Perfect Elephant Ears

This little pastry has a different name in every country where it is made. Palm leaves, butterflies, pig’s ears, and elephant ears are the names I know, but there are doubtless many others. Really simplicity itself, they are made by rolling the puff pastry in sugar and causing it to absorb as much sugar as possible during the process. When the “ears” bake, the sugar caramelizes, and that delicate caramel flavor mingles with the butter in the dough. The caramel also provides a beautiful shiny glaze on the outside. These are always best on the day they are baked, but you can refrigerate or freeze the formed length of dough—some of the sugar will melt, but I have never noticed that this made any difference in the baked pastries. Please resist the temptation to add cinnamon, cocoa, or anything else to the sugar—it would ruin the delicacy of the buttery caramel.

Makes about 24 2 1/2-inch pastries

About 12 ounces all-butter puff pastry

1 cup sugar for rolling the dough

2 jellyroll pans lined with parchment or foil

  1. Sprinkle the dough and the work surface with about half of the sugar and press it to soften, turning it 90 degrees and continuing to press, until the dough is soft enough to roll. Keeping the work surface and the dough generously covered with sugar, roll the dough to an 8 x 12-inch rectangle.
  2. Trim the edges of the dough even if necessary. Fold each of the 12-inch sides of the dough a little less than halfway in toward the middle, a little more than 1 1/2 inches. Repeat folding each edge in toward the middle—there should now be about a 1/2-inch gap between the folded pieces of dough. Fold over along the gap to make a long, narrow rectangle closed on one of the long sides like the spine of a book and open on the other. Do not stretch the dough in the gap, which would cause the ears to open up while they’re baking.
  3. Use the palm of your hand to slightly flatten the formed piece of dough. Cut it in half, wrap each half in plastic, and refrigerate them for at least an hour. Scrape any sugar remaining on the work surface into a bowl to use after the ears are cut.
  4. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 375˚F.
  5. Remove one of the pieces of dough from the refrigerator and place it on a cutting board. Use a sharp thin-bladed knife to cut the ears crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Dip the cut sides in the reserved sugar and place them cut side down on the prepared pan. If you want to bake all of the elephant ears on the same day, cut the second piece of dough and arrange it on another pan, but bake only one pan at a time.
  6. Bake the elephant ears until they have expanded and puffed and the sugar has caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove individual elephant ears as they are finished, as some may burn before others are baked through. Cool the elephant ears on a rack—the “public side” is the one that baked against the pan.