Often times I have asked, “What kinds of foods/recipes/cooking tools/techniques would you like for me to write about?” The response is usually silence, even the crickets do not make a sound. So, I have found enjoyment in looking up “food holidays”, basically made-up occasions in which a particular food/recipe is given national recognition. Let’s see if you can guess, by the song lyrics, what occasion we are celebrating in April. I made it really easy to guess upon.
“Animal crackers in my soup
Monkeys and rabbits loop the loop
Gosh oh gee but I have fun
Swallowing animals one by one”
"Animal Crackers in My Soup" is a song introduced by Shirley Temple in the film “Curly Top” (1935). The lyrics were written by Josephine Drexel Irving Caesar and Ted Koehler; music by Ray Henderson.
Vendors would go up and down throughout the bleachers, selling souvenirs, popcorn, cotton candy, and…animal crackers! The little boxes, resembling circus animal cages with lions, tigers, bears and elephants seen within. A little string attached to either end, so a small child could carry the box. Everyone having pleasant memories of this? I sure am!
Nowadays these tasty little treats can be found in any supermarket, by the box or bagful. However, recipes are available online, and so are the needed cookie cutters ranging in size from tiny to palm size. Many cutters are very ornate in design, but for authentic looking cookies, keep it simplistic.
The origin of animal crackers is traced back to 19th century Victorian England. What we refer to as cookies in America, the English refer to sweet hard biscuits or crackers. Another example of English-English vs. American-English language differentiations. Why animal shapes? This reflects back to the 6th – 7th centuries when animals were sacrificed, to the gods, during the autumn, winter and mid-winter celebrations. As Christianity moved throughout Europe, and the people became more “civilized” during the centuries, the cute little animal biscuits were a treat given to children at Christmas time.
By 1889, P.T. Barnum introduced the crackers to circus audiences, with the cute boxes being developed by 1902. The four original Barnum's animals, and still in circulation, are the lion, bear, elephant, and tiger.
Whether purchasing at the store, or baking your own, make sure to have your animal crackers ready to eat on April 18, 2023 – National Animal Crackers Day! To really enjoy the day, why not watch Shirley Temple’s “Curly Top”, and sing along with her too.
Homemade Animal Crackers
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (sifted)
½ tsp. salt
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar (substitute Truvia or Swerve brand if watching sugar content)
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, mix, scraping bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula, until incorporated.
Add half the flour mixture and mix on low until combined. Add remaining flour and mix until incorporated. Divide the dough in half and form each into a disk, about 1-inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
After one hour, remove dough from the refrigerator and allow to rest at room temperature for 5 - 10 minutes, or until pliable. At the same time, preheat oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Line counter, or large cutting board, with wax paper; roll one disk of dough out to ¼-inch thick. Cut into animal shapes, place about 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with second disk of dough. The scraps of dough remaining can be gathered up, re-rolled and refrigerated until chilled properly to cut again.
Bake for 8 to 12 minutes or until the bottoms are browned. Remove to a cooling rack. Store at room temperature in an airtight container, or freeze cookies in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
The number of cookies baked up will be dependent on the size of the cookie cutters, and if all the dough is used up.
Before baking these cookies, and to be more decorative, sprinkles or other colorful baking décor can be put onto the cookies. Yes, a simple glaze can be painted on after the cookies are cooled.
To make chocolate animal crackers, add ¼ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder; or add 3 tsp. of cinnamon for cinnamon flavored ones. Yes, you can play with your cookies, and eat them too!