Need a Dose of Joy? Try This Cookie Recipe From a Medieval Saint

Published:
March 18, 2024
March 11, 2024
Read this article to discover a recipe for St. Hildegard's cookies of joy. This medieval treat can teach you about the saint and help you strengthen your faith.

I’ve struggled to write about St. Hildegard's Cookies of Joy because my wish is that you could visit my kitchen 12 minutes after I slide them in the oven, and the aroma has begun working its magic. I’d lift the baking sheet and give you the first pick (Take two! Three!) of these delicious discs. Then I’d cheerfully brew you a cup of strong coffee in my espresso maker to cap off the moment of bliss (plenty of light cream, if you take it, and spoonfuls of sugar from my freshly filled sugar bowl).

But I have only these words to offer, so I’ll try and describe the warm wafting of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves floating through each room — permeating the busyness of the day and calming me down. I love their scent, taste, and healing powers that burst forth from a homespun appearance. Their dark rust coloring, void of any fanciness or frosting, makes them ordinary-looking cookies. Very ordinary, in my case. They often emerge a bit warped because I’ve never been much of a baker. I have not yet perfected the circles, eating the uneven ones first, with circumferences shaped like flattened bicycle tires. I’m working on getting them unified and smooth, though the warm, spiced taste will remain the same. I love their symbolism: joy, often imperfect, comes to us, lurking under the decorative, entering through other senses. Through these fairly plain cookies, I am filled with a sense of abundance — and I feel a direct connection to the hospitality of a mystical 12th-century Benedictine nun. 

Admittedly, the history behind these cookies appeals to me most. There’s something transcendent about combining the ingredients from a recipe passed down from the 1100s. It’s heady to replicate the fragrance emanating from a medieval German monastery in my own home. And not just any recipe, but one crafted by a brilliant nun. Hildegard of Bingen was an artist, visionary, biologist, nutritionist, musician, theologist, and poet. All her work exquisitely embraced her idea of “umbra viventis lucis,” or the reflection of the living Light. Everything she did and everything she made was for God. 

St. Hildegard was such a towering spiritual powerhouse that I find it more accurate to write of her in the present tense rather than the past. Her ideas, her art, and most significantly, her music, remain pervasive, found readily on YouTube and Spotify. I would recommend one or two, but these chants are all so heavenly, I trust that you will find your own perfect entry point into her soaring, ethereal musical compositions. I love to let the haunting chants fill my house along with the scent of butter, sugar, and spices as I bake — imbuing every room and crevice with a delightful and timeless sense of the holy.

This baking practice has become sacred for me. I make this one kind of cookie — that’s it. But these have become part of my self-care (perhaps because she recommends eating three to five at a time). “If a person eats nutmeg, it will open up his heart,” Hildegard writes. “It will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open your heart and impaired senses, and make your mind cheerful.” If you ask me, they work. The process of baking them — mixing the wet and dry ingredients in a bowl, rolling the dough out, and carefully forming small circles — is methodic, calming, soul-soothing. And of course, the joy comes with the first bite of the oven-warmed, final product. But don’t just take my word for it — turn your kitchen into a 12th-century monastery and try them yourself.

Cookies of Joy Recipe 

Recipe credit: Sam O'Brien 

Ingredients 

  • 12 tablespoons butter 
  • ¾ cup brown sugar 
  • ⅓ cup raw honey 
  • 4 egg yolks 
  • 2 ½ cups spelt flour (you can usually find it in the baking aisle)
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 tablespoon nutmeg 
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon 
  • 1 teaspoon cloves 

Instructions 

1. Melt the butter, then add it to a medium bowl with the sugar, honey, and egg yolks. Beat gently, then fold in the rest of the ingredients. Refrigerate the dough for an hour. 

2. Flour a surface and then roll out the cookie dough until about a 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into small circles using a cookie cutter or an upturned glass. 

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, or until a golden-brown. Let cool, then enjoy. 

Creators:
Maureen O'Brien
Published:
March 18, 2024
March 11, 2024
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