In colonial times, women made hermits for their sailor husbands, who brought the hearty molasses-and-spice cookies on long ocean voyages. Packed away on their own in small tins like, well, hermits, the bars would last for many days. At your house, these distinctive and chewy cookies are unlikely to stick around quite so long.
Get out one or two large, heavy cookie sheets -- preferably shiny ones. (Just one sheet will be in the oven at a time, but having two sheets will streamline the baking.) Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit each sheet, then cut those pieces in half, length-wise. You should end up with four rectangular pieces of parchment. Heat the oven to 375°.
Sift 2 cups of flour, all of the spices, the baking powder, the baking soda, and the salt into a medium-size mixing bowl. Set it aside.
In a separate large bowl, use an electric mixer for a few seconds to soften the butter. Add the brown sugar to the butter roughly in thirds, beating at medium-high speed for 1 minute after each addition. Add the egg and yolk, and beat for another minute. Add the molasses and the vanilla, and beat for 1 more minute, until the batter is smooth.
Using a wooden spoon, stir 1 cup of the dry mixture into the creamed ingredients. Stir in the walnuts, the raisins (or currants), and the crystallized ginger, if you're using it. Add the remaining cup of the dry mixture a half cup at a time and stir after each addition. The dough should end up fairly dense and hard to stir. If it seems a little soft, mix in another 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and divide it into 4 equal pieces.
Working with well-floured hands, roll the first ball into a log about 12 inches long. Roll the log onto one of the pieces of parchment.
Place the log (with the paper) lengthwise onto the cookie sheet, leaving room for a second one beside it. Slightly flatten the log into a rough rectangle so the dough is about 3/4 inches thick and 1 1/4 inches wide.
Repeat the rolling steps for a second piece of dough, then use a piece of parchment to place the log on the other half of the cookie sheet (a) before flattening it (b). Using a pastry brush, paint both bars with the egg glaze. This will give the cookies a nice, shiny finish.
Bake the bars on the center oven rack for 11 to 12 minutes. While they are baking, prepare the rest of the dough and place it on the second sheet, if you're using one. (If you're using just one cookie sheet, be sure to let it cool thoroughly before you place any dough on it. Put it outside in cold weather or in the refrigerator to speed up the process.) When the bars are done, they will have flattened out somewhat. They might seem a little squishy and underdone, but that's okay: they'll continue to cook a little longer and will get firmer as they cool.
Place the baking sheet on a cooling rack. Let it cool for 10 minutes, then lift the parchment pieces with the bars and place them onto a large cutting board.
While the bars are still warm, cut them into 1 1/2-inch-wide sections with a pizza cutter or a sharp serrated knife. Cool the hermits thoroughly, then store them in an airtight container. Makes about 32 hermits.
Per cookie: 119 Calories • 2g Protein • 18g Carbohydrates • 5g Fat • 21mg Cholesterol • 2g Saturated Fat • 79mg Sodium