Three years ago Carnivorous Boyfriend and I moved into a proper, grown up flat. Not halls of residence or a dodgy dive in an ‘up and coming’ part of the city; no enormous numbers of people, fighting over fridge space or arguing about whether a cleaning rota should be created; just our very own oasis in the heart of all the madness that is London.
While I’d lived away from home since finishing university, it never felt properly permanent. A few essential items would always travel with me – clothes, cookbooks, my favourite photos and the small selection of items purchased at Ikea that I imagine haunt every university graduate until they can afford to invest in something a little more exciting.
As well as the important trappings of everyday life, there’s one additional item that would always come with me, something that has travelled the length and breadth of the country, been taken on family holidays for years and holds more memories than I can even begin to recount: a stuffed elephant called, imaginatively, Ellie.
Before you start to edge away from the page, I’m not one of those slightly strange adults who sleeps with cuddly toys, or even keeps them on display. Ellie was relegated from the bed years ago, but making these ‘elephant ears’ the other day I was reminded of my favourite childhood toy and obsession with these great, grey gentle giants.
Originally invented as a way of using up leftover pastry, palmiers (or palmeras as we came to know them on our recent trip to Barcelona), are named for the palm leaf they resemble, but also known to many bakers as ‘elephant ears’. A simple combination of flour, water, a little bit of salt and a lot of butter and sugar, the taste and texture of a palmier is so much more than the sum of its parts.
Crisp, caramelized pastry holds little pockets of molten sugar, a glossy exterior that melts into a million sweet, flaky layers with every bite. The addition of cocoa makes these ever-so-slightly chocolaty, but the recipe is infinitely adaptable to suit your tastes: try infusing sugar with vanilla or another essence for something subtle, sprinkle cinnamon, nutmeg or crushed cardamom for a hint of spice, or go all out and slather over nutella, sprinkle with nuts and even dip in melted chocolate once baked.
If you’re looking for a recipe that involves minimum effort for maximum impact, this is the one to try. If you’re a slightly more obsessive baker (who me?) and worried that rolling out puff pastry and sprinkling it with sugar is a bit of a cheat, why not make your own? My favourite recipe is from the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook, and is no more involved than, say, making your own croissants. Which is to say, it’s pretty involved, but you’re an obsessive baker it’s the kind of challenge I’m sure you’ll relish.
So here it is, a recipe to satisfy both absolute beginners and more accomplished pastry fans, from France, by way of Barcelona (where I saw them in every bakery and simply had to make my own), inspired by a palm tree and named after an elephant. Enjoy.
Chocolate Elephant Ears
(makes approx. 20)
180g golden granulated sugar
20g cocoa powder
375g all-butter puff pastry (shop bought, or make your own)
In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cocoa until well combined.
Sprinkle a large worksurface with about 100g sugar. Place the block of puff pastry on top of the sugared surface, sprinkle with about another 40g sugar and roll into a rectangle, about 3mm thick.
Roll the pastry up from one of the short ends of the rectangle until it reaches the middle, sprinkling with a little more sugar as you go. Make sure the rolls are nice and tight. Repeat from the other short end until the two rolls meet in the middle. Wrap the whole thing tightly in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Line two trays with baking parchment.
Remove the logs of pastry from the fridge and slice into pieces about 1cm thick. Lay these flat on your baking trays, leaving space between each one as the pastry will puff up and spread. Sprinkle with any remaining sugar and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the sugar has caramelized and the pastry is puffed and golden.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray before tucking in. These are delicious on their own, or sandwiched around cold vanilla ice cream whilst still slightly warm.