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Thursday
Aug202009

Sea Biscuit: The Hermit Cookie of 1880-90

Delicious Sandwich Cookie
The late 1800s were a pretty eventful time in the USA: in New York, the Brooklyn Bridge was opened and Lady Liberty was installed; in the West, Billy the Kid and Jesse James bit the dust; the nation also grew, officially adding Washington, Montana and the Dakotas to the Union. And according to Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, the cookie of the decade was the Hermit:

One of our earliest favorites--rich with spices from the Indies, plump with fruits and nuts, Hermits originated in Cape Cod in Clipper Ship days. They went to sea on many a voyage, packed in canisters and tucked in sea chests.

Now, you may be wondering where this morsel got its funny name. There are a few theories uncovered on historycook.com:

Some say that the cookies were named because they look like a hermit's brown sack-cloth robe, but the earliest recipes are for white and round cookies. One possible lead is that the Moravians, an ethno-religious group well-known for thin spice cookies in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, were sometimes called "herrnhutter" in German or Dutch, and that might have sounded like "hermits" to an English-speaking cook.

Funny name and hazy origins aside, there's definitely another reason why hermits have lingered in our cookie jars: they're rich, cakey, moist, and satisfying. Adding raisins makes them taste vaguely virtuous, if you're into that--I'm not, so I substituted chocolate chips, and it worked out quite deliciously. They got even better when I sandwiched a slab of cheesecake filling between two of them (I think frosting would also work fantastically).
Hermits
Hermits

- makes about 3 dozen small cookies or 24 large cookies; if you're interested in the cheesecake filling shown in the top photo, you can find the recipe here -

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 1 eggs
  • 1/4 cup cold coffee
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup chocolate (or white chocolate) chips
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
  1. Mix butter, sugar and egg thoroughly. Stir in coffee.
  2. Sift dry ingredients together; mix bit by bit into the butter/egg mixture.
  3. Once incorporated, add the chocolate chips and nuts and stir only until incorporated.
  4. Chill dough for at least 1 hour.
  5. Heat oven to 400 F. 
  6. If you want small cookies, drop rounded teaspoonfuls of dough onto your cookie sheet; if you're not scared of a big cookie, do as I did and use an ice cream scoop. 
  7. Bake 8-10 minutes for small cookies, 12 or so minutes for larger ones, or until there is the slightest crispiness on the bottom (as they have a light brown hue from the coffee, you've got to be careful about this!).

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