Hermit Cookies

My friend Sante shared his hermit cookie recipe with me. It’s a soft, simple, drop-style, spice cookie loaded with tiny currants, chopped walnuts, and finished with a bit of icing.

Hermit Cookies

This hermit cookie recipe came to me via a friend. I was enjoying dinner with my friend Sante and a few others. Sante is a fun person to chat with because he's one of those guys who never runs out of stories - or opinions for that matter. Some of you may know him from his days as the chef at the Slow Club in San Francisco. Late in the evening the topic of conversation turned to Christmas cookies.

I’m solidly a shortbread person, but Sante started talking about hermits - a cookie he makes regularly for a friend who loves them. I had no idea what he was talking about. I'd never heard of a hermit cookie. He went on to describe a simple, drop-style spice cookie loaded with tiny currants and chopped walnuts, finished with a bit of icing. He promised to share his recipe with me, and here we are. As promise, an A-plus addition to any holiday cookie platter.

hermit cookies on a cooling rack after baking

What are Hermit Cookies?

I’ve come to learn that there are all sorts of theories about how these cookies came to be named. Some say hermit cookies got their name because they taste best when they’ve been hidden away like hermits for a couple days. There’s the theory that they looked like a hermit’s brown cloth. The oldest versions of the recipe are thought to be back to Medieval European hermitages. So that’s another angle. It may be a bit of all of the above. 

There are as many approaches to making hermits as there are bakers. The common ingredients seemingly spices, raisins or dates, nuts. Some like hermits iced or frosted, others skip it. They are simple to make. The chewy, nuttiness along with warm flavors like cinnamon, allspice, and cloves strike a nice balance. And, I keep thinking, this might also make the foundation for a delicious muffin batter.

hermit cookies on a cooling rack after baking

Hermit Cookies: Pro-tips

Here are a few things I've learned after making Sante’s hermits over the years. True to the legend, they are really good the day they are baked and iced, but exponentially better the day after. The icing develops a bit of a crust and the spices meld together. Hermits are perfect with a cup of coffee in the morning. They are great on a holiday cookie plate. A cup of cardamom (or saffron tea) in the afternoon is another perfect pairing. I also never skimp on the icing. If you’re in my camp consider doubling up on the icing.hermit cookie dough ingredients in a mixing bow
Above you can see the cookie dough coming together. And below the final consistency of the dough after all ingredients have been incorporated.
hermit cookie dough in a bowl with a spoon

Hermit Cookies: Variations

Here are a few variations people have noted in the comments that sound fantastic! New Englanders definitely repping for bar-shaped hermits made with molasses in the comments.

  • Kristin noted, “I added some freshly grated orange zest to the batter. It was tough to not eat the batter and actually bake the cookies, truth be told.”
  • I love the coffee suggestion Paullett makes here. “I used to bake them often when I was the cook at the Convent of Notre Dame in Toronto. I have never seen one iced before I’ll have to try it. One common addition to them is a bit of strong cold coffee and some molasses. The authentic way is to add rasins and walnut but I put candied peel, candied fruit and even pine nuts which is very not authentic.”
  • Elle went the cardamom route and shared, “I baked a batch for my colleagues the other day & substituted cardamom for the allspice–it was a very good call–cardamom is incredible in this recipe and people really enjoyed the cookies!”

hermit cookie on a cooling rack

And for any of you browsing this page around the holidays, here is a bit of additional cookie inspiration.

More Christmas Cookie Recipes

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Hermit Cookies

5 from 4 votes

I tend to use whole wheat pastry flour here, but you can substitute unbleached all-purpose flour if that's what you have on hand.

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour)
  • 2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup natural cane sugar, sift out any chunks
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Vanilla Icing:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 4 - 5 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F degrees. Racks in the top and bottom third.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, cloves cinnamon, and allspice into a medium bowl - set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer (or by hand), cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla. Blend well, scraping down the side of the bowl a few times along the way. Add the currants and walnuts. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the milk. Chill (covered) for one hour or longer, up to a day.
  3. Drop the cookie dough (one level tablespoon at a time) onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving an inch or so between cookies. Dampen your fingers with a bit of water and gently flatten the dough. Bake for 12 -15 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies are deeply golden. Cool on a wire rack.
  4. While the cookies are cooling, make the icing, and consider making double if you like a thick layer. Whisk the powdered sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla together in a small bowl - use immediately. Frost each cookie with an off-set spatula (or pastry bag) - but not until they are completely cool.
Notes

Makes about three dozen hermit cookies.

Serves
36
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
25 mins
 
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Comments

These are fantastic! I added some freshly grated orange zest to the batter. It was tough to not eat the batter and actually bake the cookies, truth be told. I am vegan, so veganizing this was easy by replaacing the eggs with flax meal and using coconut oil instead. Very nice!

Kristin

Thanks for a great recipe! Mine turned out really delicious and the currants plumped up and tasted great. I made the frosting with half-and-half instead and it came out thin. But I just dipped the tops in and they ended up more glazed than iced. Your frosting looks yummier! Someone's suggestion of cream cheese icing sounds decadent.

Sarah

I made these with raisins instead of currants and all else the same and they are super. I brought them to work and they were gobbled up. I did run out of icing for about ten of them, but they are not bad without.

Melissa Martinez

Tasty recipe, though following it to the letter, my cookies oozed while baking and came out flat! I tried adding an extra cup of flour (2 1/2 total) and got much better results. To use the recipe with the 1 1/2 as mentioned, I think I would leave out the milk, which might have contributed to the gooeyness. But altogether delicious cookies!

Nikki

These turned out very well and everybody that I've given them to has agreed. The texture of the cookies is just right. I put orange zest in the icing, which was a really great combo with the currants. I also topped each one with a piece of homemade candied orange peel. Thanks for a lovely recipe, Heidi! Glad you liked them Callie!

Callie

this is very nice. i m pure vegetarian..... can i try with out egg? Is there any other alternative? Hi Srinivas, if you work out an egg-free alternative that is great let me know and I will add a instructions in the head note of the recipe.

srinivas

Eating these now, with a hot mug of sipping chocolate and a huge smile on my face. I've never been so happy with a cookie before, they're wonderful! Made exactly as directed, except with addition of green and red crystal sprinkles for festivity (and boy are they festive!)! Thank you for sharing this incredible recipe, it hit the spot and made this Christmas more bright. Happy holidays Donna

Donna

Thanks Jennifer and Laurel. I was told in the Czech Republic (where I was this weekend) that I could use honey with the pre-mixed "Lebenkuchen" spice though I did pick up some of the Zuckerrubensirup as well. I guess I will try a batch each way and see what happens. Despite all the Bio-Markts in Prenzlauer Berg (where I live) I can't seem to find traditional molasses, so I will just play around and see what happens. Thanks again for the advice!

Elana

i baked a batch for my colleagues the other day & substituted cardamom for the allspice--it was a very good call--cardamom is incredible in this recipe and people really enjoyed the cookies! yiii! thank you, heidi!

elle

ohhhh! as a cookie fan, this is heavenly!

cookiefan 123

Looks delish!.. Your photography skill rocks too...!

yuhas

I made these yesterday and they are super-scrumptious, but mine turned out flatter and more spread-out than in the photos here, and I did chill the dough. AND--this is critical---they stuck like crazy to my cookie sheets, whether nonstick or not. So I would advise lining with parchment paper!! Next time I wouldn't bother flattening them, to make them thicker, since hermits are supposed to be kind of thick and chewy. Perhaps mine needed more flour? Also, because mine were wider, I found I needed to double the icing recipe!! All in all I will def. make again.

bella

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