Perfect Elephant Ears

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Preparation info

  • Makes about


    2½ inch 6 cm ) pastries
    • Difficulty


Appears in

The Modern Baker

The Modern Baker

By Nick Malgieri

Published 2008

  • About

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, 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.


  • ¼ batch Instant Puff Pastry, or about 12 ounces (350 grams) prepared all-butter puff pastry
  • ¾ cup sugar for rolling the dough
  • 2 jelly-roll pans lined with parchment or foil


  1. Sprinkle the Instant Puff Pastry dough and the work surface with about half the sugar and press the dough to soften it, 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 into an 8 × 12- inch (20 × 30-cm) rectangle.
  2. Trim the edges of the dough to be even, if necessary. Fold in each of the 12- inch (30-cm) sides of the dough a little less than halfway toward the middle, a little more than inches (4 cm.. Repeat folding each edge in toward the middle—there should now be about a ½- inch (1-cm) gap between the 2 folded pieces of dough. Fold over again so that the ends meet in the middle, without stretching 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 1 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 of the oven and preheat to 375°F (190°C).
  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 ½- inch (1-cm) thick slices. Dip the cut sides in the reserved sugar and place them cutside 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 was baked against the pan.


I can’t think of a time in the day that I wouldn’t want one of these. They’re also a perfect accompaniment to a custard or fruit dessert.


These are best on the day they are baked, but you may store leftovers between sheets of wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover.


Savory Cheese Elephant Ears: Roll the dough out using flour in place of the sugar. Egg wash the whole surface of the dough and sprinkle it with cheese and paprika, as in the cheese variation of Salt & Pepper Straws.