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.
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: 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.
Above you can see the cookie dough coming together. And below the final consistency of the dough after all ingredients have been incorporated.
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!”
And for any of you browsing this page around the holidays, here is a bit of additional cookie inspiration.
More Christmas Cookie Recipes
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
Preheat the oven to 350°F degrees. Racks in the top and bottom third.
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.
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.
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.