Stauffer's Biscuit Company began producing their version for a wide market in 1871. When the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) was formed in 1898, animal crackers were one of the debut products. The crackers didn't become known as "Barnum's Animals" and packaged in the circus-themed box with the handle until 1902. The handle was added to make it easier to hang the crackers on Christmas trees. The boxes originally retailed for $.05US a box and were an instant success. Such a success that 40 million of the now familiar boxes are still sold each year in 18 countries around the world.
There seems to be some dispute about whether Nabisco has rendered 54 or 37 different animals in cookie form since 1902 (I can't find a definitive source and their website is not at all helpful). The four species that have survived since the original boxes were packed are lion, tiger, bear and elephant. Considering the many different manufacturers that produce some type of animal cracker as well as all the independent bakers in the early nineteenth century, there is really no telling how many animals have made an appearance as a cracker.
Ellie and I have sampled many an animal-shaped cracker since she acquired teeth and decided that it was high time we try to make them on our own. This particular recipe is on the savory side. Since Ellie and I are big fans of the sugar-packed critters in the little red box, we had to remind ourselves that these were crackers and not cookies. This dough is great for a novice cookie baker and can be eaten raw without fear since it doesn't contain eggs. A big plus when baking with the younger set.
Animal Crackers (a little savory)
* 1/2 c. "old-fashioned" (rolled) oats
* 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
* 1/4 t. baking soda
* 1/4 t. salt
* 1/4 c. butter or Earth Balance (we used EB)
* 2 t. honey, agave or brown rice syrup
* 1/4 c. some kind of milk (we used organic 2%)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grind oats until fine using a blender or food processor.
Stir together the blended oats, flour, baking soda and salt. Cut in the butter with your fingers until the mixture is crumby. Mix in the milk and honey to form a stiff dough.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/8 inch in thickness. The thinner you can get, the more crackery the result. Cut out animal shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies on a cookie sheet. They only puff a little so they don't have to be oceans apart.
Bake for 5 to 7 minutes in the preheated oven, until edges are lightly browned. Remove from the cookie sheet to cool and enjoy!
For dozens of other recipes for animal crackers, visit animalcrackers.net.