Hermit Bars

Hermit Cookies

I’m currently reading back issues of Cook’s Illustrated.  Staying true to its name, The back page of each month displays illustrated drawings of a specific variety of culinary ingredient such as Gulf Coast fish (March/April 2014) , types of pears (Sept/Oct 2014) or an array of classic tapas (July/Aug 2015). This month’s illustration is “classic American cookies.” I scan the line-up and check off the usual suspects– chocolate chip – yep, peanut butter – made them, oatmeal raisin – of course, snickerdoodles – baked my first batch at 12.   They took liberty with some – is chocolate sandwich truly an American classic (outside of the store bought Oreo variety). Then one lumpy, Cliff-bar looking cookie catches my eye – hermit. Whaaaa??? What the hell is that? I’ve never heard of a hermit cookie. Where could this hermit have been hiding all these years? A bit of cookie wiki and I soon learn they came from the New England area and, although ingredients differ, seem to be a chewy, heavily spiced cookie- bar (usually) or drop – with any combination of raisins, currants, dates and walnuts.

What have I been missing? Well, a lot. We’ll see these again around Christmas time. Oh yum.

Hermit Cookies
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 cup Butter, melted
1 cup Granulated sugar
1 Egg (large)
½ t. cinnamon
½ t. nutmeg
½ t. Ginger
½ t. Cloves (scant)
½ t. Salt
1 t. Baking soda
3 cups All Purpose Flour
½ c. Molasses
1 cup Raisins, softened in hot water
1 cup Walnuts, toasted and chopped
3 T. Demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13×9” pan.

In a large bowl, beat together sugar and butter until smooth. Beat in egg, spices, salt and baking soda. Gently stir in flour then add the molasses and beat until fully incorporated. Stir in the raisins and nuts.

Pat dough evenly into pan and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes until just set. Do not over-bake. You want the final bars to be chewy. Cool completely before cutting.

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Peanut butter sandwiched between cookies

I’ve been attempting to write this post since this morning. Countless pressing matters have thwarted my endeavors, like the necessity, earlier today, to make a batch of spiced apple butter. Right. That. Minute. Then, of course, it was essential to take a five and a half mile walk, go to Trader Joe’s, and wash a load of laundry. As I grudgingly sit in front of this screen, finally, a million projects swirl through my brain, to-do items that are more critical and more urgent that this post, but I force myself to write.

If I’m completely honest, this post has been languishing in the “unfinished” file since June…June 29th, to be exact.

Despite my excuses, I realize it has nothing to do with being too busy, all these supposed pressing matters, or not having time to arrange 250 words into something coherent. It has everything to do with Fear – fear that I have nothing worthwhile to say, fear that I won’t find the words, fear that my words won’t be good enough. “You dare call yourself a writer,” my inner critic chimes in.

The baking has always been the easier part for me. Not that I don’t utterly fail at that endeavor on occasion, not that I don’t pick apart every dish I produce, not that I don’t make apologies to the recipients – I do, I DO, but without the paralyzing fear that grips my writing attempts. I accept culinary failure and move on.

I wrote a marketing piece for work this week. It’s not my day-to-day job, but a new role I’m taking on. I was petrified inspiration wouldn’t hit, terrified I would bumble my big chance. I wrote, I played on the page, I didn’t permit fear to hinder me (once I started) – and my audience loved it. The kudos made my week.

However, the baking side of it, like the recipe below, will always be easier.


Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

  • Servings: 24 cookies
  • Print

Ingredients

    Cookies
  • 1 ½ cups old-fashion rolled oats
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon (rounded) kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small pieces
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • Filling
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 Tablespoon corn syrup
  • ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment.
  2. In the bowl of food processor, pulse oats until the texture of meal. Add flour, sugar, baking soda and salt and process to combine. Add very cold butter and pulse until mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add milk and process until dough just begins to come together. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  3. Roll into 1” balls and transfer to baking sheets. Press balls flat with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Refrigerate again for 10 minutes.
  4. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes until the edges are just beginning to turn golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Beat together peanut butter, corn syrup and confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Pipe on ½ cookies and top with remaining cookies. Store in an airtight container.

Chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons

A plate of chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons

From L.A. to Costa Rica to Hawaii to Huntington Beach to Napa to San Francisco to The Bahamas. I’ve been missing my own bed – and my kitchen – these past two months. Now that I’m back, I’m content to sleep under a duvet I know, putter in my familiar kitchen and lazily read a book curled up on a fur-covered couch with the kitties. This is home.

These macaroons, baked this morning, are a relatively straightforward recipe for me – not my usual over-complication. They travel well and, with special recipients in mind, I thought they would survive the journey unscathed.


Chocolate-dipped Coconut Macaroons

Chewy coconut kisses dipped in dark chocolate.


Ingredients

  • 1 ⅓ cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons almond flour, toasted**
  • 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg whites
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-3 oz. dark chocolate, broken into small pieces

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine coconut, sugar, toasted almond flour, all-purpose flour and salt. In a small bowl, lightly beat egg whites with vanilla and stir into coconut mixture until combined.
  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a silicon baking sheet. Measure rounded 1-Tablespoon mounds of coconut mixture onto sheet pan and bake about 20 minutes, or until macaroons are golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool on sheet pan slightly. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
  3. Melt ¾ of the chocolate in a small bowl placed in the microwave in 30-second bursts, ideally heating the chocolate to 122⁰ F. Add the remaining ¼ chocolate and stir until slightly thickened, ideally cooling to 90⁰ F. (This process is called tempering and should ensure shiny chocolate that sets quickly). Dip the bottom of each macaroon in the chocolate, allowing excess to drip off. Flip upside down and let set until chocolate sets, about 15 minutes.
  4. ** The almond flour is optional. If you don’t have any on hand, omit and increase flour to 2 Tablespoons. I toast my almond flour to bring out the flavor by cooking it in a small pan over a medium-low heat until fragrant.


Hazelnut Orange Cookies

Delicate, crumbly cookies with a wonderful snap, flavored with the unique combination of hazelnuts and orange – a perfect addition to a holiday cookie plate.

A stack of Hazelnut Orange cookies tied with a green ribbon

It was 1997 and the Barnes and Noble store at the nearby suburban strip mall had recently opened. I wasn’t a competent baker then; my sister was the baker. The book I chose was the Pillsbury Best Cookies Cookbook – plenty of recipes, plenty of photos. These hazelnut orange cookies were the first recipe I tried. I thought they were delicious at the time, with a delicate, crumbly texture and pretty appearance. I resurrected the recipe this year for our neighborhood Bunco cookie exchange and they are just as special as I remember them. This recipe makes a ton of cookies – about eight dozen, enough for the Bunco cookie exchange and a few dozen for the office, or just cut the recipe in half.


Hazelnut Orange Cookies

A delicate, crumbly cookie with a wonderful snap, flavored with hazelnuts and orange.


Ingredients

  • 4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ (generous) teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • Sugar
  • Hazelnut halves for garnish

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt and nutmeg. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat sugar, powdered sugar, softened butter, oil, orange zest, vanilla and eggs until light and fluffy. Stir in flour mixture until combined. Stir in finely chopped hazelnuts. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
  2. Heat oven to 375⁰ F. Shape dough into scant 1” balls (15 grams each) and roll in sugar. Place 2” apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar, top with a hazelnut half.
  3. Bake for 7-9 minutes or until barely golden around the edges. Cool for 1 minute; remove to racks and cool completely.

Holiday Cookie Round-up

Thanksgiving is behind us and Christmas is just around the corner, which in my house means its cookie-baking season. Here’s a round-up of some of my personal favorite cookie recipes that are sure to get you in the holiday spirit. Happy Baking!

Bakewell Biscotti

Bakewell Biscotti
Crunchy Cranberry Almond Biscotti stuffed and baked with cranberry jam and buttery marzipan crème – ummm…yes, please!

Bizcochitos Cookies

Biscochitos
Biscochitos are a regional cookie from New Mexico and are typically served during special celebrations, especially during Christmas with hot chocolate. In 1989, New Mexico made the biscochito its official state cookie. These cookies are a reminder of a quintessential snowy Christmas Eve I spent in Santa Fe bundled up for the beloved annual farolito walk. My most memorable Christmas Eve ever.

Hermit Cookies

Hermit Bars
Chewy bar cookies from New England heavily spiced and chocked full of plump raisins and crunchy walnuts.

Millionaire's Shortbread

Ginger Hazelnut Millionaire Bars
Inspired by one of my favorite recipes for Ginger Crunch Slices, these rich bars combine buttery shortbread, spicy ginger-cardamom caramel, creamy bittersweet ganache and sweet-salty hazelnut “croquant.”

LU Pim's

Jaffa Cakes
Not technically a cookie, these British biscuits are still a holiday favorite of mine. I usually succumb to the packaged variety, called Lu Pim’s in the States. In addition to chocolate and orange being one of my much-loved combinations, it’s a textural thing – the crack of a think dark chocolate coating giving way to a gelatin layer atop a sliver of moist genoise sponge.