April 11, 2016

A giant bag of animal crackers was consistently among my family's must-pack beach snacks during the summer, and while I didn't turn out to be much of a sun-n-surf kind of lady in my adult life, I treasure memories of plopping down soggy, sandy, and totally spent on a blanket loaded up with snacks after a long afternoon of having it out with the waves.

That said, along with a fear of going more than knee-deep in ocean water and a growing concern for my skin health (i.e. my primary aversions to the beach), my adult self has developed a stronger interest in what's going into mine and loved one's mouths--even at snack time. And as charming and adorable as the zoo of slightly sweet, delightfully crunchy little cookies remains in my eyes, when I turn those same eyes over to the ingredient list... my childhood vacation fuel doesn't feel quite as wholesome as the memories surrounding it.

As it turns out, churning out a homemade rendition of this cookie jar classic wasn't difficult at all--in fact, this would be a great recipe to tackle with little kitchen helpers. Swapping white flour for a blend of white whole-wheat and oat flours provides fiber and a delightfully nutty sweetness that you aren't going to find on the supermarket shelf. I used a set of mini animal-shaped cookie cutters from Wilton, but you can make them in whatever shapes you and your crew like best. Be sure to store the cookies in an airtight container once they've cooled to keep them fresh for up to 1 week.

Whole Grain Animal Cracker Cookies

6 oz. white whole-wheat flour (about 1 1/4 cups)3 1/2 oz. oat flour (about 1 cup)3/4 oz. milk powder (about 2 Tbsp.)1/2 teaspoon baking powder1/2 teaspoon salt9 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened1/4 cup sugar3 Tbsp. honey1/2 tsp. vanilla extract1 large egg

1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a bowl, stirring with a whisk until combined; set aside.

2. Combine butter, sugar, and honey the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment; beat at medium speed 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; beat until just combined. Add flour mixture a little at a time, beating until combined. Press dough into a flat disc; wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface; roll to 1/4-inch-thickness. Cut the dough into shapes using miniature animal-shaped cookie cutters. Transfer cookies to 2 parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

4. Bake cookies at 350°F for 7 to 8 minutes or until lightly golden brown, rotating pans halfway through baking. Cool 1 to 2 minutes on baking sheet; transfer cookies to wire wracks to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough scraps. Transfer cooled cookies to an airtight container.

SERVES 16 (serving size: 9 cookies)CALORIES 144; FAT 7.6g (sat 4.4g, mono 1.9g, poly 0.4g); PROTEIN 3g; CARB 17g; FIBER 1g; SUGARS 7g; CHOL 30mg; IRON 1mg; SODIUM 98mg; CALC 26mg

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