DIY TM_DY_ANIMAL_FI_003

I’ll admit it. When I moved into my new apartment this year, along with my sheets, coffee mugs, and suitcase, I toted along a value-sized tub of animal crackers. It was the kind you could find at your local wholesale club, weighing in at over two pounds, and it didn’t even last three weeks.

Even as a grown adult, I still haven’t grown out of my love for this hallmark childhood snack. I like them plain, dunked in tea, or dipped in peanut butter, but while I was noshing on my latest tub of animal crackers, I noticed something I didn’t like: the ingredient list. Enriched flour, soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin…for such a simple snack, I was surprised to see such a long list of unnecessary and unnatural ingredients. To think that the miniature animals I had so lovingly craved were actually filled with chemical additives was appalling. That was when I began thinking of trying my hand at making my own.

TM_DY_ANIMAL_FI_002

The first animal cracker was baked in 1871 by Stauffer’s, based in York, Pennsylvania. But “animal biscuits”, as they were known, were a hot British import even before that. As their popularity continued to rise, more American companies started baking batches domestically, including those that combined to form the National Biscuit Company, now known as Nabisco. Inspired by the then-popular Barnum and Bailey Circus, Nabisco named their version of the crackers “Barnum’s Animals.” They were usually sold in the bulk tubs, as I prefer them, but in 1902 Nabisco began selling smaller portions in the now iconic stringed boxes, designed to be a child’s gift to be hung upon the Christmas tree. Selling for a mere 5 cents, these tiny presents were a popular commodity. Today, animal crackers are still a huge hit as Nabisco’s New Jersey-based factory ships more than 40 million packages each year. Stauffer’s, too, continues its legacy by producing more than 250 tons of these miniature animals each day.

While searching for the perfect animal cracker recipe, I found some with slight variations such as adding rolled oats, but I wanted to make a classic replica. On Williams-Sonoma’s website, I discovered a seemingly foolproof and classic recipe which only included flour, butter, sugar, eggs, baking soda, salt, and spices. This animal cracker is pretty spot on if you ask me. It’s hard, slightly buttery, and the right understated note of spice coming from a miniscule combination of nutmeg and mace. The dough easily forms and can sit in the fridge overnight (or in the freezer for extended periods) before being rolled into thin sheets and cut into classic animal shapes.

TM_DY_ANIMAL_AP_001

But for those who also want to try a different kind of animal cracker, I have also included a tangy lemon cracker with a vanilla glaze. It’s bright with hints of lemon zest and the classic spice from nutmeg complemented by a sweet glaze made with real vanilla beans. The recipes are tried and true, and except for the correct shape of cutters (we used these) most of the ingredients are probably already in your pantry.

These homemade replicas are a welcomed substitute for my overly processed tub of animal crackers. Although I don’t use a lunch box anymore, I can still enjoy my favorite snack without the lengthy chemical ingredient list.

Animal Crackers

TM_DY_ANIMAL_AP_006

Ingredients

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon mace
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325°F

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and mace.

In a separate bowl, beat the softened butter on high for two minutes. Then add sugar and continue to beat for another two minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl then add the egg and vanilla and beat for one minute or until egg is thoroughly incorporated.

Add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until flour is absorbed, then add remaining flour until the dough forms and can be formed into a ball.

The dough can be divided into two smaller separate balls, if desired. Shape the dough into a disk and refrigerate in plastic wrap for at least two hours or up to two days.

When ready to use the dough, let it thaw on the counter for five minutes or until it is more pliable. Roll the disk out between two sheets of plastic wrap until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Remove the plastic wrap and cut out figures using flour or powdered sugar.

Once placed on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, refrigerate the cookie sheet for fifteen to thirty minutes.

Then, bake the cookies until lightly golden brown about 8-10 minutes.
Cool to room temperature on a wire rack.

Yields about 100 cookies depending on size of cookie cutters.

Note: Cooking temperatures and times will vary widely based on the size and shape of your cutters.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

Lemon-Vanilla Glazed Animal Crackers

TM_DY_ANIMAL_AP_007

Ingredients

For Lemon Cookie
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest

For Lemon-Vanilla Glaze
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
½ tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon butter, melted
3-4 tablespoons milk
1/2 vanilla bean , scraped

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325°F

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and mace.

In a separate bowl, beat the softened butter on high for two minutes. Then add sugar and continue to beat for another two minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl then add the egg, vanilla, and lemon zest and beat for one minute or until egg is thoroughly incorporated.

Add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until flour is absorbed, then add remaining flour until the dough forms and can be formed into a ball.

The dough can be divided into two smaller separate balls, if desired. Shape the dough into a disk and refrigerate in plastic wrap for at least two hours or up to two days.

When ready to use the dough, let it thaw on the counter for five minutes or until it is more pliable. Roll the disk out between two sheets of plastic wrap until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Remove the plastic wrap and cut out figures using flour or powdered sugar.

Once placed on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, refrigerate the cookie sheet for fifteen to thirty minutes.

Then, bake the cookies until lightly golden brown about 8-10 minutes.
Cool to room temperature on a wire rack.

While cookies are cooling prepare the glaze.

In a bowl, sift the confectioner’s sugar then add lemon juice, butter, milk, and vanilla. Whisk ingredients together until smooth.

Dunk cookies into glaze and let set on wire rack until glaze has hardened

Yields about 100 cookies depending on size of cookie cutters.

Note: Cooking temperatures and times will vary widely based on the size and shape of your cutters.

Adapted from Annie’s Eats

Photos by Rachel Wisniewski

Comments

  1. dale in denver says:

    I share your love of animal crackers. Two of my sons were diagnosed with celiac within the past 6 months, so I decided it was easier to make the whole house gluten free, much to the chagrin of my husband and third son. I will have to give these a try with some of my GF APF substitutes because they look so yummy…..

    • Alicia says:

      I would be interested to see if the gluten-free version would work. I hope it does because these cookies are deliciously addicting. Best of luck!

Leave a Reply