Somewhat better known as rosettes.
And also known as pinwheels, sugar waffles, struva if you’re Swedish, demir tatlısı if you’re Turkish, and a dozen other names. But the name on this card most likely comes from their frequent presence as a carnival food–substantially because the batter for circus waffles turns into funnel cake batter with the addition of baking powder.
Rosettes by Alex Harness. From WikiMedia Commons, uploaded December 2008.
The mechanics of their creation are discussed briefly in this excerpt from a full-page ad from a store selling rosette irons (the molds necessary to make them) in the October 21, 1904 edition of The New York Times:
Make a batter of eggs, milk and flour; into this dip a Rosette Iron mold, hold the mold in boiling lard for a single minute, and behold! a rose-shaped foundation for entree or dessert, to hold creamed oysters or asparagus tips or salad, or berries or what not — or a cake to eat with coffee, or an attractive garnishment for roast, as light and delectable as can be. The irons are a Scandinavian invention, and will help to keep any housekeeper from being taken unprepared. Two irons and handle may be bought for 50c. They are being demonstrated in our Basement.
February 14, 1905 The Washington Post advertisement for Woodward & Lothrop.
To that description I would add that the irons themselves have to be heated in the oil before dipping them into the batter at all. Once the iron is hot in the oil, it’s dipped until three-quarters of its thickness is submerged in the batter–but not all of it, because you want the rosette to fall off of the mold.
When the batter-covered iron is returned to the hot oil, the water in the batter turn to steam, expanding the cookie outward just enough to push it off of the iron (or, depending on the shape of the mold, to allow it to slide off with a little nudging). The process is expertly demonstrated by Youtube’s NinjaSquid in this video:
As difficult as it is to speculate on the international origins of circus waffles, it’s just as difficult to look for domestic sources. Recipes for rosettes (sometimes under the name “French waffles”) in 19th century American cookbooks call for baking them–a kludge to avoid investing in infrequently used rosette irons, perhaps, but one that would substantially change the result.
As you can see above, advertisements for rosette irons show up in the early 1900s, and the name “circus waffles” starts to appear (rarely) in the 1960s; this card probably showed up in the 1970s.
Which is precisely what makes them perfect food for carnivals — something that’s you don’t want to, or shouldn’t, eat very frequently. In Scandinavian countries, rosettes are holiday treats, but I don’t think we need to resort to cutting down our fried pastry intake to once a year.
From a box sold in Adams, Minnesota, with ephemera from Ohio.
1/2 c. water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. oil
1/2 c. evaporated milk
1 unbeaten egg
1 tsp. sugar
Stir in 1 c. flour. Beat at medium speed with mixer until smooth.
Preheat mold in pan of hot oil (2″ deep). Dip mold in batter and fry until crisp.
Shake off and sprinkle with powdered sugar.