Tuesday, December 13, 2011

To do list: Make Animal Crackers

The above clip is Shirley Temple (of course) from 1935. The movie was “Curly Top.” A significantly different time, eh? People LOVED her. I always found her movies a bit pretentious, precocious, whatever. Not that I was around when they first came out... It appears that she is singing to all the happy residents of an orphanage. 

I don't think I would put them in MY soup. Too sweet.
Photo: fritish, Flickr ccl
Everyone remembers animal crackers, right? Those buttery (maybe) little biscuits shaped like circus animals that came in a little circus cage with a red rope handle? Usually either appendages or heads were broken off many of the poor animals inside.

The red rope handle was a long, long time ago – 1960s? I don’t think it made it to the 70s. It was probably cost prohibitive and therefore one of the first things to be cut – more than likely followed quickly by butter.

Animal crackers first arrived in North America from Britain in the mid- to late-1800s. Demand grew to the point that there was enough popularity to support manufacture in the USA. The National Biscuit Company became the main manufacturer. (Na-bis-co…)

Biscuit is the British term for what North Americans usually call a cookie. Where all this “cracker” naming came from is beyond me. We all know them as Animal Crackers but they're certainly not cracker-like in any way.

In 1902 they officially became known as “Barnum’s Animals” to associate the biscuit with Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. Many different companies market “animal crackers” but to North Americans there was, and always will be, only one brand: Nabisco.

Photo: Wiki CC
Animal crackers are essentially sweet, flat cookies that are shaped like circus animals. Since 1903 there have been 37 different animals. Currently there are 18. I can’t remember how many there were when I was growing up but I do remember all of the animals in the picture at right.

More than 40 million packages are currently manufactured at the Nabisco plant in New Jersey and are sold throughout the USA and exported internationally. Why is it that I can never find them? 

Well worry no longer if you can't either. You can purchase “circus cookie cutters,” in a box reminiscent of the 1960s-70s container, and make your own. Sadly there are only five cutters in the set, but it’s five of the good ones. But no monkey. There’s even a recipe on the back.

No monkey, but they have little handles to press in the indentations.
I purchased these cutters from Williams-Sonoma.com in April but haven’t had occasion to use them yet. That will change this weekend hopefully.

Funny thing, when you look on the W-S site the dough recipe is there but not the cutters. “No longer available” it says. They are available other places if you look online but it may take you a while to find them. I also remember them being a bit on the expensive side too.

When you do locate them just be sure you’re getting the shapes you remember as a child. They HAVE to have the dimples on the tops to show eyes, spots, etc. That’s why the W-S ones have the little press handle. Many companies make animal shaped crackers but not “these” shapes.

If you loved these cookies as a child you owe it to yourself to purchase the cutters to have in your collection.

The recipe is a piece of cake (or piece of cookie or biscuit) to find. I’m going to try the one on the Williams-Sonoma box first before I start to mess with it… although I’ve read online by people who have made it that it’s “perfect.”

Mmmmmm. Animal crackers. Maybe soup too. One never knows.

Click on the image to read the recipe that comes with the cutters!

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1 comment:

  1. I only remember white string handles, and they were 10 cents a box. This would have been in the early 60s.