the refrigerator so it doesn't get too soft.
- Transfer one piece of dough to lightly floured board and with lightly floured hands roll into 10-inch log, about 1 1/2-inches wide.
- Pick up board and use ruler to scoot log onto prepared baking sheet, leaving about 3 inches between logs as they will spread quite a bit. (Each sheet will contain 2 logs.) Use ruler to neatly square off sides. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Bake until only shallow indentation remains on edges when touched (center will appear slightly soft), 15 - 20 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through baking. Let cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer parchment to wire racks and let cool completely.
- Whisk orange juice and confectioners' sugar in small bowl until smooth. Transfer to a small ziplock freezer bag. Push the icing to the corner, squeeze out the air, and twist the top of the bag to form a handle. Cut a tiny hole on one bottom corner. Drizzle glaze onto cooled logs and let sit until glaze hardens, about 30 minutes. (Note: Don't go too close to the edges or you will get puddles of icing that take longer to harden)
- Transfer parchment to a cutting board. Cut off ends and cut logs (with a serrated knife) into 1 1/2-inch bars, 7 - 8 per log. (See notes.) Use a small offset spatula to remove each cookie from the parchment paper if they are sticking.