While searching for homemade animal crackers, I found a fantastic recipe on Williams Sonoma’s website called Animal Cracker cookies. I love their recipes, but they’re often incredibly time consuming, as is the case with these cookies. They require a chill in the fridge for at least two hours, followed by a second chill in the fridge or freezer after they’re cut into shapes. Additionally, the dough is very butter-heavy, so you need to roll it between two sheets of plastic wrap. The upside to all these steps are that the cookies cut beautifully and bake up with very clean edges.
The cookies were beautiful, but they tated nothing like the sweet airy Stauffer’s Animal crackers I grew up eating and was hoping to recreate. On the other hand, I was delighted that what I had found was lighter, brighter “summer” gingerbread. These cookies were spicy and buttery very much like gingerbread with just a hint of chew and crisp edges. Word of warning, just be sure to follow the recipe and bake them till they’re barely golden. If you see the edges getting brown, it’s too late. They’ll get very hard and crunchy, more like a gingersnap.
I often bake at night after the kids go to bed and was getting sleepy by the time these cookies were finally baked, so I whipped up a simple butter frosting with lemon and made sandwich cookies. Spicy, buttery and just a bit tart. Perfect for Christmas in July!
White Gingerbread Cookies (from Williams Sonoma)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. mace
12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Over a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and mace. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on high speed for 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, slowly add the sugar and beat for 2 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for 1 minute, stopping the mixer once to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Stop the mixer and add half of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until most of the flour has been absorbed. Add the remaining flour and beat until all of the flour has been absorbed and the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, 2 to 3 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 2 equal balls. Shape each into a disk and wrap separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
Let the dough stand at room temperature for 5 minutes. Place each dough disk between 2 clean, large pieces of plastic wrap. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. (If the dough cracks while rolling, let it stand at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes more.) Remove the plastic wrap and place the dough on a floured work surface. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour.
Preheat an oven to 350°F.
Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Dip circus cookie cutters into flour just before using and cut out the shapes. Hold each cutter over a prepared baking sheet and lightly depress the plunger to remove the cutout; the plunger will also imprint the tops of the cookies. Freeze the baking sheets for 15 minutes, or refrigerate for 30 minutes. Gather up the scraps, reroll and cut out more cookies.
Bake the cookies until very light golden brown, 14 to 16 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool to room temperature. Makes about 20 cookies of each shape.
Lemon Frosting (adapted from Williams Sonoma)
8 Tbs. (1 stick) softened unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
Beat butter and sugar. Add vanilla extract and beat till well combined. Fold in lemon zest.