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Entries in cakespy book (24)


The Story of Animal Crackers

Animal crackers

CakeSpy Note: Sometimes, I like doing sweet things for you, readers. And so I decided to share an inside look at one of my favorite stories--and recipes!--from my new book, The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts. This tale is all about animal crackers. Enjoy! 

“Animal crackers and cocoa to drink that is the finest of suppers I think; when I am grown up and have what I please I think I shall always insist upon these.”

—Actor and writer Christopher Morley

Everyone loves those curious animal-shaped cookies that pack a crunch and are called “crackers.” But how is it that these proud little animals began marching their way into our mouths and hearts?

Well. The custom of crafting cookies that resemble creatures is nothing new— as early as the 1600s in Germany, bakers were making sweet treats resembling savage beasts. But it wasn’t until the 1800s that the wheels began to turn, set- ting off the chain reaction that made these sweet crackers a snacking staple. For this we owe a thank-you to the industrial revolution: that’s when biscuits, cookies, and crackers began to be manufactured in factories.

In Victorian England, “crisp biscuits”—that’s sweet, cracker-like cookies, to Americans— were very popular. Some of these biscuits were shaped like animals. A hint of things to come was evident when Zoologicals, animal-shaped cook- ies made by Philadelphia baker Walter G. Wilson, were sold at the Centennial Exposition of 1876—the first world’s fair in America. (This pivotal event yielded many innovations, including the introduction of the Dewey Decimal system, the ice cream soda, and the grand debut of the Statue of Liberty’s torch, before it was affixed to the rest of her body in New York City.)

After acquiring two New York City bakeries that produced animal-shaped biscuits, the National Biscuit Company (later Nabisco) began producing animal-shaped biscuits on a commercial scale which allowed for widespread distribution.

Animal Crackers

Serendipitously, this timing coincided with P. T. Barnum’s growing reputation as an international showman and circus owner. Perhaps sensing a sales opportunity, several companies had begun marketing foods of all sorts with circus-themed packaging, and these biscuits were a natural tie-in. The National Biscuit Company did it most famously, with their 1902 debut of the animal-shaped crackers. Marketed as a specialty holiday item, they were sold in a small box resembling a circus cage with a handle at the top, for displaying as an ornament.

The crackers proved so popular that they were soon being produced year-round, the ornament string promoted as an easy way for children to transport the cookies. In 1948, they were renamed Barnum’s Animal Crackers, which is what they’re still called today. But for all the glittering success of the Barnum associa- tion, the circus man did not receive payment for the use of his name: according to an article in the Washington Post, he never got a cent for the crackers.

Ready for a recipe? Here's an adaptation of the one in the book. For more sweet stories and recipes, buy the book: The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts.

Homemade Animal Crackers (Printable version here)

Makes about 6 dozen


  • 2 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3⁄4 cup (1 1⁄2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to cool room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla, stirring until combined.
  3. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, mixing after each addition just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  4. Form the dough into 2 disks and wrap well with plastic; refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Chilling the dough will ensure that the shapes hold once cut out and that the dough will not spread too much during baking.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  6. Allow the cookie dough to warm slightly at room temperature before rolling it. On a floured work surface, use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough to about 1⁄4 inch thick. Use small animal-shaped cut- ters to cut the dough (of course, other small cutters will work, too). Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets. Gather up the dough scraps and re-roll to make more cookies. Leave a small amount of room around each cookie to allow for spreading. If desired, you can use toothpicks to enhance the details on the animals, or add faces.
  7. Let the cookies chill (on the baking sheets) in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before baking. This will ensure even further that the dough retains any details you’ve added.
  8. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes ,or until firm, just lightly brown on the edges, and with a dull finish on top. Let cool on the pan for several minutes, then transfer to a flat surface (they may fall through a wire rack) to cool completely. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 7 days.

And in closing:

Per Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, children across America tend to “nibble away at the animals in definite order of dismem- berment: back legs, forelegs, head, and lastly the body.”


Sweet Sneak Peek: The Secret Lives of Baked Goods Illustrations


Secret Lives Illustrations


There's still a week until my new book, The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts, is released, and I just know that you are dying--absolutely dying--to buy it or see me on book tour (those dates, btw, can conveniently be found running on the left side bar of this site - just look to your left! <-------). 

Well, I can't make May 7 come any sooner, but I can reveal a secret or two about the book, I suppose!

How about giving you a preview of the art that will be inside of its lovely pages?

Secret Lives Illustrations

This book is quite different from my first, and as such, a different style of illustration seemed appropriate. So in this book, it's all more bold and linear pen and ink illustrations. It's certainly not my usual style! But that was actually kind of fun - challenging myself to a different style of artwork. Doing all of those little shading and cross-hatchy bits brought me back to art school, and in a positive way. I found it meditative to do them while watching Gossip Girl. 

I hope you like this different style--here's a peek at some of the illustrations which were used as spot illustrations in the book! 


Secret Lives Illustrations Secret Lives Illustrations


Secret Lives Illustrations


Buy the book here: The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts!



Batter Chatter: Interview with Kristin Ausk, Recipe Tester for The Secret Lives of Baked Goods

Pink Frosted cookies

Curious about the secret life of a recipe tester? Learn more about one of the fantastic recipe testers (and overall awesome person) for my new book: Kristin Ausk, owner of So-Cal's beloved Meringue Bake Shop! We'll discuss the recipe testing a bit, but also give you a little more of her back-story, too!

How did you feel to be approached about testing recipes for this awesome book? I was so excited! Very honored. I love trying out new recipes. And love helping out friends. 

What recipe did you test? I tested the pink frosted cookies.

Did anything surprise you about the recipe or testing process? The only thing that surprised me was the amount of flour. I worried they would end up dry. But they were perfect. Absolutely delicious & cakey. The frosting on top was the best. I made a slight alteration to the recipe and added some Princess Cake & Cookie baking emulsion from KAF to the batter along with the vanilla. And I added 1/4 tsp of almond extract to the frosting.

What are your thoughts on cake for breakfast? Yes please. My sweet tooth is really bad in the morning. I am a donuts/muffins/scones/pancakes/cake person. And always with a cup of coffee.

Can you suggest a polite way to extract myself from conversations with people once they've said "I don't like dessert"? I would just throw down whatever is in my hands and shout "i'm out!" and walk away.

What is your favorite US city for eating? I'd have to say Seattle. With San Francisco a close second. But I should add that I haven't been many places. I've never been to NY. Or Austin. Or Nashville. Or St. Louis. Which I hear are great foodie cities too.

For more of Kristin's work, visit the Meringue Bake Shop website. It would also be a good idea to buy my book: The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts.


Batter Chatter: Interview With Laurie Pfalzer, Food Stylist for The Secret Lives of Baked Goods

Baked Alaska

Talk about a job that sounds delicious and glamorous: food styling for cookbooks! But is it really as non-stop fun as it sounds? This is a question that occurred to me while working with Laurie Pfalzer, the food stylist for my second book, The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts. Her job involved a lot of things: a bit of recipe testing and tweaking, lots of kitchen know-how, and the ability to beautify a dessert and keep it safe under bright photo lights. That's a lot to juggle! Here's a behind the scenes look at what goes into her work, both as a food stylist and a baking teacher--and owner of Pastry Craft. The post is punctuated by pictures of desserts from the book--styling by Laurie, photos by the ever-talented Clare Barboza.

If you look back in your own personal history, can you pinpoint the moment you decided to become a baker? Or, can you pinpoint a pivotal moment in which you realized how important baking would be in your life?  Baking has always been a large part of my life because I grew up in a home with fabulous homemade pies, cakes and other baked goods and desserts.My mother is a great baker and she really takes it in stride. She makes it look easy, so I grew up without any fears about baking - unlike some of my students who didn't grow up with that influence and are now trying to learn. As kids, my sisters and I had baking lessons with our mother every summer. (With five kids, you can imagine my mother had a very elaborate summer schedule to keep us all in line and baking and cooking was part of it. I also knew how to break down a chicken before I was 10.) We learned to cream sugar and butter by hand (even though we always had a stand mixer).  All of that said, I guess there wasn't a pivotal moment. Baking was there from the very beginning.

How were you approached to work on the new CakeSpy book? It was quite on the fly. I was teaching a pastry class at Book Larder in Seattle and the editor from Sasquatch Books (who was looking for a pastry chef for your book) happened to see the ad for my class. She contacted me and the rest is history.  I had never really considered doing food styling, although I do some for my own site, Pastry Craft. It was a new experience for me, but a very pleasant one. I would certainly do it again.


Is working as a baker and food stylist for a cookbook really as glamorous as it sounds?  It's certainly fun and intense, but glamorous? No. Like the culinary field, it's a lot of hard work. With foodstyling baked goods, most of the work is done ahead of time and then the desserts are finished just before shooting. As a baker, you learn to plan ahead - prep, then bake, then finish. Baking and pastry is all about time and temperature, so when you're baking and food styling, if you plan well, then things will generally go smoothly.

Pink Frosted cookies

What was the most interesting thing you baked from the new CakeSpy book, and why?  A lot of the recipes were things I had not made before, so that made the entire project interesting. But I have to say that the Smith Island Cake was really "interesting" and a logistical challenge.  The history of the cake is fascinating and it contributes to understanding how the cake is put together. The VERY thin cakes are baked in separate pans and then stacked with the chocolate glaze while still warm. It is one of the more challenging cakes in the book, but I was very pleased with how it turned out. It pays to read the recipe carefully and follow it. Your instructions were right on the mark!

How did it feel to see your beautiful work reflected in the book? It's always a treat for a cook to see their work in a beautiful picture. We often get caught up in the creating of it and don't always take time to step back and appreciate it's beauty. And in a restaurant it's created and then "whoosh!" - it's been picked up by the server and on it's way to the table.  Clare Barboza, the photographer, had a great feel for the style of the book and the desserts we were working with. Her use of light is wonderful. The book exceeded my expectations. I would buy it if I saw it in a store and I'm pretty picky when it comes to purchasing cookbooks.

Better than sex cake

Tell me about one of your baking heroes.  Of current fame, I think David Lebovitz, Dorie Greenspan and Alice Medrich are people I point out often to my students. They both write their recipes clearly with lots of instruction that's helpful to new bakers and they appreciate the fundamentals of baking. For bread, Jeffrey Hamelman, who wrote Bread and who was my mentor when I worked at King Arthur Flour, is a gorgeous baker. The knowledge and care with which he approaches bread (and pastry) is so inspiring. I'm still a big fan of Julia Child (even though she wasn't exclusively a baker) because I appreciate her attitude toward cooking. Like my mother, she took cooking in stride and makes it seem approachable. That is something I am always trying to communicate in my classes.

You bake a lot...but when it's time to enjoy EATING baked goods or desserts, what are some of your favorites?  I love a good croissant and there are several in Seattle. My favorite is made at Cafe Besalu in Ballard which just happens to be right next to my favorite bread bakery in Seattle, Tall Grass Bakery. But we are lucky to have a diverse group of bakeries in Seattle that each have their own influence. I also love pie, but I still haven't found a good fruit pie like it's made at home. Occasionally, I go with friends on a "pastry crawl" to check out new bakeries. It's pretty tough to eat your way through a lot of bakeries in one day!

Lemon meringue pie

Seriously. If pie and cake were to have a knife fight, who do you think would win? I've always been a pie fan, so I gotta say pie would have the edge (sorry for the pun).

Any tips for those looking to get into professional baking you can impart? The first thing I'd say is that there's no free lunch. That's just a quick way to say that it's hard work and it's important going in knowing that. Working in food service means long hours and low pay, so you really need to be committed to hanging in there. If you're a home cook or baker and you want to make it your career, then go for it. But consider that turning a hobby into a career will change the way you look at it - not necessarily a negative change, but a change nonetheless. I always knew I'd take a more unorthodox route after culinary school and I was lucky to establish myself as a baking and pastry instructor. I love my students and I love helping them discover the pastry world.

Laurie at work

What's the next class, baking project, or dessert related event in general that you're excited about?  I'm doing a rhubarb class with Diane LaVonne at Diane's Market Kitchen in Seattle in May that should be a blast. We'll be doing a tasting meal with rhubarb in every course. I'm a huge rhubarb fan (I have 7 rhubarb plants in my garden) and I think there isn't enough attention paid to this vegetable which is actually treated like a fruit. (Did you know Washington State grows more rhubarb than anywhere in the world?) I've been wanting to teach an all-rhubarb class for awhile and I always love being in the kitchen teaching with Diane.

For more about Laurie, visit her website, Pastry Craft! To see her work in my new book, buy it here:The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts, or come see me on tour!



Cover Up: a CakeSpy Book Cover Outtake

Now, because you own, treasure, and probably cuddle with my book every night, you are well aware of what the cover looks like. If you have forgotten, go ahead and refer to the pretty picture at the top of this post.

But you know, the cover didn't just make itself. I did the illustrations, but then I worked with an amazingly talented art director/designer to make it into the masterpiece it ultimately became.

But here's just a quick peek at one of the images we played with along the way - a fun peek at the process and some of the ideas we worked through and tweaked along the way!

...fun, but I am sure glad we kept tweaking it to make the cover that graces the book! Don't forget, you can buy my book here, and don't forget to enter this totally sweet contest inspired by the book! You could win an all expenses paid trip to Seattle to eat cake with me!


Tour de Sweet: CakeSpy in Chicago November 18 and 19!

Angel Food Bakery, Chicago

Now, Chicago Sweeties, I don't want you to faint, or die, or go into sugar shock or anything...but I'm coming to town for book tour. And you know you want to buy a copy of my oeuvre, entitled CakeSpy Presents Sweet Treats for a Sugar-filled Life!

That's right.

And I have two sugar-filled stops on my itinerary.

November 18: First up is Angel Food Bakery. Now, if you've never been to this place, you're in for a treat, or maybe more than one, because they make crack-filled cakes. OK, not really, but they're that addictive. But don't take my word alone for it: it's also one of Bake & Destroy's favorite bakeries in Chicago! 

Details: Friday, November 18, 3-5 p.m. (just leave work early!). Angel Food Bakery, 1636 W. Montrose; online here. Facebook event page here.

Bleeding Heart

November 19: Next up is a sweet stop at Bleeding Heart Bakery (where you can also buy mugs and cards featuring my artwork! Yes!). I will be making this sugar-filled location even sweeter from 11-2 p.m. 

Details: Saturday, November 19, 11 a.m - 2 p.m. Bleeding Heart Bakery, 1955 W. Belmont, Chicago; online here. Facebook event page here.

Hope to see you! But even if you can't make it, enter to win a copy here, or buy a signed copy here.


Tour de Sweet: CakeSpy in New Jersey November 16 and 17!

Garden State? More like Sugar State.
That's right: CakeSpy's Tour de Sweet is coming to New Jersey! I have two totally sweet events coming up on November 16th and 17th, respectively:
But wait, there's more! There will be GIVEAWAYS! I'll have some sweet items to give away, like notecards and maybe even a pair or two of my cupcake-unicorn-robot socks.

Tour de Sweet: CakeSpy in Baltimore on November 14!

Guess what, Baltimore? You thought you were sweet, but you're about to get SWEETER.

That's right: CakeSpy's Tour de Sweet is coming to town! As I said on the Facebook event page,

OMG. This is your chance--your BIG CHANCE-- to come eat cake, hang out with me, and buy a copy of my lovely and amazing new book, "CakeSpy Presents Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life"! And I will even sign it and draw a unicorn in it, if you'd like.

Forget John Waters, Baltimore's all about the BAKED GOOD! And you'll find some very tasty ones at Dangerously Delicious.

But wait, there's more! GIVEAWAYS And some sweet items to give away, like notecards and maybe even a pair or two of my cupcake-unicorn-robot socks.

Missing this would be a big mistake.

See you there, from 6-8 pm! Location stats: Dangerously Delicious 2839 O'Donnell St Baltimore, Maryland; online here.


Tour de Sweet: CakeSpy in Philadelphia on November 12!

The Tour de Sweet is keeping on keeping on, sweeties!

BAKED was totally awesome (read one sweet account of it here), but now it's time to head to Philadelphia!

The next stop, on Saturday, will be Bredenbeck's Bakery! As you may recall, I have visited this sweet spot before, and adored it. I think you will, too. 

Here's the 411 straight from Bredenbeck's:

Last winter, we received an undercover visit from CakeSpy, a.k.a. Jessie Oleson. She visited Philadelphia on a cold, snowy weekend, and hit a few local bakeries to sample goodies. She stealthily popped in and out of our shop so fast, we didn't even know she was here. (Read the review.)

This time, we'll be able to roll out the red carpet in anticipation because we know when she's coming! That's right: CakeSpy will be here signing copies of her new cookbook, "Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life."

When: Saturday, November 12 from 1-3 p.m.
Where: Here! 8126 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118

In honor of her visit, we'll be whipping up some of the yummy recipes featured in CakeSpy's cookbook, including:
Red Velvet Cake Shakes
Cupcakes Stuffed With Chocolate Chip Dough
Rainbow Cake
Rainbow Cookies
Cinnamon Rolls Stuffed with Cookie Dough
Ginger-bread Pudding

If you haven't yet made your plans to attend her book signing, do so. A signed cookbook: what a perfect holiday gift for yourself, or your favorite sweet lover!

Well, I think they pretty much covered it! Find the Facebook invite here, and find the address and directions via the Bredenbeck's site!


Sweet Times: CakeSpy Book Signing at Teacake Bake Shop

All photos: Pink Buttercream PhotographyI could simply tell you that the CakeSpy Tour de Sweet stop at Teacake Bake Shop in Burlingame totally ruled, but really, it's far more effective to show you photo proof, so here goes. All of these gorgeous photos were taken by Agnes Hsu, owner of Teacake Bake Shop!

Click here for all my tour dates.

So, first, I arrived, and was greeted by this amazing sight: pink cupcakes with pretty sprinkles...and toppers featuring MY artwork! 

You'd better believe I ate one of those cupcakes.

...but I paused to draw a unicorn or two in people's books.

oh, did I mention I have a book out? It's called CakeSpy Presents Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life. It looks great with flowers.

...but it also looks good with wrappers.

...oh, let me pause to sign another book here.

I'll also do this bloggy photo-taking of food thing.

and talk to some people. "Oh, you like cupcakes, too?"

...oh, I know! I'm so funny.

...but wait, who's this? A dessert celebrity! Me and Anita Chu!

..."you know, cupcakes taste better when you buy the book."

oh, and here's a cute one with me and my sister Bridget. We can't not wear showpiece glasses, apparently.

and here's me with Agnes Hsu, the owner of Teacake Bake Shop! Go see her shop and eat her cupcakes, and soon!

For more about Teacake Bake Shop, visit their site. To buy my book, click here. Click here for all my tour dates.

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