This Retro Hermit Cookie Recipe Has Been Passed Down for Generations

March 18, 2024

A few years ago, my mom compiled our favorite family dessert recipes into a book, complete with photos and scans of the time-worn recipe cards. I noticed an omission, a cookie I’d always seek out when I was little. I would scan the snack table during my grandparents’ small-town social events in church basements and town buildings in Downeast Maine until I found what I was looking for: hermit cookies.

We searched through my mom’s tin of handwritten recipe cards and found a recipe for hermit cookies—soft and chewy, spiced, and studded with raisins and chopped nuts. I then asked my grandmother, stepmom, and stepmom’s parents to share their memories and tips.

Now that it’s in my hands, I’ve updated the family hermit cookie recipe, swapping shortening for butter, using light brown sugar, and reducing the amount of milk. The result is a cookie with more butter and caramel notes and a slightly denser texture that’s still cakey enough to be recognized as a hermit.

What Are Hermit Cookies?

Hermit cookies are a classic Maine recipe, dating back to the late 1800s and handed down by families and in church and community cookbooks. They’re both chewy and cakey, dotted with dried fruit and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. 

The most common theory for how they got their name is that they kept well for traveling, which was especially important for sailors and fishermen along New England’s coast. Others believe the name was adapted from a spice cookie from Europe.

Simply Recipes / Mark Beahm

Mix Up the Mix-Ins

My mom’s family recipe only calls for raisins, while my stepmom’s family uses walnuts and chopped dates, raisins, or both. They’re often made with raisins, dried cranberries, and sometimes currants. You could also swap the walnuts for pecans. I included chopped dates and because those are my favorites.

Bake Them as Bars

You will also find hermit bars in New England, which, confusingly, are slightly different from the cookies. Hermit bars are made with molasses, making them rich and dense, almost like gingerbread, and are sometimes glazed.

You can bake this recipe as bars, knowing that they are technically not hermit bars, but they come out soft with chewy edges, just like blondies. To make bars, press the dough into a greased 9-inch square pan and bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes. Let them cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

Simply Recipes / Mark Beahm

Make Them Ahead

The unbaked cookies can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. You can freeze the dough for up to 2 months. I like to scoop before freezing and bake them straight from the freezer. Scoop the dough onto a baking sheet that will fit in your freezer, then freeze until solid, about 1 hour. Transfer the frozen dough to a zip-top freezer bag. Bake from frozen at 375°F for 12 to 15 minutes.

New England Classics

Your custom text © Copyright 2024. All rights reserved.