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Bring the county fair home with these light and crispy Homemade Elephant Ears. They taste just like the fried dough you’d find at the fair! Top with cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, or Nutella for a sweet and easy treat.
County Fair Fried Dough at Home
If there’s one thing I love about the county fair, it’s the food. For some reason, visiting the local fair is an excuse to indulge in foods that I don’t have most of the year, like caramel apples, deep-fried Oreos, fried pickles, and whatever new deep-fried sweet treat they’re featuring for the year. (Except for deep-fried butter…that’s just a “no thanks” from me!)
But my favorite fair food of all, hands down, is Elephant Ears. I mean, how can you go wrong with light, crispy fried dough topped with cinnamon sugar?
And now, you can make it at home! As you might expect, making homemade elephant ears is simple and just a matter of making the dough and frying it. The dough comes together easily with minimal kneading and just an hour of rising time so it’s a treat you can whip up any day of the week!
What Are Elephant Ears?
If you’re still wondering what, exactly, elephant ears are, you likely know them by another name. Elephant ears are frequently called beaver tails (especially in Canada), otter tails, scones, fry bread, fry dough, and a handful of other names.
Perhaps most commonly, elephant ears are simply referred to as “fried dough” as that’s exactly what it is. Elephant ears are made with a simple yeast dough that’s rolled out into long, thin ovals and quickly deep-fried, before being sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or another sweet topping.
The name “elephant ears” likely comes from the shape, which is flat and long like an elephant’s ear. You can also try to get them more of an ear shape if desired. There’s no need to aim for perfect ovals!
What’s The Difference Between Funnel Cake and Elephant Ears?
While they both taste similar and are often sprinkled with the same toppings, funnel cake and elephant ears are not the same.
Funnel cake is made by pouring a batter, similar to a pancake batter, into hot oil. Elephant ears, on the other hand, are made with an actual dough that needs to rise before being fried.
What You’ll Need
Homemade elephant ears are made with just a few pantry staples.
- Hot water – I just use regular tap water. This is to help the yeast proof.
- Quick rise yeast – Be sure your yeast is fresh. Expired yeast will not proof correctly and the recipe won’t work.
- All-purpose flour
- Light colored oil – Canola, vegetable, and peanut oil will all work.
- Toppings – Sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, and nutella are all popular toppings.
How to Make Elephant Ears
Making county fair fried dough at home requires about 10 to 15 minutes of hands-on time plus an hour of rising time for the dough.
- Proof the yeast. Pour the hot water and a teaspoon of sugar into a large bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast and stir, then set aside to proof. This should take about 5 minutes.
- Make the dough. Heat the milk, butter, and remaining sugar in a microwave safe bowl to melt and dissolve the sugar. Stir to cool. It should be a bit warmer than room temperature but not scalding to kill the yeast. Pour the butter mixture into the yeast misty and stir. Whisk in the egg and salt, followed by the flour in 1/2 cup increments. Once if forms a dough, knead 2-3 minutes until a slightly sticky dough has formed. Add more flour when necessary.
- Allow the dough to rise. Transfer the dough a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot in your kitchen for an hour to let the dough rise. Punch the dough down and cut into 8 equal pieces.
- Fry the dough. Roll the dough into ovals at that 1/4-1/8 inch thick. No worries if they’re not perfect looking – mine weren’t either. Place in the hot oil and fry 20 to 30 seconds per side.
- Serve and enjoy. Remove the fried dough from the oil and hold it over the pan to let the excess oil drip off. Then immediately add your favorite toppings, like cinnamon sugar or nutella. Serve warm and fresh!
Tips for Success
If you want your elephant ears to taste just like the county fair, keep these things in mind.
- Add more or less flour as needed. The amount of flour needed in any dough can vary based on the flour, the climate, and other factors. This is part of the reason why I recommend adding it in 1/2 cup increments. Keep in mind you can also add more as needed when kneading the dough.
- How hot should the oil be? Since these beaver tails are fried for just 20-30 seconds per side, it’s important that the oil is hot…but not so hot that it burns your dough! You want a medium to slightly dark color on the dough. Try frying one peice of dough and adjust the oil as necessary.
- Help the dough cook evenly. The middle of the dough tends to puff up when it hits the oil. I’ve found cutting a slit in the middle helps to cook the dough evenly. Another option is to use tongs to press the middle into the oil.
There are many different ways to top beaver tails. Here are a few topping combinations:
- Cinnamon sugar. My personal favorite and the classic way to serve this fried dough.
- Lemon and sugar. This may sound a bit strange but coating the dough in sugar and topping with a squeeze of lemon juice is actually the perfect combination. A little sweet, a little sour.
- Nutella. You can’t go wrong with some Nutella spread over the top!
- Powdered sugar. This will give them a funnel cake-like vibe!
- Syrup or sauce of any kind. Chocolate syrup, caramel syrup, or even strawberry sauce can be drizzled over the top of these beaver tails.
Can I Make Fried Dough in the Air Fryer?
Frying the dough in a pan is always going to give the most authentic fair food flavor. However, if you want to cut back on the oil a bit, you can make elephant ears in your air fryer.
Cook the dough in batches – this will likely mean one at a time unless you have a huge air fryer – at 350F for 5 minutes. Flip them over and cook for another 5 minutes. You may have to adjust the time slightly based on your air fryer so I recommend trying one and adjusting the time as necessary for the rest.
They won’t have exactly the same texture or flavor as frying them but they’ll still be good!
What About Leftovers?
Elephant ears are best served immediately, when warm and soft from the oil. If you do have leftovers, they can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days. I recommend reheating them in the oven or air fryer. The texture won’t be the same but they’ll still taste good! If you want to add the cinnamon sugar topping, just brush the top with melted butter and add the topping.
More Dessert Ideas:
Homemade Elephant Ears
- In large bowl pour in hot water and 1 teaspoon of the measured sugar. Sprinkle yeast over top and stir. Set aside to proof, about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in microwave safe bowl, heat milk, butter and remaining sugar to melt butter and dissolve sugar. Stir to cool–you want it to be a little warmer than room temperature, but not scalding to kill the yeast.
- Pour butter liquid into yeast mixture and stir. Whisk in egg and salt. Stir in flour using 1/2 cup increments until it forms a dough. Knead dough 2-3 minutes until a slightly sticky dough has formed, adding more flour when necessary.
- Place dough into bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Store in a draft free, warm spot in your kitchen for an hour or so to let dough rise. Punch dough down and cut into 8 equal pieces.
- Preheat oil in fryer or deep skillet to 350 degrees, or medium heat on the stove top. Roll dough out to be long ovals that are 1/4-1/8 inch thick…or should I say thin. And, they don't have to be perfect looking either. Mine weren't: Carefully place in hot oil and fry 20-30 seconds per side. (See recipe tips at bottom)
- Once dough has finished cooking remove from oil and hold it over the pan to let the excess oil drip off of it. Then immediately coat in cinnamon sugar–a classic combination! You could also place on paper towels and then spread on Nutella as well. Another favorite way is coating it in sugar and then adding a little lemon juice. So tasty! Be sure to serve these warm and fresh!