Serious Eats: Sweets
Very Small Anna: Animal Crackers
Editor's Note: We'd like to welcome Anna Markow, who some of you may already know as Very Small Anna. She'll be stopping by every week to share one of her signature spins on classic recipes.—the Mgmt.
Once upon a time, I was the pastry chef for a cute little restaurant in Tribeca in New York City. My time there did not end happily ever after, but luckily that wasn't the end of my story. Now I'm the pastry chef for a new Brooklyn restaurant, and doing things very differently than I had been the last year and a half of my career. Best of all, I escaped the premises with my recipe book intact, ready to share my signature spins on American classics.
My first recipe for you started with a question: When you think of petit fours, what comes to mind? Those classic fondant-covered little squares? Sparkling pâté de fruit? Shiny bon bons? Wee macarons?
From my point of view, while all of those are impressive, I've never understood the point of giving away such labor-intensive, better looking than tasting bites when you can make delicious, unique treats to surprise your diners.
That's how animal crackers became the original petit four at my previous restaurant. They're bite-sized, crunchy, interestingly wholesome, and completely unexpected. (Besides, I had inherited a set of small animal cutters from my grandmother and was itching to use them. All I had to do was develop the recipe.)
I did a lot of research on what makes an animal cracker distinctive, and what makes it taste homemade. I found that, aside from the ubiquitous cinnamon, animal crackers are often spiced with mace, which makes them taste light and fresh. It's not as heavy as nutmeg or cloves, but a nice addition to commonplace cinnamon. I also found that oats and graham or whole wheat flour can give the cookies a unique flavor, and tend to keep both in my professional and home pantries. Finally, a relatively low-fat dough devoid of eggs and drawing most of its moisture from pure water makes a crispy cracker. The result is a vaguely whole-grain tasting cookie that's lightly spiced with a shattery crispness. They're particularly nice with a cup of coffee or tea.
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About the Author: Anna Markow is a pastry chef obsessed with doing things that no one else does and giving unusual ingredients their time to shine. You can follow her sometimes-pastry-related thoughts on Twitter @VerySmallAnna and see her adventures in creativity on her website, VerySmallAnna.