Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Whole Grain Animal Crackers


Please tell me that at one point or another in your life, you have eaten an animal cracker.  Seriously, it is an experience you must have, and not because it is a once-in-a-lifetime gourmet treat, but because it is just fun.     

Thinking back to my childhood, I distinctly remember how excited I would get by such a simple, colorful cardboard box; the cartoon animals on the front only represented a meager sampling of the menagerie that could be found inside.  After folding back the end of the box, I would root around in there with my short little fingers trying to find the best animal.  At a young age, my fingers weren't quite long enough to reach the very bottom of the box, and of course, that is where I was sure the best animal was hiding.   


Now keep in mind, whether the animal cracker was shaped like a tiger, a bear, or a monkey, they all tasted exactly the same - slightly sweet, a little buttery, and with a mildly chalky texture.  Yet, as I pulled out animals one by one, if it was not a camel I would toss it back in frustration.  Now lets be honest, camels aren't really the coolest kids on the block, so I can't quite figure out what the allure was for me.  Maybe it was biting off the extended head, followed shortly by chewing off the hump?  And then of course, you have to bite off the legs one by one...  I know, it sound vicious, but I am pretty sure every child relishes in biting body parts off of animal crackers.   


Actually, every child just loves eating animal crackers period, and I think that's because it doesn't seem like a cracker at all; animal 'crackers' taste so much more like cookies because they are sweet rather than savory.  (And to a child, sweet > savory.)   


But here's the best part: if you buy your own animal shaped cookie cutters you can make these cuties at home as treats for your children (or yourself).  I got these adorable cookie cutters as a gift from my sister, and she bought them a few years ago at Williams-Sonoma.  When I opened her gift and saw the box (decorated appropriately like the Nabisco Barnum's Animal Cracker box) I squealed with glee and was quickly transported back in time.  Sadly, I sort of forgot about these cookie cutters until the perfect opportunity came up....    


Frigidaire has launched a campaign to encourage families to cook together and get kids excited about cooking and baking.  They set up a Kids' Cooking Academy to provide daily tips, recipes, and videos specifically catered to kid-friendly cooking.  By signing up for the Academy, you can find fun projects to do with your kids in the kitchen plus for every person that signs up, Frigidaire will donate $1 to Save the Children!  (Psst, I am also helping to support the cause - Frigidaire is so generous that for every blogger who posts a kid-friendly recipe, they will donate $50!!!  Go Frigidaire!)

So what are you waiting for?  Head over to the Make Time For Change website and sign up for the Kid's Cooking Academy


So, lets establish why animal crackers are a kid-friendly recipe:

1. Kids love cookies.  Duh. 
2. Kids might not be able to handle the delicate cookie shapes, but they can help with ingredients and prep.  My friend Ana (who has a 2-year-old and one more on the way) says:

You would be surprised how involved kids actually can be when it comes to cooking.  Whenever I bake something, I always get my daughter involved in some small way and she is more than happy to do anything even if it is just pulling the lever on the mixer to get it going.  There are definitely some things kids can’t do so well like cracking an egg, but if you hand a child a cup or spoon filled with an ingredient, just dumping that into the bowl is a big, exciting accomplishment for the child.

3. Although these are still cookies, they are healthy with whole grains including wheat and flax (disguising healthy with cute is a good thing).
4. They are bite-size, hand-held snacks that could be a perfect after-dinner treat or snack at lunch time. 


I think I am most happy with point number 3 above (no need to scroll back up, I am referring to healthy whole grains); the original recipe on the back of the cookie cutter box was all-purpose flour, lots of butter and lots of sugar.  Not what I was looking for in a kid-friendly recipe.  I remembered seeing a more natural animal cracker recipe on 101 Cookbooks, but when I checked back it was almost too natural for me, and I worried many of you would not have the ingredients Heidi's recipe called for.  

In order for the cookies to be reasonably accessible, easy to make, and still healthy, I wrote up my own recipe using Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour (I love Bob's Red Mill) and ground flaxseed.  And look: you can even see the healthy grains and flax in the cookie!

Altogether, I was thrilled with this recipe.  The cookies were just sweet enough to balance out the nutty grains, and if you wanted, you could probably get away with decreasing the sugar even a bit more.  A bite of the cookie gives a pleasant snap, while still being slightly chewy; I prefer this because I don't like my cookies too crispy (and for kids, crispy and crunchy might mean more crumbs to clean up).  And although my cookie cutter set didn't have a camel, I am was more than satisfied biting the heads off the giraffes.  And the lions.  And the tigers.  (Watch out elephant, I will make you next time and bite off your head too.)    





Whole Grain Animal Crackers
This recipe would be perfect to make with your kids in the kitchen: they could definitely help prepare ingredients and make the dough, and then they could choose their favorite animal to cut out.  The cookie cutters are simple enough to use that a child could easily stamp out the shapes, and then you could come in and assist them with transferring the cookies to the baking sheet.  

3/4 cup Stone ground whole wheat flour
1/2 cup All-purpose flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed*
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg 
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
* If you don't have ground flaxseed, you can grind flax in a spice grinder, or you could substitute finely ground nuts


In a medium bowl, whisk together the first 6 ingredients, and set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer cream together the butter and sugar for about 2-3 minutes, then add the egg and vanilla extract and continue to mix.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients (flour mixture) in two additions, and then mix until the flour is just incorporated.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball; flatten the dough ball into a 1-inch thick disk and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate the dough at least 2 hours or overnight.  

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it warm up for a few minutes; then roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 1/8 inch.  If the dough sticks to the rolling pin or starts to crack, just dust the top of the dough with a little flour.
   
To cut out the animal shapes, dip each cutter in flour, then press into the dough.  (I find if I press it into the dough, and then wiggle it from side to side a bit, it helps me to remove the dough surrounding each animal.)  If you are using the cutters from Williams and Sonoma, you will press the cutter into the dough, and then depress the plunger to imprint the animal features.  Working quickly and carefully, use a spatula to transfer the cookies to the lined baking sheet.  You don't want the dough to get too warm and stick, but the cookies are also delicate and can break easily.  (Squeeze together any dough scraps and put them back in the fridge to re-roll for your next cookie batch.)  

Place the baking sheet in the fridge for 30-40 minutes or in the freezer for 15 minutes; then bake at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes, or until the edges are just lightly golden and cookie is slightly puffed.  Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack to allow cookies to cool completely.  Cookies will keep in an airtight container for about 1 week.

Since I know not everyone has animal cookie cutters (and Valentine's Day is coming up) I also tried cutting some of the dough with small heart shapes.  I sprinkled the tops with red colored sugar and they baked up marvelously.  In short, give this recipe a go with any small cookie cutter of your choice. 


92 comments:

  1. I love those shapes! What cute and delicious looking crackers.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  2. Oh my goodness, how cute are those cookie cutters! I love the giraffe one.

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  3. How gorgeous! There is something soooooo gratifying about biting the heads off cookie animals ...

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  4. Ah, these bring me back to grocery shopping with my mom, when I was still small enough to fit in the cart! Love how to healthified them!

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  5. Oh COURSE I've eaten an animal cracker! He he! I actually would go through the entire box and pick out all the lions and eat them last bc they were my favorite! :D This is a great healthy recipe, so much better than what we ate as kids!

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  6. Those are just the cutest things!!! Brava!!!

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  7. PS...I'm your newest follower :)

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  8. Will you adopt me????? I was just raving about animal crackers and the little box....

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  9. Looks great- that's a great cookie cutter! :)

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  10. How cute are those! I especially love the giraffe. Those are my favorite! :-p And I love how you stood them up in front of the green "jungle." So cute. :-p

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  11. those look delicious & definitely better than the ones i remember as a kid. great job and i love your cookie cutters!

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  12. SO glad that you posted this recipe. I've wanted to make homemade animal crackers for several months now (they're one of Adam's very favorite childhood treats), but I just haven't picked up the cutters yet. When the time comes, I'm definitely going to be using your recipe (yay for ground flaxseed!)

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  13. Your pictures are SO cute! Love this idea!

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  14. I never imagined making animal crackers . . .but I can imagine what a hit of a grandma I'll be when I do! I sure want them to remember what I do. Wonderful idea!

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  15. I'm so excited to you posted this! I bought those very cookie cutters from WS a few years ago and have never used them. Thanks for the inspirations!

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  16. I love the memories attached to some foods. As soon as you said you "squealed with delight" at the sight of the box the cutter came in. I could see that box in my mind because like you said, we have all delighted in this little crackers. GREG

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  17. I adore these cookie cutters. So fun. Ok...honestly I still get excited when I see the animal cracker box...rofl. ;)

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  18. Animal crackers are the BEST! Love this recipe and those cookie cutters!

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  19. We didn't have animal crackers so no...I never ate them but I think I will remedy very soon to this because now I so want to make them with Carla. Thanks for the great post!

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  20. Hey Amanda! It's been a while since I stopped by. These animal crackers are so cute! I haven't had any animal crackers but I totally remember having them as a kid. I loved that they came in those boxes with the string. I also miss circus cookies!

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  21. These are so snazzy looking. Way better than the ones out of the familiar box. Bet they taste a lot fresher, too. What a great idea to update a classic, but with better ingredients.

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  22. My mother was always very strict about giving us sweets when I was little, so a box of animal crackers was a special treat. I always started by biting off the head and I'd always eat all the lions first. Mmmm... lions. :)
    I am so envious of your animal cracker cookie cutters! I'm sure the homemade version tastes much better than the quasi-stale cookies of my childhood. Hopefully I can find a set of my own... off I go to scour the Internet!

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  23. These are awesome and I know my kids would just love them. Will have to consider getting the cutters from WS!

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  24. You brought back my childhood memories with this post....I remember craving these when I was young and they were only available in one supermarket in the whole of Tanzania. What a great idea to make them at home. I love the shot of the animals against the green cloth.....looks like they're in a jungle!

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  25. I would love to try making these! Thanks for the fun recipe.

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  26. Adorable! I haven't had animal crackers in a very long time, but I'm sure I'd love these!

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  27. You. Did this.

    You did this.

    You. Did. This?

    I am so insanely impressed! They look PERFECT

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  28. These are just precious...I used to make something similar when my kids were little :)

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  29. Wow these are perfect for me. To this day, I am still addicted to animal crackers. I have no willpower. These would be a healthier way for me to go, no doubt. And they're adorable!!

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  30. oooo, I want these. I love your cookie cutter!

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  31. I've been on a flaxseed and whole wheat flour kick lately so these are perfect for my little monsters... I mean, my sweet babies. They are expert bakers so this will be a fun project for us on all the snow days. Great initiative by Frigidaire!

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  32. Awww... how precious!Those look so much better than this big jar of animal crackers I bought from Sam's club. I swear the shapes of those animals in the jar are so odd that I can only guess what creatures they are. Yours, on the other hand, look like tiny cute animals...heheh.

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  33. I bookmarked this right away! With Samuel eating solids I am always on the lookout for fun ways to introduce him to new flavors and textures. Animal crackers seem like a right of passage in childhood, and I can't wait to make these for him. I'll feel better knowing they are healthier but just as fun.

    Plus I bought a thing of 100 cookie cutters, and they have every animal known to man in there...so now I get to use them!

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  34. Your crackers are absolutely gorgeous.

    I'd love for your to submit them to Vegolicious, a vegetarian food photo gallery where readers can browse beautiful photos to discover new recipes and wonderful blogs. If you would like to share this recipe with our readers please submit http://www.vegolicious.com/submit a photo along with a link to this post.

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  35. What beautiful cookies!! Those cookie cutters are awesome and your photographs are beautiful!

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  36. I'll have you know that the first photo of yours brought a huge smile to my face. Just so cute. You and this post. And what a wonderful idea, Amanda. Love how they're whole grain.

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  37. Holy cow, are those ever cute! I will have to hunt down those cookie cutters!

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  38. These are ridiculously cute! I used to love the camel, too :) I had no idea that animal cracker cutter existed. Love this idea and the recipe looks fantastic.

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  39. I love animal crackers and these are so cute! Love that they're easy to make and healthy, too :)

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  40. These are a complete childhood favorite! Love that you made them from scratch!

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  41. I love every part about this recipe! THANK YOU!

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  42. Hi Amanda

    great job with those animal crackers! I did grow up with the little box with the handle...sigh
    yours look delicious and congrats on your top 9 today!
    Dennis

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  43. OMG these are amazing! And so awesome for you to do a kids post!! I totally lost track of the days and missed the deadline :(

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  44. My son eats the heads first! I have been looking for a savoury recipe for biscuits so thanks for this. :-)

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  45. Congrats on the Top 9! And, I can't wait to make these with my nephews!

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  46. Adorable! My kids would love these!! It's nice that they are healthy too. Well done on the top nine!

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  47. These are adorable! I love animal crackers, and I love that you have figured out a way to include whole grains. I am definitely going to try these out soon.

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  48. Amanda, and excellent post!! I remember those cookies well, and I have to admit that the camel was also one of my favorites! I also really, really liked the little string handle on the box, I could carry it around like a little purse. These are just perfect! I never thought something like this could be shipped up at home.. nicely done!!

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  49. Perfection - I was just planning on looking for a homemade animal cracker recipe, and lo and behold, it was in the Top 9! Thanks!
    Allison
    http://decadentphilistines.blogspot.com

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  50. Congrats on Top 9 featuring! Animal crackers look yummy :)

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  51. Woah!! Delicious and much healthier for the kids than store bought cookies. Without the preservatives too! Thanks for sharing!! Julie

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  52. These look amazing! Need those cookie cutters. )

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  53. Thank you so much for sharing this. I would have never of thought to make animal crackers let alone animal crackers made from whole grains. I just adore the cookie cutters, I hope they still sell them!

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  54. Who wouldn't love these??? My inner kid is coming out! Such a fun post!

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  55. These are so cute! I need to get some of those cookie cutters and make these! :)

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  56. Alright friends, I hate to tell you this... but Williams-Sonoma no longer sells these cookie cutters. Boo! I provided some links above if you want to order different cutters from Amazon, but I also found an ebay seller who has the W&S ones. Get bidding since this is the only one I could find!

    http://cgi.ebay.com/Williams-Sonoma-Circus-Cookie-Animal-Cracker-Cutters-/200571594907?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item2eb2ffa89b#ht_500wt_1156

    Also think about stopping by the W&S page (http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/5393145/) and 'Give them feedback' about the page, ie. tell them you want them to sell the animal cookie cutters again.

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  57. These look amazing, and they are so cute!

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  58. My son would absolutely love these! I am in love with those cookie cutter, I will have to get some just to make this recipe:)

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  59. I don't think I've ever had Animal Crackers, but this is possibly because I'm not convinced they sell them in the UK? Guess I'm going to have to head to Safeway when I get to Portland and pick some up! I feel it's important for my understanding of American culture ;)

    I love the animal cookie cutters, though! They're all kinds of awesome. I'd like to get some just for kicks, really. Can you imagine the brilliant things you could make in the shape of lions, tigers & bears (oh my!)? Congrats on your Top 9 for this one too, m'dear! Looking forward to seeing you soon!

    Jax x

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  60. These are adorable! So glad I could help inspire them! Now I want some animal cookie cutters for myself - I will definitely have to keep an eye out! Love that you made a healthier recipe yourself!

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  61. LOVE this! thank you for taking the time to create the recipes and share it

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  62. Love the idea of getting kids into the kitchen, my 4yo would love these, although I may have to try them with a dog bone cookie cutter as she likes to play puppy. Thanks for the link to the Kids' Cooking Academy. Fun to find another SD food blogger!

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  63. I used to love animal crackers when I was a kid. Love those cookie cutters!

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  64. I just made these!
    http://lunchfitforakid.blogspot.com/2011/04/recipe-whole-grain-animal-crackers.html

    I had a bit of trouble with the dough, though... it was really hard to work with! I'll be making some changes next time... and still try to keep it healthy! thank you so much for the recipe!

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  65. Love the photos Amanda and those cookie cutters are just adorable!

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  66. Hi. I was excited to make these for my kiddos today. However after making the dough last night . I was getting ready to roll out today and it is just so crumbly and won't hold together at all, let alone roll out. Any ideas on how to salvage it? More butter? Thank you

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