Hermit Bars – a heavily spiced chewy cookie studded with golden raisins and walnuts.
I’m currently re-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 or food category. The current issue in my hand is sporting an illustration of “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. Outside of Oreos, is “chocolate sandwich” truly an American classic? Then one lumpy, Cliff-bar looking cookie catches my eye – Hermit Bars. Whaaaa??? What the hell is that? I’ve never heard of a hermit bar. 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, similar to gingerbread – with any combination of raisins, currants, dates and walnuts.
What have I been missing? Well, a lot, it turns out.
These cookies are a heavily spiced, chewy bar cookie studded with golden raisins and walnuts.
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon (scant) cloves
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups All-purpose flour
½ cup molasses
1 cup golden raisins, softened in boiling water
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
3 Tablespoons turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw)
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13×9” pan.
In a large bowl, beat together melted butter and sugar until combined and smooth. Beat in egg, spices, salt and baking soda. Gently stir in flour (batter will by dry) then add the molasses and beat just until fully incorporated. Stir in the raisins and walnuts.
Pat dough evenly into prepared pan and sprinkle with turbinado 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. Combine confectioner’s sugar with enough water to make a glaze. Drizzle over cut bars.
Delicate, crumbly cookies with a wonderful snap, flavored with the unique combination of hazelnuts and orange – a perfect addition to a holiday cookie plate.
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.
A delicate, crumbly cookie with a wonderful snap, flavored with hazelnuts and orange.
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
1 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
Hazelnut halves for garnish
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.
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.
Bake for 7-9 minutes or until barely golden around the edges. Cool for 1 minute; remove to racks and cool completely.
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!
Crunchy Cranberry Almond Biscotti stuffed and baked with cranberry jam and buttery marzipan crème – ummm…yes, please!
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.
Chewy bar cookies from New England heavily spiced and chocked full of plump raisins and crunchy walnuts.
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.”
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.
Crunchy Cranberry Almond Biscotti stuffed and baked with cranberry jam and buttery almond crème – ummm…yes, please! I borrowed this idea from Dominique Ansel’s recipe in Food and Wine and used ingredients I already had on hand from earlier bakes of these Biscotti and Bakewell Mini Tarts – combining the best of both worlds into a very special holiday cookie, indeed!
6 oz. smooth cranberry or smooth tart cherry jam (push through a sieve if needed to ensure jam is smooth)
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Parchment and spray a sheet pan. Stir dried cranberries and slivered almonds into dough. Divide dough into two rolls about 14” long. Place rolls 4” apart on sheet pan. Flatten each roll to about 3” wide so each log should be about 3” x 14”. Bake for 20-25 minutes until tops are set and logs are light golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together unsalted butter, confectioner’s sugar, egg, almond flour and cornstarch. Transfer almond crème to a pastry bag fitting with a small tip. Set aside. Transfer jam to a separate pastry bag fitted with a small tip. If you don’t have pastry bags, use zip-lock bags and cut a small hole in one tip of the bag.
Using a serrated knife, carefully cut each log crosswise thinly into ¼” slices. Arrange half of the slices on a sheet pan. Cover the slices with a thin line of almond crème and drizzle crème with cranberry jam. Place the other half of the slices on top and press down slightly to ensure filling is even within the cookies. Bake 8-10 minutes, turn over and bake another 5 minutes. Cool completely.
I’m attending a neighborhood cookie exchange tonight. I’m feeling a bit anxious – after my cookie baking failurefalse start last week, I’m hesitant to test new recipes out on the group. “Hi, nice to meet you. I’m the baker who can’t make a cookie.” I’ve decided, instead, to pull out a classic – chocolate dipped biscotti. I originally created this recipe in 2010 for a vin santo dessert pairing at the steakhouse. The original recipe created about 144 cookies. I’ve paired it down to about 6 dozen. What I love about this recipe is how easy it is to divide the dough, add various ingredients and create unique flavor combinations with a minimum of fuss.
This is a basic biscotti recipe. I’ve listed a few mix-in flavor options below, but flavor combinations are limited only by your imagination.
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups sugar
8 oz. butter, softened (2 sticks)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two sheet pans with parchment and spray with cooking spray. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and add vanilla extract. Mix in flour mixture until just combined. Divide dough into two equal amounts and add ingredients below (or make your own combination of mix-ins).
Divide each flavor into two rolls about 14” long (You should have four 14” rolls). Place rolls 4” apart on sheet pans. Flatten each roll to about 3” wide so each log should be about 3” x 14”. Bake for 20-25 minutes until tops are set and logs are light golden brown. Cool logs for 10 minutes. With a serrated knife, carefully cut each log crosswise into ½” – ¾” slices. Lay slices flat on sheet pans and bake 8-10 minutes until biscotti feel dry to the touch. Turn over and bake another 5 minutes. Cool completely.
Warm chocolate chips in the microwave 60-90 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds until chocolate is smooth. Dip the tip of each cooled biscotti in chocolate and set aside until chocolate is set.
– ⅓ cup chopped almonds
– zest from one orange
– substitute 1 teaspoon almond extract for 1 of the teaspoons of vanilla
– 1 cup milk chocolate chips (for dipping) Cherry Walnut
– ⅓ cup dried cherries, chopped
– ⅓ cup candied walnuts, chopped
– 1 cup dark chocolate chips (for dipping) Apricot Pistachio
– ⅓ cup dried apricots, chopped
– ⅓ cup pistachios, chopped
– 1 cup white chocolate chips (for dipping)