Circus Animal Cookies – Culinary Hill

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One of my favorite childhood treats were pink and white circus animal cookies; and honestly, I still love them! In a quest to create a copycat version of my fave cookies, I have come up with what I think is the best rendition out there.

A bowl with homemade circus animal cookies in it.

After many, many attempts to recreate the cookies from the very same ingredients listed on the package, I tossed my test recipe aside and went back to the drawing board. If I could make the store-bought cookies better, what would I change about them?

The cookie itself is yummy, but I knew I could make it better by using real butter and adding an egg. The result is the marriage of a sugar cookie and shortbread recipe. The tiny cookies are buttery and crisp, and hold up well when dipped in candy melts. This recipe makes enough for your cookie jar and then some.

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for circus animal cookies.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Powdered sugar: Using powdered instead of granulated means the sugar and butter combine effortlessly and create a crisp, sandy texture.
  • Vanilla extract: This is the classic flavor for these cookies, but you could substitute another extract if you want to change things up. Almond is a favorite of mine here!
  • Candy melts: For the most accurate color, look for Wilton brand bright pink and bright white candy melts. I always find them locally at Walmart, or you can buy candy melts on Amazon (and feel free to change up the colors if you want to!).
  • Rainbow nonpareils:┬áThese tiny, colorful balls are the finishing touch on a classic circus animal cookie. Sprinkle a few on before the candy melts set.

Step-by-step instructions

To make the cookies:

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, or using an electric hand mixer, add butter and beat until creamy, about 30 to 60 seconds. Add the powdered sugar and beat until well combined.
A mixing bowl of circus animal cookie dough.
  1. Beat in egg and vanilla until just combined. Reduce speed to low, add the dry ingredients, and beat just until the dough starts to come together, about 1 to 2 minutes. Do not overmix. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
A mixing bowl of circus animal cookie dough.
  1. Turn out the dough onto a clean surface and shape the dough into a ball. Flatten into a 1-inch disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
A disc of circus animal cookie dough.
  1. Adjust oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Sandwich the dough between two pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap and roll out to 1/8-inch thick. Using small animal-shaped cookie cutters, cut out cookies and transfer to prepared baking sheets.
Cutting cookie dough into circus animal cookies.
  1. Using a toothpick, poke a few holes in each cookie to prevent them from rising too much.
A baking sheet full of unbaked circus animal cookies.
  1. Bake until the cookies are set, about 10 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool completely.
A baking sheet full of unbaked circus animal cookies.

To decorate the cookies:

  1. Line two baking sheets with parchment or wax paper. Melt pink candy whites according to package directions (30-second increments in the microwave or over a double-boiler).
Pink glaze for circus animal cookies.
  1. Dip half of the cookies into the pink candy melts, allowing excess to drip back into the bowl, and set on parchment paper. Immediately sprinkle with a pinch of nonpareils.
A baking sheet full of homemade circus animal cookies.
  1. Repeat with white candy melts and remaining cookies. Allow cookies to harden completely before removing from the paper. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
A baking rack full of homemade circus animal cookies.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This recipe makes about 72 to 84 small cookies depending on which cookie cutters you use and how thinly you roll out the dough.
  • Storage: Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
  • Freezer: After forming the cookie dough into a disc, wrap in a double layer of plastic wrap, label, date, and freeze up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Cookie cutters: I used these small animal cookie cutters from Amazon.
A bowl with homemade circus animal cookies in it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between icing and frosting?

Icing and frosting are not the same thing. Icing is thinner and more of a glaze that sets and hardens. Frosting tends to be thicker and spreadable.

More nostalgic treats

Circus Animal Cookies

One of my favorite childhood treats were pink and white circus animal cookies; and honestly, I still love them! In a quest to create a copycat version of my fave cookies, I have come up with what I think is the best rendition out there.

Prep Time 5 minutes

Cook Time 40 minutes

Chilling Time 30 minutes

Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes

Servings 10 servings

Course Dessert

Cuisine American

Calories 254

To make the cookies:

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

  • In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, or using an electric hand mixer, add butter and beat until creamy, about 30 to 60 seconds. Add the powdered sugar and beat until well combined.

  • Beat in egg and vanilla until just combined. Reduce speed to low, add the dry ingredients, and beat just until the dough starts to come together, about 1 to 2 minutes. Do not overmix. Scrape down the bowl as needed.

  • Turn out the dough onto a clean surface and shape the dough into a ball. Flatten into a 1-inch disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes.

  • Adjust oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

  • Sandwich the dough between two pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap and roll out to 1/8-inch thick. Using small animal-shaped cookie cutters, cut out cookies and transferred to prepared baking sheets.
  • Using a toothpick, poke a few holes in each cookie to prevent them from raising too much. Bake until the cookies are set, about 10 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool completely.

To decorate the cookies:

  • Line two baking sheets with parchment or wax paper. Melt pink candy whites according to package directions (30-second increments in the microwave or over a double-boiler).

  • Dip half of the cookies into the pink candy melts, allowing excess to drip back into the bowl, and set on parchment paper. Immediately sprinkle with a pinch of nonpareils.

  • Repeat with white candy melts and remaining cookies. Allow cookies to harden completely before removing from the paper. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

  1. Powdered sugar: Using powdered instead of granulated means the sugar and butter combine effortlessly and create a crisp, sandy texture.
  2. Vanilla extract: This is the classic flavor for these cookies, but you could substitute another extract if you want to change things up. Almond is a favorite of mine here!
  3. Candy melts: For the most accurate color, look for Wilton brand bright pink and bright white candy melts. I always find them locally at Walmart, or you can buy candy melts on Amazon (and feel free to change up the colors if you want to!).
  4. Rainbow nonpareils: These tiny, colorful balls are the finishing touch on a classic circus animal cookie. Sprinkle a few on before the candy melts set.
  5. Yield: This recipe makes about 72 to 84 small cookies depending on which cookie cutters you use and how thinly you roll out the dough.
  6. Storage: Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
  7. Freezer: After forming the cookie dough in to a disc, wrap in a double layer of plastic wrap, label, date, and freeze up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Calories: 254kcalCarbohydrates: 28gProtein: 3gFat: 14gSaturated Fat: 9gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 52mgSodium: 240mgPotassium: 38mgFiber: 1gSugar: 9gVitamin A: 444IUCalcium: 10mgIron: 1mg


Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.




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