How did these classic New England molasses-spice cookies come to be called “hermits”? Some say it’s because they kept well when hidden away on ocean voyages. Others think they resemble hermits’ robes. Let’s just chalk it up to the region’s wacky names. For instance, Rhode Islanders call milkshakes “cabinets,” and they don’t have a good explanation for that, either.
Since my mother-in-law Dorothy (known as Dick) grew up in western Massachusetts, the heart of hermit country, these cookies may have been passed down from her mom. My husband usually beat his siblings to them, often stealing a couple right off the cooling rack. When he introduced me to these these tender bars—completely new to this Southern gal—it was as if I’d met the spice equivalent of a decadent chocolate cookie.
Even after decades of making Dick’s hermits, I still marvel at their uniqueness in the bar cookie-verse. Like biscotti, they start out as logs and then get sliced into bars after baking. But unlike biscotti, there is no second baking. The outside puffs and cracks while baking, then firms up as it cools. Yet the inside stays moist and almost gooey. This gives the hermit the feel of a filled cookie—more like a fig newton than a bar cookie baked in a pan. The soft bite melts away into a flavor bomb on the tongue.
Dick’s recipe yields a lot of bars, so you can eat plenty and stash some in the freezer for another time. They also make tasty gifts (if you can part with them).
Hermits appeal to frugal New Englanders. They derive their complex taste and texture from old-time pantry staples, including molasses. For a bigger hit of molasses, plus the story of the Great Molasses Flood, try out Mighty Molasses Clove Cookies, too.
Note: We tested these with Trader Joe’s gluten-free flour and they worked great.
Recipe easily halves. Cookies freeze well.
Makes about 4 dozen.
- 1 ½ cups shortening
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup dark molasses
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 ½ cups flour
- 1 teaspoon each: ginger, cloves, nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 cup raisins
- Sugar to sprinkle on top
- Prepare two cookie sheets by lightly greasing or lining with parchment paper.
- Beat together shortening, eggs, molasses and sugar. Stir in soda, salt, flour and spices until combined. Stir in the raisins. Wet hands and make four sausage-shaped logs about 1 ½ inches in diameter, placing two lengthwise on each of two prepared cookie sheets. Leave at least 3 inches between logs to allow for spreading. Press logs lightly with the bottom of a glass dipped in water. Sprinkle sugar on top.
- Bake at 375° for about 9-13 minutes, or until cracked. Cool. Cut into about 2-inch strips.
Maria J Allen
My back gave out last week and today I was ready to bake something interesting. I asked my husband to help me throw these together. We halved the recipe, used a little less sugar, also unsalted butter instead of shortening. The aroma just wafted by from the oven. Hope they’re a hit… WOW, they’re a hit ! Thank You for a straightforward, no frills recipe. Delicious !!
Sorry to hear about your back, but glad you found that Dick’s Hermits are a great pick-me-up! Thanks for the tips and glad to hear it works with butter. I’ve had trouble finding Crisco lately, and when I do, it costs as much or more than butter! Take care and thanks so much for writing to Recipephany!
These are fantastic. I halved the recipe, and that was still plenty!
One thing I’ll do next time is cut the sugar from 1 cup (for half the recipe) to 7/8ths of a cup or a little less. My company flipped over them–the New Englander had heard of Hermits, was thrilled to have them again, but the New Yorker had not (and loved them.) They each got a care package. Thank you!
Oh, this is wonderful! Thanks so much, Ellie, for your terrific feedback. I’m so happy you like them. 🙂