Gluten-Free + Vegan Animal Crackers for Kids of All Ages

 

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I have vague but delicious memories of animal crackers as a child, a rare and special treat to be given a box of Barnum’s Animals all to myself, to open the package and to pick out each animal one by one, savoring it before reaching in for another.

Later in my teen years, I discovered the pink and white frosting and sprinkle version of animal crackers and they too became their own ritual, a big bag to share on a school road trip, or otherwise special occasion.

 

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Until last spring I’d forgotten about animal crackers and then one quick weekend getaway, walking the aisles of the local co-op, I saw the “natural” brand versions of these childhood treats and unexpectedly found that a little handful of those delicious crackers would be just the sweet I needed. Unfortunately, even within the allergen-free and natural brands, animal crackers that I can actually enjoy safely are pretty difficult to track down, so I set out to make my own.

What began as a whim and a craving became a tiny lovely treat that both William and I love to snack on after dinner, and taking this childhood favorite into our adult years, we found they pair particularly well with a Sicilian Rosé we tend to favor.  ;)

 

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This recipe is part of my monthly contribution to The Recipe Redux, a recipe challenge founded by registered dietitians and focused on taking delicious dishes, keeping them delicious, but making them better for you. The theme this month is Kids That Cook and we’re recreating some of our childhood favorites or what we’re cooking with kids now. While I never made animal crackers as a child, I did bake a lot of cookies, make playdough, and loved to watch my mom make a special occasion gooey cinnamon swirl bread which somehow was even better because it was our neighbor’s recipe.

What were your favorite childhood foods, homemade or otherwise?

 

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Animal Crackers {GF + Vegan}, makes about 100
Roll these to your desired thickness. I prefer them extra thin, William enjoys a little more cookie width. Also make sure to give a good pinch of nutmeg (make sure it’s fresh), as it really makes the difference. 

1 1/3 cups Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
generous pinch of nutmeg and a little pinch of cinnamon
1/4 cup cashew butter
3 Tbs. unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup organic cane sugar
1 Tbs. ground flax + 2 Tbs. warm water – thickened for 5 minutes
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  • In a small bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.
  • In a larger bowl, whip the cashew butter with a fork until creamy and then add the applesauce and sugar and mix until thoroughly combined. Then add the flax and water mixture and vanilla  and blend it all together.
  • Add the dry ingredients slowly into the wet mixture and stir until the mixture comes together into a cookie dough ball.
  • Cover the bowl of dough well and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
  • When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Coat a flat surface with a little flour and roll about 1/3 of the dough to 1/4″ thickness. Using mini animal cookie cutters, cut out the cookies. If you’d like to make them a little more realistic, simply use a toothpick to create an eye for each animal.
  • Place on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, just until the edges begin to lightly brown.
  • Continue to roll out and bake the remaining cookies.

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Sourdough Pizza! {gluten + dairy-free}

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Every summer I have a meal that’s on repeat, usually as a way to use what’s coming in fast from the garden or otherwise to appease my cravings. Last summer that was kitchari and a green soup/sourdough pairing, the summer before that was zucchini noodles and pesto, and this summer it is this sourdough pizza with roasted vegetables. I’ve been making this pizza on the weekly for months and am not about to grow tired of it.

 

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If you’ve ever tried gluten-free pizza out on the town, you’ll likely know the experience is regularly disappointing and the ingredient list is fairly terrible. I’ve almost entirely given it up, especially too since there are very few establishments where cross-contamination is not a huge issue. (I once worked in a bakery. When working with flours, gluten is everywhere.) What I like about this recipe is that it’s super easy, takes only minimal planning ahead, is truly bready and delicious, allows me to feed my sourdough starter regularly without making way more bread than I can eat or throwing it out, and the sourdough fermentation allows for better mineral and vitamin absorption from the flours, leading to overall happier digestion and long-term health.

Prior to a few years ago, pizza was my long-time favorite food, and still is William’s, and this crust satisfies his discerning pizza palate enough that it actually qualifies as pizza, whereas most gluten and dairy free versions do not. Our favorite way to top this lately, in addition to the roasted vegetables and our house red sauce, is to slide a fried egg on top, but I deviated here and listed my topping ideas and recipes below.

 

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Sourdough Pizza Crust {gf + vegan}, makes 1 medium pizza, enough for about 3 people
This is adapted from King Arthur Flour’s sourdough recipe, which uses wheat flour. If you’re not gluten-free, the recipe should still work in the same quantities by swapping out the flour types. 

120g sourdough starter (50:50 buckwheat flour:water)
100 g hot tap water
150 g all-purpose gluten free flour
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ tsp. yeast

  • If any liquid has collected on top of your refrigerated starter, stir it back in. Spoon 120 grams starter into a mixing bowl. Note: Then feed the remainder of your starter.
  • Add the hot water, flour, salt, and yeast. Mix to combine. It will at first be fairly wet. Cover the bowl and allow to rise until it’s just about doubled in size. This will take about 2 to 4 hours. The time it takes to rise depends on when you last fed the starter; a starter that’s been fed rather recently will react to the addition of flour and water more quickly than one that’s been neglected for a while. For a faster rise, place the dough somewhere warm (or increase the yeast). To slow it down, put it somewhere cool.
  • When the dough is risen, but still fairly wet, pour it out onto a pizza stone or pan and shape it into a flattened disk. Sprinkle the dough with a small amount of flour and then with a rolling pin that also has been lightly floured, gently roll the dough towards the edge of the pan; when it starts to shrink back, let it rest again, for about 15 minutes. Finish pressing the dough to the edges of the pan. Cover the pan, and let the dough rise until it’s as thick as you like, or, if you’re impatient, beginning topping as it is.
  • Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F.
  • Turn the edges of the dough over to give it a traditional crust, or if you forget as I did above, it will still turn out just great.
  • Top with your preferred sauce and toppings, and bake for 15-16 minutes, or until the toppings are as done as you like, and the bottom is cooked through.

My current favorite toppings:
Our house pizza/tomato sauce
Sophie’s Cashew Mozzarella
Tempeh Sausage
Seasonal Roasted Vegetables
A fried egg for each serving

Peach + Pluot Tart with Lemon Coconut Cream

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Friday evening and William and I took each other to the county fair. He stood in line for a corndog, a really good one, he said, and then we headed away from all the noise to the barns, ambling through each aisle one by one, comparing the chickens to ours, wondering at whether the tagline saying aggressive! scrawled under the price for a $40 bunny was a comment about the price, the animal’s temperament, or some other reason I already forget. Then we went to the hog barn, the sheep, and then the cattle. I beelined us towards the champion animals, commenting about how when I was in high school a dozen or more years ago, the genetics were just leaning towards better in the sheep division, and now the champion lambs are packed, their muscles rippling with every move.

 

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After it all we headed a couple blocks over to Friendly’s, a neighborhood natural foods store. We bought small pots of expensive delicious ice cream, brought it back home, and sat in the near-dark on the couch, eating little spoonfuls slowly. When I scraped the last bit from my dish and nearly got up for more, William stopped me, saying no just wait a moment and you’ll realize you’re done. 

And I did.
And I did.

It was a fabulous and simple evening after a long week with more weekend work ahead. It was lovely to just set everything else down for a few hours and be present, enjoying summer, enjoying the magic, realizing the hunger we’re hungry for can be fed in small doses of treats and much larger heaps of time with a loved one and their caring hand and arm around the shoulders, their well-intended suggestions, and in taking the time to share snippets of a long-ago passion at the county fair.

 

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The Recipe Redux asked for stone fruit this month. Even though I’ve been eating the various fruits daily, working apricots or plums into morning oatmeal, having a handful of cherries with afternoon snack, or gliding thin slices into whatever savory is up for dinner, this time of year calls for a treat, with stone fruits at their best.

This raw, barely sweet lemon and coconut cream tart is a real favorite, but one I often forget about. It’s one to make for a dinner party or a sunday feast. Or maybe, just because it’s summer and our weary selves need a little wholesome decadent goodness.

 

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Peach + Pluot Tart with Lemon Coconut Cream, adapted from my blackberry version
There are a few options here. The fruit can of course be changed up depending on preference, but the choice of nuts and sweetener can too. I used a mix of hazel and walnuts, the almond meal, and then used lucuma powder to sweeten. Lucuma is a Peruvian fruit that has a slightly mapley caramel flavor and the powder can be used as a natural sweetener. I had a nearly expired packet in the back of the pantry and put it to good use here, but the alternative of using about half the amount of regular or powdered sugar works well too and honestly isn’t added in enough quantity to do much harm.

5 medjool dates / 45 g, pitted and briefly soaked
1/2 cup / 50 g nuts of choice, toasted
1/2 cup / 50 g almond meal
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 15 oz. / 400 mL can full-fat coconut milk, chilled
2-4 Tbs. lucuma or sugar
zest from 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-2 peaches and pluots
lemon juice

  • In a food processor, combine dates, nuts, cinnamon, and salt.  Puree until finely chopped and the mixture sticks together when pinched with your fingers.  Turn out into a 7-8 in tart pan.
  • Open the chilled coconut milk and without stirring, spoon out the cream layer into a medium bowl. Reserve the watery milk in the bottom of the can for another use.
  • Whip the coconut cream along with the lucuma, lemon zest, and vanilla.  Spoon and smooth atop the nut layer.
  • Thinly slice the peaches and pluots and layer around the top of the coconut filling, in circles, as desired. To preserve the color, brush a little lemon juice across the fruit layer, and then lightly cover and set the tart in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours.

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