A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from February 16, 2008
Elephant Ears (pastry)

"Elephant ears” are sugary, fried dough pastries that are popular at state fairs. In Mexican bakeries, the same pastries are called orejas (ears). Other names for elephant ears include elephant tracks, knee patches, Swiss nothings, hocu-pocus crispies, angel wings, beaver tails (Canada), and langos (pronounced “langosh") chrusciki (Polish pastry).

“Elephant ears” were sold in bakeries as a kind of Danish pastry by the 1950s and 1960s. The 1919 and 1939 citations of “elephant ears” (below) are probably different than the pastry.


(Dictionary of American Regional English)
elephant’s ear n
also elephant track: A round, swirled, sugar-glazed pastry.
1967-68 DARE (Qu. H32,..Fancy rolls and pastries) Infs CA15, KS7, WI71, Elephant ears; MN42, Elephant track—big, thin, has a sugar coating.
1968 DARE FW Addit swOH, [In bakery:} Elephant ears—crisp Danish pastry.
1985 Capital Times (Madison, WI) 18 July 23/1, Come one, come all, and sample the Brobdingnagian assortment of comestibles (food, that is) at the Dane County Fair. It’s hard to go wrong with elephant ears and cotton candy.
1986 DARE File IL, IN, Elephant Ears: large oil-fried sheet of dough, usually sprinkled with confectioners sugar.
(...)
1967 DARE FW Adit swOR, Elephant ears—maple bars.

Arcadia Cook Book
compiled by the Ladies of the Universalist Church
Waterville, Maine
1919
Pg. 75:
ELEPHANT EARS
Two eggs, 1 3/4 cups molasses, 1/2 cup sour milk, 1/2 cup butter, 2 teaspoons soda, 4 cups flour, 1 cup raisins, cassia, cloves.
Evelyn L. Simpson

New York World’s Fair Cook Book
The American Kitchen
by Crosby Gaige
New York, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc.
1939
Pg. 115:
ELEPHANTS’ EARS
Beat three eggs, add pinch of salt and a tablespoon of milk.  Mix very stiff with flour.  Pinch off a piece about the size of a walnut, roll out very thin, fry in deep hot fat.  Serve with hot maple syrup.

6 March 1952, Newark (OH) Advocate, pg. 31, col. 7 ad:
WILSON"S BAKERY
Elephant Ears
3 for 20c

9 January 1959, Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent, pg. B3, col. 3 ad:
Crisp—Tasty—Danish
ELEPHANT EARS
DUTCH OVEN BAKERY

16 August 1963, Titusville (PA) Herald, pg. 5, col. 5:
Titusville Donut Shop open 24 hours tonight and every Friday night. Try our new Elephant Ears.

25 June 1964, Newark (OH) Advocate, pg. 6, col. 1 ad:
A delicious assortment of blueberry, cheery, pineapple and our famous elephant ears.
(Riley’s Bakery—ed.)

8 September 1964, Valley News (Van Nuys, CA), pg. 29A, col. 3:
ELEPHANT EARS
1 cup coarsely chopped canned apples
1 cup canned apple sauce
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tbs. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbs. butter
2 cups biscuit mix
1/2 cup milk

Combine apple slices, apple sauce, sugar cornstarch cinnamon and butter. Simmer until thickened, stirring constantly. Cool.

Prepare biscuit mix according to directions on package using 1/2 cup milk. Divide dough into two portions. Roll out each portion into piece approximately 14x9 inches.

Spread 1/2 of apple mixture down center of dough. Fold over side about 2-inches toward center. Fold over again to meet in center.

Moisten edges; fold over, pressing edges lightly together. Cut each roll into six equal portions.

Place cut-side down on greased baking pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes.

12 November 1964, Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, pg. 15:
ELEPHANT EAR COOKIES
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup dark molasses
1 teaspoon vinegar
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Cream shortening; beat in sugar. Blend in egg, molasses and vinegar. Sift together remaining ingredients; stir into molasses mixture. Roll out on floured board; cut into shape of elephant ear. Bake in 350-degree oven 10-15 minutes or until done. Cool. Wrap 2 ears or cookies per portion.

19 March 1965, Titusville (PA) Herald, pg. 5, col. 6:
Titusville Do-Nut Shop—Try our glazed elephant ears, also jelly filled.

5 August 1965, Newark (OH) Advocate, pg. 7, col. 7 ad:
ELEPHANT EARS
Rich crisp danish pastry.  One of our most delicious rolls...6 for 55c
(Riley’s Bakery—ed.)

23 July 1966, Austin (MN) Daily Herald, pg. 14, col. 7 ad:
Fresh Baked
Danish Crisp Elephant Ears 3 for 25c

3 August 1972, Kokomo (IN) Tribune, “Couple’s Elephant Ears Make Hit At 4-H Fair” by Dixie Hayes, pg. 11, cols. 2-5:
Elephants ears, elongated pieces of dough fried in hot grease and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, are popular with fair-goers in the area.
(...)
“We borrowed the recipe from a woman in Peru,” he explains. Her husband lived on an Indian reservation and that’s where she got the recipe for Indian Fry Bread. She sold some of the pastries at a church fair booth and she had people standing in line for an hour, waiting to get some.”
(Nelson’s Super Market—ed.)

23 May 1974, Kokomo (IN) Tribune, pg. 11, col. 4:
ELEPHANT EARS
3 egg yolks
1 whole egg
6 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
confectioners sugar
vegetable oil for frying

Beat egg yolks and whole eggs until fluffy, about 8 minutes. Beat in water and salt. Stir in flour, working with hands if necessary. Roll dough on well-floured cloth and kneed slightly until dough loses slickness but is still soft. Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion out on floured cloth into a very thin 8-inch circle. In heavy skillet, heat about one inch of oil to 375 degrees. Gently place one circle of dough at a time in hot oil. Fry only 10 to 15 seconds on each side. When turning using tongs, be careful not to break the dough. The pastry should not be brown but a golden yellow when removed from oil. Drain on absorbent paper and sprinkle both sides with confectioners sugar. Cinnamon may be added, if desired.
(...)
ELEPHANT EARS
1 tube refrigerated biscuits
cinnamon and sugar, mixed

Separate biscuits and press out each one as dough tends to puff up when cooked. Deep fry in vegetable oil until golden brown. Sprinkle immediately with cinnamon and sugar mixture.

9 August 1975, Anderson (IN) Herald, pg. 11, cols. 4-5:
One of the latest fads at fairs where people stand impatiently in the longest lines are the stands that sell elephant ears.

For those that want to try their own version, here is a recipe that supposedly had its origins in Europe, when Hannibal was backpacking through the mountains. Since elephants have become less common, the delicacy has developed into a sugar and spiced, hole-less doughnut.

Elephant Ears
3 egg yolks
6 tablespoons water
1 whole egg
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
cinnamon
sugar
vegetable oil

Beat the egg yolks and the whole egg until they are fluffy (about 8 minutes). Add salt and water, then beat a little more. Stir in the flour and mix thoroughly, working it with your hands.

Roll out dough onto a floured surface then knead slightly until the dough is no longer sticky but still soft. Divide into 12 equal parts. Roll each portion on a floured surface until very thin and shaped into a circle about 8 inches in diameter.

Place one inch of vegetable oil in a heavy skillet and when the temperature is hot (about 375 degrees), gently place in one circle of dough. Fry 10 to 15 seconds on each side until it is golden yellow. Use tongs to turn so the surface won’t be punctured.

Drain on paper towels and sprinkle both sides with either powdered sugar or a mixture of granulated sugar and cinnamon. Serve hot.

14 November 1986, Oelwein (Iowa) Daily Register, pg. 7, col. 1:
Elephant Tracks
1 loaf frozen bread
Butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsps. cinnamon
Thaw out dough and allow to rise one inch about bowl. Divide dough in half. Roll out on a floured surface as for cinnamon rolls. Spread with butter. Mix sugar and cinnamon for a mixture. Sprinkle on top of dough, Roll up. Cut into one-inch pieces. Do the same with the other half of dough. Sprinkle the rest of sugar mixture on a board. Take one cut section at a time and place cut side down and roll out until you have a 5 to 6-inch circle. Place on greased sheers and allow to rise for 25 minutes. Bake at 300 degrees F. for 15-18 minutes. Makes 1 1/2 dozen.
Mary Gaffney
Oelwein

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Saturday, February 16, 2008 • Permalink