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.

  • 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
  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.

Makes about three dozen hermit cookies.

Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
25 mins
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Recipe Rating


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!


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.


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!


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!


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.


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


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!


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!
thank you, heidi!


ohhhh! as a cookie fan, this is heavenly!

cookiefan 123

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


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.


Lovely blog. These cookies look lovely. 🙂


These are very good cookies…best to chill 24 hours and then bake. The spices infuse into the dough and makes a better tasting cookie…..we love them….Thanks, Sante for your cookie recipe!


So does organic powdered sugar aid in avoiding that icky metallic taste that often underlies such icings? I’ve been searching for a solution…
Edna Lewis also champions mixing cream of tartar and b.soda as a sub for chemically b. powder – wish there was a Trader Joe’s near me for me to be able to buy the alum-free stuff!


I’m definitely going to have to try these hermits. i love hermit cookies (and around here-CNY- they do come iced! but like others have said they’re generally a bar cookie). I’ve used your recipes before and love them- this is definitely going to have to add this to my winter break cooking list.


Elana: Have you tried a health food store? I was in Germany with my husband for several months, and while I can’t recall seeing molasses, that may be your best bet. As far as substitutions: barley malt gives a similar flavor, and that’s also a good candidate at a natural foods store.

Laurel from Simple Spoonful

I absolutely love walnut cakes and cookies, obviously this belongs to the latter group, I especially love de decoration and the amazing photography. Thx for sharing..


Elena, Aaaah, how I miss Berlin even though I could never find the ingredients to bake. I used to stock up on brown sugar, vanilla extract, baking powder and chocolate chips when I was back in the U.S.
As Laurel mentioned, try a Reformhaus or Biomarkt for molasses. There are a few in Prenzlauer Berg that have quite a bit of variety. Rossmann sells Zuckerrübensirup, which is similar, but I’m not sure how it would work in gingerbread. Ask your students what they would use for Lebkuchen.
As for the Vanillinzucker, I think it would be fine for this recipe. I’d maybe add a bit more since the vanilla flavor isn’t as strong, but whatever you do, don’t add the horrible little glass vials of vanilla that they have. I’ve had few things that taste more artificial than that stuff. Blech.


I’m glad to see a recipe that’s new to you I’ve had a hermit cookie recipe for years, but the cookies I tend to make and like are less nut- and fruit-oriented and more dessert-, chocolate-oriented.

Erin @ Sprouted in the Kitchen

Hermits are probably my favorite cookie. They fell off my radar at some point, but I used to make them for my friends in high school. I am from New England and agree that the cookie recipe looks similar to the one I used. I never heard of icing them, but it does sound delicious. I think I’m going to have to make a batch for my Christmas open house now..


Hermits were originally baked in New England for long ship voyages in the 19th century, at least according to my Betty Crocker Cooky (sic) Cookbook. Molasses and other ingredients are therefore authentic, I’d think, as the New Englanders wrote, and the icing less so (though it looks delicious).


Hermits are a very old fashioned sort of cookie. 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. They are a nice soft cookie and if you have a senior citizen on your cookie list they will appreciate it.


Heidi, you are so on time, I was just wishing for an icing recipe for the spice cookies I made yesterday. The cookie sounds great too, but need to go shopping to get more ingredients…thanks and Merry Christmas!


My grandmother always had hermits around when we’d spend summers with her in Maine. Hermits and chocolate donuts – yumm!!


yay! i love slow club.


These look so tasty. I’ve only ever seen them shaped like fig bars before, and never iced. I’ll have to give your recipe a try – icing makes everything better! Thanks Heidi.


I am snowed in, need cookies and have every single ingredient for these wonderful looking cookies. I must bake!


Sante…Santa…hehe. 🙂 I’ve never heard of hermit cookies but they sound so good that they should be renamed to something more social!

Fit Bottomed Girls



It’s funny that dried cranberries and orange zest should be mentioned. When I heard currents, I immediately thought of using my orange flavored dried cranberries from Trader Joes. They are the best! And this cookie looks yummy.


I was introduced to “Newman’s Hermits” sometime ago and have been rolling around some recipes in my head… this helps allot! Newman’s are a dairy free egg free recipe…maybe some added apple sauce would keep them moist. Thanks!

Organic Goodness

Thanks for bringing to mind a favorite from childhood. In NH hermits were as common as an oatmeal or chocolate chip cookie —
baked off in sheets then cut into squares.
This drop version will be a must for my holiday tins. Thanks for the memories!


I may try these with a cream cheese frosting – yum!


At first I misread and though you said “Santa”…. Hey, it would be seasonally appropriate! One never knows who you might have connections with. Anyway, these cookies look fantastic, and remind me a lot of one of my own holiday traditionals — minus the currants (not a dried fruit fan), plus a bit of sour cream. So thanks Santa, er, Sante.

Becky and the Beanstock

walnuts and currants cookies with icing on top. delicious!


I’m wondering, would they be too dry/boring without the icing? I may have to give it a go! And for anyone wondering about aluminum free baking powder–i got some at Trader Joe’s. Also, of course, Heidi’s cookbook has a recipe for mixing arrowroot, cream of tartar and baking soda to create a homemade version!
HS: Michelle, I like them with the icing. But I could imagine a quick roll in some sugar before baking would be good too.

Michelle @ What Does Your Body Good?

Hermits were (and are) a big part of my family’s Christmas sweet tray. While my mom made the classic ones from the Five Roses cookbook, I’ve modified the recipe to use fruit I prefer (dried cherries and blueberries instead of candied peel and glace cherries).
I’ve never seen hermits frosted before to be honest but I can see the appeal.

Dana McCauley

heck yes.


These look great. I agree with the above – dried cranberries would be perfect.

ashley (sweet & natural)

These look great. I agree with the above – dried cranberries would be perfect.

ashley (sweet & natural)

Wow – these look heavenly! I love spice in cookies so we’ll definitely be trying these this season.

Tabitha (From Single to Married)

These cookies sound sort of like mini fruitcakes minus the booze. I’m going to make a batch and bring them to work to bring Christmas cheer to the corporate scrooges!!


Funny, I think only the 3rd Sante I’ve ever heard of (the 1st being my husband!) – I think he’ll get a kick out of having a cookie with his name 🙂

Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy

For those of us with tree nut allergies – how are they without the walnuts?
HS: Different, I’m sure. But you might explore substituting something else.


You rock!


I don’t see how you can make a hermit without molasses. Takes all kinds, I guess. 🙂 Then again, I’m a crusty Mainer and just about all the sweets they make in central Maine, aka “the sticks” have molasses. Hermits always seemed like a cake to me, though and these are far more cookie like. Yummers.

Mrs. Fire Eater

These look delicious, Heidi!! Do you think coconut oil could be used in place of the butter and nondairy milk substituted for the cream to make a dairy-free version?
The photos (as usual!) are mouthwatering.
HS: Lily, I think you might have luck with those two substitutions. If that were the direction I was headed I might go coconut oil + coconut milk for the non-dairy.


Nice to see the New Englanders reppin’ for the bar-shaped hermits. I like them that way…they sort of end up with the consistency of a chewy brownie. And while I’ve never seen an iced one (till now) I could accept that departure from tradition. 🙂

All for Veggies

I’m really liking this simple cookie recipe. Will be trying it soon 🙂
Thanks for putting all your Christmas cookies in a section together for us — its super helpful!


I’ve been making Harwich Hermits from the days when I lived in the Boston area. As others commented, I make a bar version that was published in the wonderful 1970 American Cooking: New England by Tim Life Books. The spices include nutmeg and mace with less allspice. The 1 cup sweetening is 1/2 molasses as are so many recipes from the region. It calls for chopped raisins, good if you have no currants on hand. There is no frosting. I think the leap from bar cookie to muffin is not a far one. Go for it!

wendy baschkopf

I am from RI, and you can find Hermit’s year round at Wrights Dairy farm in North Smithfield. I now live outside of Philadelphia, and quickly learned that they are a local treat. Like Snowmeg indicated, Wright’s makes them as a flat cookie – clearly baked on a baking sheet and cut into rectangles, with no icing. They are only about 1/4-1/2 an inch thick.
I made the onion dip for a holiday party last weekend – it was a huge hit. Voted to be far superior to its distant relative out of a packet.


This looks like a really good recipe-I wasn’t going to make any Christmas cookies this year, but you have changed my mind. I have made hermits many times in a slightly different way-by making ropes of dough about the length of the cookie sheet, flattening them and sprinkling them with sugar. Bake and cut into 4″ lengths while still warm. I think they may be a New England cookie and that some recipes have molasses in them. I can’t wait to smell them cooking!!


Great cookies! I made something similar using almonds instead walnuts. I’ll try this delicious version also


These look great – in New England hermits are more like a bar cookie. They are not dropped but baked in long, flattened logs of dough on the sheet and sliced or just broken off in chunks. I like the idea of a drop for more crusty surface area.


Wow, these look delicious. Yet another cookie to add to my holiday baking list. I can’t wait to try them.


Gorgeous looking frosting! If you can’t lay it on thick at Christmas then when can you…
It’s nice to have a tip for a recipe that keeps well for a couple to days. I love the idea of taking cookies as gifts but it’s hard to find a convenient time to pop some out!


Wow! Those cookies are SO adorable, esp. topped with the icing!


Mmmmmmm.. They are looking so delightful!


My mom makes cookies that are very similar, but with pumpkin puree. The spices and frosting are so delicious together. I need to try these too…


Looks so tasty! I can’t wait to try them.


might be interesting with some dried cranberries instead of the currants and some orange zest…


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