Hermits are the ultimate American travel snack. Rumor has it that New England's ladies packed these beauties for their sailors heading off into the Atlantic. The history doesn't end there. My grandmother made them every week for fifty years. They taste of molasses and spice, the holidays -- it's the taste of family, when everyone is packed hip-to-hip in the backseat.
They're chewy, with little crumb, and they stay soft for weeks. The secret is the brown sugar -- it continues to draw moisture into the cookie, even after it's baked. So, Hermits aren't just for the first leg of a journey; tuck a few aside, and you'll be ready for the drive back home.
Here I've adapted my Grandmother's tried-and-true recipe. I've updated it from "handfuls" to cup measures and brought Hermits into the 21st century, with the addition of zucchini, flax meal, sour cream, dried cherries and almonds. They're filling, just a little sweet, and loaded with dried fruit and nuts.
My grandmother would have fed you these with coffee milk -- another New England tradition, but if you ask me, plain milk is even better. —PassTheKnife
Test Kitchen Notes
WHO: PassTheKnife is a New York City mom who conducted her first cooking lesson at age 5, when she taught her older brother to make toast.
WHAT: An old New England recipe for gingery molasses cookies is brought to the 21st century -- where it deserves to stay.
HOW: Pack your batter with all the best baking spices and add flax meal, grated zucchini, and dried fruit. Bake it in two large, almond-sprinkled logs, slice into cookies, and enjoy for weeks.
WHY WE LOVE IT: There’s something about updated recipes from the past that we just can’t resist (hello, Jell-O Fluff and Icebox Cake). So when we saw Grandma’s Hermit recipe with a modern upgrade, we immediately fell for it. Ginger cookies and zucchini bread unite forces in a chewy, crumby cookie that has almonds for crunch, dried fruit for sweetness, and sour cream for tang. Brown sugar keeps these cookies moist for days, so go ahead and take a detour on your road trip – you’ve got enough cookies to last you. —The Editors
Grandmom always mixed the dry ingredients first, so measure and stir together the flour, flax meal, baking soda, cinnamon, clove, allspice, ginger, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
Then the wet ingredients come together. (Be sure to get out a large mixing bowl because the dry ingredients eventually end up here also.) Start by melting the butter, then stir into it the brown sugar, sour cream, and molasses. Crack a whole egg into the mixture. Then separate the second egg. Add the yolk to that big bowl and set the egg white aside (you'll brush it onto the batter before baking). Whisk the mixture thoroughly. Grate the zucchini and stir it in.
Stir the currants and dried cherries into the batter. Try not to eat too many. Then stir in the dry ingredients.
Cover your bowl and place it into the refrigerator. It should stay there at least 30 minutes, but my Grandmother insisted that 4 hours is the minimum. The sugar cozies up to the spice and the butter soaks into everything. The batter gets better and better and can rest in the refrigerator for up to a day.
When you take the batter out of the refrigerator, it will be stiff. Divide it into two logs, spread out on a parchment-lined cookie tray. The logs must be a few inches apart because the batter will expand generously.
Sprinkle your sliced almonds over the logs and spread them out. Then, figure out where you put that extra egg white and whip it with a fork for a minute. It will froth -- and then you can brush it over the top of the batter and almonds, giving it a nice sheen once cooked.
Place your cookie tray in a pre-heated 350-degree oven and cook your Hermits for 25 minutes, or until the almonds are toasted and the batter springs back to your finger when you give the cookie a gentle poke.
After you pull the Hermits out of the oven, let them sit for 15 minutes. Then use a large spatula to transfer the logs to a cutting board, where you can slice them up.
Storing Hermits properly is important if you plan to keep them for a while. Let them cool completely, then put them in an air-tight container -- they'll store well here for a few days. If you still have a few left, at that point, put a piece of bread in your cookie container. The cookies will absorb the moisture from the bread and keep nicely for another week.