If you’re like most Americans of a certain age, the mention of animal crackers summons memories of curious little creatures held captive in wee cardboard boxes resembling Barnum’s circus cars. No more. Not after you’ve tried this homemade animal cracker recipe from cookbook author Ivy Manning. “I loved animal crackers as a child,” Manning explains. “But as an adult, I find them to be overly sweet and bland at the same time.” Sometimes recollection tends to be more forgiving than it ought in terms of taste and texture, yes? She’s fixed that. What we think you’ll call to mind going forward is this terrific-tasting cookie made with all-natural ingredients and lotsa love. Here’s how to make your own from scratch.–David Leite
Homemade Animal Crackers FAQs
Okay, so the name “animal crackers” sorta leads one to expect these cookie-like crackers to be in the shape of, you know, teensy animals. Like elephants and bears and so on. But we’re not averse to the notion of reaching for whatever cookie cutters you happen to have on hand, be they in the shape of an animal, heart, angel, dreidel, or vintage mustang convertible. It’s the taste that counts.
This might be even more simple than you might expect. You just blitz oats in a blender until fine and powdery. That’s it. Oat flour!
Homemade Animal Crackers
- Animal-shaped cookie cutters
For the animal crackers
- 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
- 1/3 cup oat flour
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, preferably organic
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 4 tablespoons (2 oz) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm) pieces
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the frosting
- 1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 2 tablespoons sprinkles, (optional)
Make the animal crackers
- In the bowl of a food processor or in a large bowl, pulse or whisk the all-purpose flour, oat flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, lemon zest, baking powder, and salt to combine. Add the butter and pulse about 15 times if using a food processor or use a pastry blender or your fingers to cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.
- In a large liquid measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, honey, and vanilla and stir until the honey has dissolved. Add to the flour mixture and pulse or stir with a wooden spoon until the dough just comes together. Remove the dough from the processor or bowl and knead gently on a lightly floured surface until smooth, about 10 times. Divide the dough into 2 portions, shape them into equal-size disks, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line 2 baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
- Unwrap the dough and place 1 disk on a well-floured surface. Roll out the dough until it's 1/8 inch thick, lifting and rotating the dough to make sure it’s not sticking to the work surface. You may need to sprinkle the surface with more flour if necessary.
- Use lightly floured cookie cutters to cut out animal shapes. Using a lightly floured bench scraper or offset spatula, move the cut-outs to the prepared baking sheets. Reroll the scraps once and cut them out. Bake the animal crackers until light golden brown around the edges, 6 to 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheet once from back to front while baking. Cool the crackers on the sheet until they firm up, 5 minutes, and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. While the first batch of crackers is cooling, repeat the rolling, cutting, and baking process with the remaining dough and dough scraps.
Make the frosting
- In a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, and milk and stir until smooth.
Frost the animal crackers
- Spread a thin layer of frosting over each animal cracker, scattering sprinkles over the crackers immediately after you frost, if desired. Let them stand at room temperature until the frosting is completely set, at least 1 hour. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
These homemade animal crackers—cookies, actually—are cute, fun, and delicious. It’s not a complicated recipe, and the only hitch is the chill time and the time spent cutting out the shapes. I suspect that you could roll the dough and cut off rounds and it would be faster, but surely wouldn’t be as cute!
I ground some steel-cut oats in my Vitamix to get the oat flour and it was perfect. I sprinkled my owl shapes with silver and multi-colored bits. My bake time was a bit longer, though it might have been because my shapes were on the largish size. Imagine an owl bigger than a circus elephant—who would have thought?
The lemon in both the dough and frosting is the magic ingredient for me. I stole away some of the 40 cookies that I got from my recipe and set them aside in a resealable plastic bag on the counter. After 6 days, they’re just as good, just as crisp, and just as cute! I love animal crackers, but I think I love these even more.
This homemade animal cracker recipe was easy to put together. The only change I made was substituting 1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon thyme for the lemon zest, as I had no lemons on hand. The resulting “cracker” was crunchy with a bit of a chew. The results were perfect—a slightly sweet frosting on a very nice-tasting cracker. I think this recipe, sans frosting, is much healthier than commercial animal crackers.
I grew up eating the fun circus box of animal crackers. My mom would buy them as a “treat” when we went grocery shopping. I had expectations that these would be the same, but they were not. The consistency was a softer version of the cracker that my kids have known since their teething days.
I liked the ease with which these animal crackers came together. I ground up the oatmeal and added the rest of the ingredients to the food processor, and it did all the work. I chilled the dough, and it rolled out easily. I chose my animal cutter—a bear.
I did not frost these crackers, as it would have added sugar calories to these otherwise nice natural cookies. It would be a perfect cookie for a young one.
Who doesn’t love animal crackers—those fondly remembered, bland, dry, almost cracker-like cookies that came in a circus box? Me. Even my toddler granddaughter took a pass on those. Thanks to this homemade animal crackers recipe, now she loves them. These are simple to make, only taking minutes to throw together in the food processor and an hour or so to chill the dough.
I found the more I worked the dough, the better it came together when rolling it out, so maybe I’d knead a few more times than the recipe recommended. And the beauty of this recipe is that once the dough is made, you can make as few as you desire or you can make the whole batch at once.
I baked my animal crackers in 2 batches, 2 days apart. I found that using a 1 1/2-inch piggy-shaped cookie cutter. I made a total of 135 animal crackers. I can’t imagine how big the cookie cutter was to only get 45; I got about 45 animal crackers on each of 3 baking sheets. I glazed half the animal crackers. I found that leaving the glazed cookies to air dry took the better part of an hour to get dry enough to put in a cookie tin. It’s certainly not a step I’d omit.
The unglazed animal crackers did keep crisper a little longer, but they aren’t destined to be around for a very long time. The cookies themselves had a lovely hint of lemon that the puckery glaze enhanced. The animal crackers were also very nice plain.
My tasters were evenly split on glazed or not glazed. I also found that the animal crackers cooled very quickly on their baking sheets while I dealt with the next batch destined for the oven, so I didn’t bother transferring the animal crackers to a wire rack to cool. I had parchment paper on the baking sheets, so I let them continue to cool and glazed them on the baking sheets. Definitely a new family favorite.
Originally published September 5, 2014