Goodbye, Mother's Cookies

October 20th, 2008

Motherscircusanimalcookies 

Mother's Circus Animal Cookies

Many of you have already heard that the venerable Mother's Cookies has closed down. I found out about this last week just as I was leaving for a trip; therefore I spent much of the weekend mourning the end of this beloved institution and wondering if all the circus animal cookies would be gone from the stores by the time I returned. Judging from the many articles written urging cookie fans to stock up on their favorites, not an unfounded fear.

As the first photo shows, I was fortunately able to get my hands on a bag after my return, and I've been slowly enjoying them this week. I know – perhaps I should have kept it hermetically sealed away and let its value appreciate; surely like Twinkies, they would have an inordinately robust shelf life?

Well, I'm keeping my eyes open for any remaining bags, but I guess the rampant nostalgia that overcame me upon hearing of Mother's demise made it impossible to resist enjoying these cookies one more time. Besides, I needed to open the bag so I could take some pictures of the little frosted animals in all their pink and white glory – so at that point not eating a few would have been unfathomable.

It was tricky for me to write this post: after all, as a baker I'm supposed to be making all my goodies from scratch, and in the health-obsessed, organic-sustainable-local ground zero that is the Bay Area, it's more than a little unfashionable to be mooning over the heavily processed packaged items at the your local store. What would people think to see me walking around with Chip Ahoys or Entenmann's in my grocery basket, when I should be pulling batches of cookies out of my ever-ready oven?

While my mother kept the family on a fairly healthy diet as we were growing up, it's not to say she never allowed us the occasional indulgence of junk food, and I had my fair share of Ho-Hos and Twinkies and yes, Mother's cookies. However, kids grow up, tastes change, and once I discovered the benefits of eating healthy and cooking from scratch, it was quite easy to leave all that junk food behind on the grocery shelves. While I know that baking cakes and tarts and other sweets isn't exactly extolling the healthiest lifestyle, I firmly believe that eating any dessert that's made fresh with ingredients you know and understand, is always superior, and healthier, to eating something from a package with thirty plus ingredients, only two of which actually sound like food, even if the label says "fat free" or "low calorie" or "tastes just like real chocolate". Also, please note the name of my blog is Dessert First, not Only Dessert All The Time:)

So why, if my blog is dedicated to the best of all that is sweet, and to the joys of baking at home, would I be so distraught over the end of a commercial cookie manufacturer? Chalk it up to the power of nostalgia. Going to the grocery store with my mother when I was young, the cookie aisle was always my favorite (Does it surprise no one here that I've always had a sweet tooth?) When we went down the aisle lined with cookies, crackers, and cakes, I would always scan eagerly over the offerings, wondering if this time my mother would relent and buy us a treat. Of all the different brands, Mother's cookies always stood out, with their striped purple and red packaging and the icon showing a happy mom in the corner. The products also seemed seemed so much more distinctive and interesting than the rest: the striped shortbread, the chocolate chip angels, and, of course, the circus animal cookies.

Animalcookiesbyanitachudessertfirst

My take on circus animal cookies

From all the mournful posts I've seen, circus animal cookies hold a special place in the memories of many. They are like animal crackers all gussied up, with a coat of shockingly sweet frosting in snowy white or neon pink, and a confetti sprinkling of rainbow sugar balls. All of these elements were important to the singular experience of eating one of these cookies: your tongue ran over the nubbiness of the sprinkles, as your teeth bit through the soft waxiness of the frosting, and crunched through the center. The sweetness of the frosting pretty much filled your mouth, so the cookie inside really provided little more than a texture contrast. I was always convinced that there was a difference between the pink and white ones, and always made sure to eat them alternating between the two colors.

Thanks to the miracles of science and commercial food production, it is practically impossible to replicate the sugary taste of circus animal cookies at home. I'm sure that's why I was sad to hear about the end of these cookies; when I eat one, I am immediately transported back to my childhood, and the occasions when I got to have a cookie. A rare occasion indeed, for circus animal cookies in particular, as my mother disliked anything with artificial colorings, for which these cookie qualified in spades. It was only with concerted begging could we get her to buy us a bag of these, and once the Christmas circus animals came out in red and green, there was nothing for it but we had to persuade her to let us try those as well, to see if they tasted any different.

It was probably for the best that I didn't get to gorge on these cookies, and for that I thank my mom. It also kept these cookies in the realm of special treat, so even after I grew older and went shopping on my own, I would always look on these cookies fondly. I like to think these cookies played a role in developing my interest in baking: after all, they were so prettily decorated, so my liking them must have indicated that I wanted to make things as equally eye-catching and tasty.

As I noted, I haven't been able to replicate these cookies at home taste-wise, but in looks at least it was not too difficult. I used the rolled sugar cookie recipe from my Field Guide to Cookies book, and covered them in a simple royal icing. While they don't taste like the store version, I think they taste pretty good on their own, and as a bonus I got to pick up some pretty cute circus animal cookie cutters from Williams-Sonoma.


Animalcookies2byanitachudessertfirst

So, with this post I bid adieu to Mother's cookies, to English tea and iced oatmeal and striped shortbread and circus animal cookies. Thanks for making my childhood a little sweeter, and for being a stepping stone on my path to making my own baked goods. You'll always have a special place on my kitchen shelf.

Also, don't forget about Sugar High Friday – the deadline is next Monday and I'm looking forward to seeing all your entries!

Giraffecookiebyanitachudessertfirst

Vanilla Sugar Animal Cookies with Royal Icing

About 3 dozen 2 1/2 inch cookies

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg at room temperature, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Royal icing (recipe follows) and colored sugars if decorating

1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
2. In stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for several minutes until light and fluffy.
3. With mixer on low speed, gradually add the egg and vanilla and mix until well combined. Add the flour mixture gradually. Mix until fully incorporated and the dough is smooth and uniform.
4. Divide dough into 2 pieces and flatten into 1/2 inch thick discs.
5. Wrap dough and refrigerate for 2 hours. At this point the dough can be double wrapped and frozen for up to 2 weeks.
6. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat oven to 325°F. Grease several cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.
7. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and dust with more flour. Gently roll the dough 1/8 inch thick.
8. Using a cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place on sheets about 1 inch apart.
9. Bake for 14–16 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are golden brown. Transfer cookies to wire racks with a metal spatula to cool completely.
10. Once cookies are cooled, decorate them with icing and colored sugars.

Royal Icing
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar
Food coloring in desired colors

1. Using a mixer with the whisk attachment, combine all the ingredients and whisk for several minutes on high speed until the mixture is thick and shiny opaque white. It should have the consistency of glue. If it is too thin, add more powdered sugar by teaspoonfuls as needed. If it is too thick, add water by teaspoonfuls as needed.
2. Divide icing into bowls for coloring. Keep the bowls covered or the icing will dry and harden. Add food color to icing to achieve desired hues.

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54 Comments so far ↓

  • Rosa #1

    Your cookies look extremely cute! I bet they taste wonderful too!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  • Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy #2

    I definitely feel the void…they are a part of my childhood. Very shocking :( The animal cookies and the Taffy cookies were my favorites. I’ll have to give your version a try!

    • joann #3

      I also love mothers Taffy cookies, my father-in-law found this cookies in Texas about a month ago and brought me some. I will find out where he got them and follow up

  • Maria #4

    I loved these cookies as a kid…and I still do! Sad they are going away. Your recipe looks great though. I will have to try it out!!

  • RecipeGirl #5

    Cute! Your replication certainly *looks* like the real product… better, in fact! I’m definitely going to be on the hunt for those darling cutters for future use!

  • Lisa #6

    OMG how sad… You’ll notice I was so overcome – I changed my FB status. :)

    I just found a bag of these in the cupboard over the weekend and silently cursed my boyfriend for buying store-bought cookies. But then also reminded myself that they’re quite impossible to replicate so all was okay again. :P

    It truly is the end of an era!!

  • Erin #7

    Thanks for creating such a pretty pink cookie! In addition, I’m glad to have yet another creative use for those Williams-Sonoma Animal Cookie cutters that I just “had” to have and used one time :)

  • Cathy - wheresmydamnanswer #8

    This is really the end of an era!! I was so sad to hear that this staple in my house as a kid was going out of business. Thanks for sharing your great recipe!!

  • Deborah #9

    I will miss the cookies, too. I went out and bought what I could find, but unfortunately, it was only 3 bags. Your cookies look just like the real thing, though!

  • clumbsycookie #10

    Oh they’re so perfect I though they were the original! I’ve been reading all over about the end of the cookies and I was thinking they I had missed something big, because I never tasted them. Guess now I can make my own!

  • Kristen #11

    Wow, I thought they were the original ones, too. LOL

    I never experienced Mother’s until moving to CA seven years ago. Needless to say, I was both shocked and pleased to see the Halloween version at Target here in MA this past weekend. :)

  • Sarea #12

    OMG, I had the EXACT same experience with these cookies growing up — I could have written this entry, from my mother refusing to buy them due to how unhealthy she felt they were to me still thinking of them fondly whenever I see them (the temptation to buy them now that I’m grown always there), despite being a fan of homebaked goods.

    Also, I have to say that looks wise, your cookies look indistinguishable from the real thing — great job. In fact, I’m not even positive which are the Mother’s cookies and which are yours. I’m sorry to hear (though not surprised, given the industrialized processes and unpronounceable ingredients) that you’re not able to replicate them taste wise (was it the texture? Did the cookies not ‘crunch’ the same way?).

    I had no idea Mother’s was no more — now I’m going to have to go looking for these, if I can still find them.

  • Verena #13

    I’ve never had Mother’s circus animal cookies before, but I remember teaching preschoolers back in college and giving the gingerbread men cookies to them as snacks. It was surely a great memory. Your version looks wonderful and cute, just how I’d imagine they would be like!

  • Asianmommy #14

    I know what you mean about nostalgia. I still think about the bakery cookies from the town where I grew up. Can’t drive by there without wanting to grab some cookies!

  • Christy #15

    I know how you feel. I, too, sometimes feel ashamed about my sudden craving for a Twinkie-like custard cake we get here, simply because it reminded me of the processed, supersweet taste of a similar cake that was a childhood favourite.Taste is, after all, as much about reliving memories as creating new experiences.

    I will try my best-est to squeeze in a creation for SHF, but I really doubt that I could make it. I’m not getting any days off this week and have an assignment to give in next Monday. But I’ll definitely check out all the entries!!

  • janne marijke #16

    I have never tasted those (cute) cookies and considering the notalgia part, I am slightly worried I would be offending someone here, but nevertheless I felt like compimenting you on yours – in comparison to the original, they look very tasty, soft, fresh and natural.
    You have already created a perfect production line for a retro stunt in 5-10 years time! :)

  • Kim #17

    I have two grandsons that would be perfect for these. I just bought the cookie cutters a few weeks back and I am going to make your version and send them to Alaska and Arizona where they both live. They will most certainly think Mimi is the greatest after getting iced cookies in the mail. Thanks…..

  • Pittsburgh Needs Eated #18

    WHAT?! I had not heard this- I loved Mother’s cookies. It was hard enough when they got rid of the dinosaur cookies…I was a big fan of circus animals, macaroons, and the taffy ones.

    I’ll have to get my mom to try and find me some before they’re all gone.

  • Lori #19

    Your animal crackers look amazing. It’s funny I am not sure if the brand of these cookies is the same here in the North East. I have had them on one occassion. Loved them, too much and thought I better not have these around. But seeing your post and your beautiful cookies makes me think I need to make these for my kids. Thank you. It was a sweet and wonderfully written post.

  • HoneyB #20

    Keebler makes these cookies and I see them on the shelf in Super Walmart. Do you think they are the same thing, I live in NY, sounds like most are from out west that are calling these Mother’s Cookies?

  • Susan from Food Blogga #21

    I never had those, but I’d be happy to try yours. :)

  • peabody #22

    Yours turned out great. The icing is just too hard on these cookies, but you’ve got the look.
    Oh how I will miss those.

  • Vera #23

    These are adorable, Anita!

  • Sarah #24

    Thank you for the recipe. I’m going to miss Mother’s Cookies (sob sob).

  • kat #25

    these look like the “real deal”. so sad that the company is shutting down.

  • kate #26

    i’m still freaking out over the donuts. . .but man these little babies are so cute!

  • Aleta #27

    Say it isn’t so! I haven’t had Mother’s Circus cookies in years but I loved them as a child and never imagined they would disappear one day. It’s sad to know I missed my last chance to bite the head off a lion or tiger and experience the satisfying crunch when sweeter-than-sweet icing gave way to the plain vanilla cookie beneath. Still, I bet yours are better. Homemade cookies always trump store-bought. Besides, those are the cutest cookie cutters.

  • Annie #28

    Susan from Food Blogga said the royal icing was too hard… what about using white chocolate? I’m not sure how close to the original it would taste, but the texture would probably have more of the “waxiness” that the real deal has.

  • lauren #29

    I cannot believe Mother’s Cookies closed down. I love those cookies (even though they are SOOO not healthy).
    Your cookies are really cute! If I cannot find them in the store,I think I’ll buy premade animal crackers and frost them.

  • ELRA #30

    Oh, they really are the cutest cookies….
    I am sure they are delicious as well.
    Cheers, Elra

  • LisaMarie #31

    My great-grandmother always filled her cookie jar with those wonderful pink animal cookies when we came to visit. I have a very special place in my heart for those visits and those sweet treats.
    Your cookies look just like the real thing!

    The icing that I remember was waxy, like white chocolate. I think I might try your cookie recipe and then dunk the animals in colored white chocolate. I can’t wait to try it!

  • Lynae #32

    For the record, circus animal cookies do NOT have an inordinately long shelf life. My boyfriend bought me a bag from a store we normally don’t shop at, last week, and they tasted really plasticky. Then we noticed that they were a month after their expiration date.

    They were still EDIBLE, mind you, but the taste was wrong.

    Thank you so much for this recipe!

  • cookiemanpdx #33

    disaster of catastrophic proportions. This could be the capper that pulls all the confidence out of the the whole world financial market! No one was able to achieve the proper balance of sugar and fat that Mothers had perfected. We will be reduced to the overly sweet Keeblers and the arid wasteland of the fat free generic grocery brand! The devastation of loosing the raspberry filled oatmeal cookies will undoubtedly send hundreds of despondent financial types out the window. I have two final questions: Do any of you have access to the honored recipies, or failing that a hot web link for a sharp ceremonial sword?

  • Molly W #34

    I saw this bit of bad news and I went “Oh no!’ to myself. Then I told my daughters and they let out a resounding “Oh no!” Those pink and white cookies are what I would eat during finals, along with dates.

  • Anna At Mediocre Chocolate #35

    Oh, I am so sad to hear about this! I could happily eat a whole bag of these, despite my “grown-up” dedication to an all-natural lifestyle. I also agree that a little dessert every night is ok as long as it is made from real ingredients, but I also admit to having a soft spot for childhood favorites. Oh, I’ll really miss these. I will definitely try your recipe to see how they compare–I always thought there was some white chocolate in the icing.

  • mjMuffin #36

    Omg I Love your recipe! I’ve been on the permanent hunt for these cookies and I finally found them today and bought 14 bags! My friend out numbered me and bought 22 at another store. So find them at Grocery Outlet!! I went to the one in Fairfield, CA and my friend at Oakland, CA. I still look forward to making many with your recipe!

  • cookie lover #37

    I am a cookie lover, Mother’s cookies my favorite factory made cookie. Once I found a cookie by them called Zoo animals, loved, loved them, I will so miss their cookies.. Many of the good quality food items I liked seem to be vanishing..A good cookie is hard to find..Thanks for the animal cookie recipe..Another cookie I love is Mrs. Fields Toffee cookie, unusual and the company does not send them out..they have to be made right at the little store…

  • Stephen & Violet Hanning #38

    We had just checked every store for Mother’s Cookies….special traditional Christmas gifts for our children. Alas, we found none. So, I went to the internet and found that Mother’s has gone under. Say it isn’t so! Our 4 children (aged 39 to 45) do not know yet and we are wondering how to break the news to them. This is terrible news! We are glad to get the recipe for the animal cookies but wonder if we can also get a recipe for Mother’s Taffy Cookies?

    The end of an era has come and we must bear up as best we can in hopes that someone, somewhere, will resurrect the cookies, perhaps under another name. Surely, we cannot live without Mother’s Cookies!

  • Melinda #39

    For those of you that live near a 99 cent store… they appear to hve purchased all the over stock of Mothers Cookies. I was there this morning and they have Taffy Cookies and Animal Cookies. Just thought I would share

  • Valerie #40

    Does anyone know if flour was an ingredient in Mother’s Coconut Macaroon Cookies? My hubby and I are arguing. He says there was, I say there isnt, anyone know?

  • meche #41

    they are finally back!!!!!!!! i saw them in the store today and bought some…they are delicious as always

  • Lyndsay #42

    I just wanted to let you know that I linked this recipe and your blog as the recipe of the day at http://www.glamourmoms.ca

    ABSOLUTELY LOVE this recipe. MUCH KUDOS!! XO

  • Marie #43

    How absolutely adorable! I’ve always wanted to make my own animal crackers, let alone frosting-covered ones. This is definitely going on my list of must-make recipes.

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  • Chocolate Chip Angel Lover #45

    I am VERY distraught over the demise of the Mother’s Cookies institution. I just returned from San Francisco feverishly searching the Safeways for my favorite Chocolate Chip Angel shortbread square delight. To my dismay none was found. I grew up on these for goodness sake! If there is any cookie manufacturer who can recreate exactly the Angel I would be in heaven on earth!!!!!

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  • Lisa #47

    Just discovered your blog & must agree with your fan base on how inspiring your recipies & pic’s are. Your writing presence has a sweet ease which makes one feel like you are talking to us in an intimate setting over some tea or a yummy latte. Why is it that I dare comment on a thread so old? “Cuz I just found a copy recipe for mother’s circus animals where Wilton’s Pink and White Candy melts are used as the icing. Could it be? Do ya think it’s possible? I won’t be able to try it for a few days to see but thought I’d put it out there as a gift just in case by chance this may prove to be the key to making the homemade version of these tasty treats.

  • Alyssa #49

    I’m very confused by reading this post, and curious as to what happened with the Mother’s Cookies company. I was sitting here in 2012 enjoying a few circus animals with my evening coffee, when, as a baker, I wondered if I could make something similar myself, but healthier and cheaper. Reading all of these comments from 2008 about stocking up on cookies as I eat my fresh cookies from a bag that says “Mother’s Cookies The Original” four years later is more than a little confusing.

    • Anita #50

      Hello Alyssa,

      Mother’s started making the cookies again a year or so ago. So you’re lucky you missed out on that period where there were no circus animal cookies to be had!

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  • Anonymous #53

    Where do you live?, because you can still easily find them in Washington!

    • Anita #54

      Hi,

      You know what? They brought they back a couple years ago! I should probably update the post to note this. Thanks!!

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