Make Ahead

Hermits in the Backseat

June 15, 2013
3 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Makes 2 logs
Author Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • 3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tablespoons flax meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 grated zucchini
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups currants
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Stir the currants and dried cherries into the batter. Try not to eat too many. Then stir in the dry ingredients.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • chez_mere
  • Midge
  • fiveandspice
  • indieculinary
  • Janet @
    Janet @

19 Reviews

lindaegle August 27, 2016
Still wondering about what size zucchini since it could be from 1/4 c - 2 cups depending on the size.
Emily T. July 13, 2013
How big a zucchini should I pick? I have a garden full right now. Or how many cups of grated zucchini should I use?
emcsull April 17, 2016
did anybody ever answer this ?
Christina July 9, 2013
Oh my gosh, Laura, this is so awesome! I remember Grandmom's Hermits too - so yum! I love your updates to the recipe and the extra background information you provided. I hope you win!
Han July 8, 2013
Sounds awesome
chez_mere July 8, 2013
Going to make these for a road trip to upstate NY with my dad on Thursday. Should be a hit!
PassTheKnife July 9, 2013
Hooray! They're great. And the trick about putting a slice of bread in the bag after a few days to keep them fresh really works. A good wheat or raisin bread imparts nice flavors.
chez_mere July 11, 2013
I never thought of using raisin bread to add flavor, but I will definitely stick a slice in! I swapped sunflower seeds for the almonds (low nut supply) and sprinkled a little raw sugar on top as well. Yum!
Midge July 5, 2013
So glad to see this a finalist. Yay hermits!
fiveandspice July 5, 2013
Congratulations Passtheknife! I've never heard of hermits before but I'm totally trying these out for our next car trip. They look delightful!
Laura C. July 5, 2013
Thanks! My 3 year old son heard the recipe is in the finals and demanded to know, "When can we make them next?!" We're actually traveling right now and have burned through all the homemade snacks. So much for the plane ride home tomorrow... just because they'll stay soft for a couple weeks doesn't mean they won't get eaten:)
ryanm July 5, 2013
My mom's aunt apparently kept Hermits in an unending supply in her cookie jar. As my parents have recently moved back to that aunt's old neighborhood (in WA, incidentally, so this is in no way a Northeast thing), I think it only appropriate that my mom receive an updated version of this beloved taste of her childhood. That said, I'm a bit wary of going mano a mano with Aunt Tilly's legendary Hermits (or at least my mom's memory of them).
Laura C. July 5, 2013
I grew up with hermits all the time too and these trigger all those homey cozy feelings that the originals conjure. Mom won't be disappointed!
indieculinary June 21, 2013
What a fun piece of regional culinary history to learn about.
Laura C. July 5, 2013
I love foods that have been around a long time - there's always a reason.
Midge June 21, 2013
My brothers pretty much lived on my mom's homemade hermits growing up. Look forward to trying your healthier version!
PassTheKnife July 4, 2013
I just eat twice as many, so I don't know whether it's "healthier" or not:)
Janet @. June 16, 2013
I love your additions. I Can't wait to try them.
Laura C. July 5, 2013
Your honey lavender ice cream looks delicious.