What the hell was wrong with Shirley Temple? I mean, sure she was cute in that precocious curly-locks kind of way and she could hoof it with the best of them, but I have to question her eating choices. Animal crackers in her soup? Yuck. That’s an awful combination. Any cracker that goes in a soup should be salty and more on the bread side of flavor. Animal crackers are not that. Technically they are a layered dough made in the same fashion of crackers, but they are sweet to the taste. They are a cookie. They don’t belong in soup. That would be like putting an Oreo cookie in your minestrone. I think the hormones that the studios were injecting into Shirley to keep her preserved as an eight year old girl affected her palette. That’s just an awful choice.
I mentioned animal crackers last month when it was National Oreo Cookie Day. Oreos were one of the cookies that helped propel the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) to worldwide prominence. Animal crackers were the company’s first national cookie success story. But the Nabisco brand was not the originator of animal crackers. In fact, animal shaped crackers (or biscuits as the locals called them) can be traced back to England in the early 19th century. The Brits enjoyed a nice biscuit with their tea and shaped them like animals to bring some whimsy to the table. The cookies eventually made the journey to America where they became a thing here too. In 1871, the Stauffer’s Biscuit Company packaged the first animal crackers in York, Pennsylvania for national distribution and that company is still carrying on the tradition today. They are the ones that come in the giant tub shaped like a friendly bear. To be honest, I’m not a fan of them. My palate is used to the other kind of animal crackers which are more like a shortbread and sweeter. The Stauffer’s kind is less sweet and to me, very bland. Tastes like disappointment. Maybe that’s the kind Shirley put in her soup? Around the turn of the 20th century, there were a few bakeries that were making the crackers and the folks at the National Biscuit Company started to merge them together. In 1902, they started producing the crackers under the name of Barnum’s Animal Crackers as part of the promotional genius of the legendary P.T. Barnum whose circus was a worldwide phenomenon. The box was designed to look like a circus wagon and each box had a string so it could be hung as a Christmas ornament (it also made it handy for tiny hands to carry). From there, the cookies took off and they remain a fixture in the cookie aisle today and are still the most popular animal cracker in the world. (Info from sweetttoothdesign.com)
Clements’ Marketplace naturally had a big display of the cookies in the middle of the cookie aisle. The box pretty much looks the same as it has for over a hundred years, although the string is gone now. It now has a cardboard handle that you can fold out. I suppose the string had seen its day, but that will always be one of the fun nostalgic parts about these cookies that we will recall with glee. Such is progress. Graphically, the box really looks the same and the pictures of the animals have that somewhat old-timey look to them. I picked up a box and because I didn’t want to be the 48 year old man just buying a box of animal crackers, I picked up some steak and butter too. I always wonder if the teenagers who work the checkout line at Clements look at me and wonder what my story is? I certainly go through an array of odd items. Anyway, I picked them up and brought them home and just like the other first graders in the neighborhood, I enjoyed my animal crackers as a nice little afternoon snack (right before my nap time and post-nap boom-boom).
I think that the molds for the cookies were made by Picasso because they never look exactly like an animal to me. I could spot the buffalo and the lion easy enough, the elephant too, but there were a few I wasn’t so sure of what they were. Was that a duckbilled platypus I just ate? A sloth? In any case, they were still as good as I remembered. Nicely sweet like shortbread with a good crisp crunch to them. I chomped off the heads first, as is usual etiquette and had myself a little feast. I recalled the observation by comedian Mitch Hedberg:
“Animal crackers make people think that all animals taste the same. What does a giraffe taste like. A hippopotamus? I just had them back to back.”
I didn’t think that just eating a box of animal crackers would be all that exciting for the blog, so I looked around to see what else I could do with them. I found recipe from a blog called Beyond Frosting for something called Circus Animal Cookie Dough Truffle Bars. I had to re-read that because it was a lot of good things in one recipe name. Circus animals? That’s the animal crackers so that’s a good thing. Cookie Dough? You have my attention. Truffle? That put me over the edge. I figured this would be a good one and after quick read through, it was super simple. You start by making your dough with butter and sugar, then mix in some flour along with a little bit of milk and vanilla. When it starts to come together, you add in some crushed up animal crackers and some colorful jimmies (or sprinkles – whatever you call them). You press it all down into a pan. When that’s ready, you melt some white chocolate with some heavy cream and you just pour it over the top of the dough. You sprinkle that with more rainbow sprinkles to make it look pretty. That’s it. No baking, it just needed to chill in the fridge.
These were pretty fantastic. The animal crackers are present in the dough and because you only give them a rough chop, you actually get tiny pieces in your bites which gives it a layer of unexpected texture. The shortbread is dense, sweet and buttery. It’s a swirl of of all the flavors with the occasional extra sugary bite of a sprinkle. The white chocolate topping holds it all together too. I’m not usually a huge fan of white chocolate, but in this instance it’s the perfect topping. I once heard someone say that white chocolate should taste like good, clean milk and not overly sweet. That’s what made it work so well – it was essentially a good cookie with a delicious clean milk finish. Really nice.
My problem this week is I’m all alone. All of Lola’s sisters were vacationing in Florida this week for school vacation and after they got down there, Lola had a deep longing in her heart. She was missing them for the holiday. She was missing seeing them all together. She was missing being around all her little nuggets (her nieces and nephews). Plus her sisters were missing her too. On our drive home from Easter dinner, we did some Pricelining and we found a way to get her down there. Thanks to her sisters, they had a spare room for her to use too (which was very generous of them). Early on Monday, she flew out from Providence and has been in the warm sun of Florida ever since. I’m glad she went because she needed to fill her soul up with family, sun and love. I had to work this week and couldn’t go so consequently I am home alone. That’s ok too and I am enjoying my home alone week (which essentially means I’m eating bags of chips in my underwear and leaving the seat up in the bathroom – the joys of a man being alone). But in regards to my quest, I am missing my partner. Moreover, Lola’s sisters are usually my go to people for any leftovers and second opinions. So today I have this entire pan of a delicious Circus Animal Cookie Dough Truffle Bars, and no one to share them with. I am hoping I have enough will power not to eat the whole pan by myself. If I keep them in the fridge, they should last for a good week or so, so they should still be fine by the time everyone comes back to Rhody. But this being alone changes how this whole quest goes. It’s just more fun with Lola here (and I especially miss her colorful comments). Still, like any quester, I’ll carry on.
All in all, a pretty nice way to celebrate animal crackers and I’m happy to report that not once did they get submerged in a bowl of soup. Maybe that’s how they serve them on the good ship Lollipop, but not in the real world. No, animal crackers should come in a box with pictures of animals on it and eaten as a cookie. Sure we can use them to make other sweet concoctions, but they are always best in the purest form – in a box that you can carry where you can select your animal of choice and bite their head off. Animal crackers really do hold a place in most of our memories of childhood fun. It was just a fun cookie to eat. You would savor them and hold onto your favorite animals. It was a food you could play with and just fun to eat. That’s what makes them special and why they are still popular today nearly 120 years after they first appeared. That was worth celebrating and I’m glad I did, even if it was a party of one.
Next up: National Garlic Day