In Search of …
De de de de de de de de (in the highest pitch you can muster). Okay, maybe a few of you don’t remember the TV show. But, I’d been thinking they would have better luck at finding existence of extraterrestrial beings than I would of finding the Hermit cookie of my childhood.
Believe me – I tried. I’d made recipes I could find – Epicurious.com (my always very first “go to” web recipe place), four recipes from the now-defunct Berkeley.edu’s SOAR’s (Searchable Online Archive of Recipes), Joy of Cooking’s and even Martha Stewart’s – but none were the cookie I remembered. My memories were of a cookie deep brown from molasses, moist and chewy in bars, spicy. They were a treat from a bakery called Laura’s. No drop cookies, no light colored cookies, certainly not dry or crispy cookies, but also not doughy or undercooked. These were made in New England – walnuts our nuts of choice.
But tonight, I’ve seen the light and am doing a little happy dance. I’ve found what’s eluded me all these years – my perfect New England Hermit cookie. I adapted this from one by Cook’s Illustrated using a few hints from the America’s Test Kitchen folks.
New England Hermit Bars
(adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly grate if you can)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (less if using salted butter)
1 cup raisins
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. America’s test kitchen hint “Most hermit recipes involve creaming the butter, but this produced dry, biscuit-y cookies. Melting the butter instead delivered a chewier, moister cookie. We took this one step further by cooking the butter in a saucepan until light brown and fragrant, which added a nutty flavor to the hermits”. Add the spices to the butter for the light cooking to bloom their flavor. “This avoids a dusty texture from too much ground spice.” If you have any questions, better to undercook than overcook the butter. Remove from heat and add sugar, stir. Let cool.
Beat eggs and molasses into your butter and spice mix. In a separate bowl, stir together all dry ingredients. Stir dry ingredients into molasses mixture. Stir in raisins and nuts.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper (or a silpat). Divide dough into 2 sections and form two logs of about 14×2 inches. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Slice each log at an angle about 2 inches thick.
These are what America’s Test Kitchen says they should be “old-fashioned cookies that bake up soft and chewy, with a perfect balance of sugar and spice”. My recipe has more spice than the Test Kitchen recipe called for (I still think they’re mild). They also suggested steeping the raisins in melted butter to soften them, and pureeing them with some crystallized ginger into a rough paste. This” distributes raisin-y flavor into every bite, while the pureed ginger lends pungent sweetness and chew”. I had fresh soft raisins and I LIKE raisins in a cookie. Much as I love crystallized ginger, my childhood cookie memories were of a hermit sans crystallized ginger, so I skipped these steps. I also did not include the Test Kitchen addition of a simple glaze of orange juice and confectioner’s sugar drizzled over the just-baked cookies. The cookies are perfect without the extra sugar of a glaze. If you prefer your cookies more sugary, go ahead and add it.
These are so good, I’ll probably double the recipe in future. Other than that, no changes for me. Because of the amount of raisins and nuts, they break easily and would not ship well. If you must ship cookies – I’d puree the raisins with crystallized ginger as instructed and (gasp, no!) omit the nuts.