Whether you broke open that circus-themed box or tore into a family-sized bag, there’s a good chance you’ve munched on animals crackers at one time or another. With their signature animal shapes and slightly sweet taste, these beloved crackers have been a staple snack for more than 100 years. (Just like a few of our vintage dessert recipes.)
They first rose into popularity after the National Biscuit Co. branded its variety as “Barnum’s Animals,” named after the famed P.T. Barnum. For the 1902 Christmas season, the company manufactured a small, circus-themed rectangular box with a string attached with the intention of hanging it from a tree. The boxes were an instant hit, and they’re still sold today.
After all that time, home cooks have gotten pretty creative in how they use them in recipes. Anywhere from 37 to 100 or more kinds of animals have been sold over the years-estimates differ. Whatever the case, there has been plenty of inspiration to go around, including these fun ways to use the crunchy, cute critters to make wonderfully wild treats.
Make a snack mix.
For a bright, circus-inspired treat, mix popcorn, pastel marshmallows, Raisinets, peanuts, pretzels, and frosted and plain animal crackers. It’s the greatest snack on earth!
Make a pie (or cheesecake) crust.
Crushed animal crackers can be used in any recipe that calls for a graham cracker crust. Just process the animal crackers in a food processor, stir in melted butter and brown sugar, and you’ve got a crispy-sweet crust that’s amazing with pie. Or try it in this creamy Pistachio-Cardamom Cheesecake recipe.
Plunk them into a dessert dip.
Animal crackers make perfect dunkers for sweet dessert dips like this rich, chocolaty brownie batter dip.
Bring them to movie night.
Break up frosted animal crackers and toss them with freshly popped popcorn. And go ahead and mix in a few shakes of rainbow sprinkles for good measure (and even more colorful crunch!).
Top a cupcake.
For zoo- or circus-themed birthday parties, make a batch of your favorite cupcakes, frost to your delight, then top with lots of sprinkles and an animal cracker placed upright.
Add fun to a float.
Ice cream floats become even more fun when you top them with a few animal crackers. Add tigers, gorillas and elephants to this fizzy Jungle Float and you’re in for a wild time.
Make mini ice cream sandwiches.
Take a small scoop of your favorite ice cream flavor and sandwich it between either plain or frosted animal crackers. Roll the edges in rainbow sprinkles for an extra dose of fun.
Turn them into candy bark.
Make brightly colored candy bark by melting a packaging of white baking chocolate (10 to 12 oz.) with 4 tablespoons of shortening. Spread it into a foil-lined baking pan, then sprinkle on broken bits of frosted animal crackers and plenty of rainbow nonpareils. Let cool, break apart, and enjoy!
Douse in chocolate.
Frosted animal crackers are pretty delicious on their own, but if you’re more of a chocolate fan, make your own cocoa-crazy crunchers by coating plain animal crackers in melted chocolate, then sprinkle on rainbow nonpareils.
Make petting-zoo pudding.
Sub in animal crackers for vanilla wafers in Memaw’s Banana Pudding recipe, and you’ve got a sweet twist on a classic dessert that’s sure to delight everyone.
Love these adorable crackers? Check out this collection of our cutest desserts.