I never had a Pop-Tart until college. I realize that for some people this may cause a shocked reaction on par with my husband’s the time I told him I’ve never watched Goonies before (or Jacob’s, upon discovering the internet). Obviously I grew up under a rock, right? Thus, given my proximity to concrete-like materials you’d think I have been better prepared for the texture of the one I purchased from the vending machine in the basement of my freshman dorm (not at 4 a.m. or anything, either, nope, not this angel!). But I was not. It was like particle board, but even particle board has a fresher aroma. It took two hands to break off a piece. I choked down my first bite, then chugged some water, convinced bits were stuck in my throat. Don’t you hate that?
I understand that if I had toasted it, my experience might have been better. And maybe the brown sugar cinnamon variety isn’t exactly the most vibrant. Also, it is entirely possible that a dusty dormitory basement doesn’t have, say, the packaged pastry turnover a large grocery store chain. But even at its most ideal, it could never be anything but a compromise for me: a dry, flavorless, glycerin, high fructose corn syrup, “artificial strawberry flavor”-ed version of what could be homemade and flawless.
I can’t believe I waited so long to make these. Neither can my still-not-over-the-Goonies-thing husband, who responded to my “what should I make next? I’ve got a muffin, salad, cake and pop tarts on my list” query this weekend with a “you know how to make Pop Tarts and you haven’t yet?” (Don’t you love hearing things from his perspective? He’s had similar reactions to fried chicken and peanut butter crispy bars.)
Most recipes I have come across use a pie dough for the pastry but I was really stuck on getting a crust that was a little more sturdy — one with an egg. Often I see fillings of just jam, yet a little thickener added to the jam goes a long way towards keeping it from being too wet and soggy inside. Finally, a lot of versions I came across while I was digging around offer some sort of apology that the glaze (should you make one) isn’t as hard as the packaged ones, that a homemade version really wont hold up well in an upright toaster or that the brown sugar filling doesn’t have the odd stiffness of the ones you can buy at the bodega; this version does not. Sure, it may lack the sturdiness and shell-like slick of a packaged Pop Tart, but it has the buttery, flaky, no-toaster-required-to-soften-it transcendence the grocery store aisle version can only dream about, and hooray for that.
One year ago: Black Bread
Homemade Pop Tarts
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) milk
1 additional large egg (to brush on pastry)
Cinnamon Filling (enough for 9 tarts)
1/2 cup (3 3/4 ounces) brown sugar
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, to taste
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg, to brush on pastry before filling
3/4 cup (8 ounces) jam
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
Alternate fillings: 9 tablespoons chocolate chips, 9 tablespoons Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut paste or 9 tablespoons of a delight of your choice, such as salted caramel or a nut paste
To make cinnamon filling: Whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and flour.
To make jam filling: Mix the jam with the cornstarch/water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool. Use to fill the pastry tarts.
Make the dough: Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Work in the butter with your fingers, pastry blender or food processor until pea-sized lumps of butter are still visible, and the mixture holds together when you squeeze it. If you’ve used a food processor, transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Whisk the first egg and milk together and stir them into the dough, mixing just until everything is cohesive, kneading briefly on a well-floured counter if necessary.
Divide the dough in half (approximately 8 1/4 ounces each), shape each half into a smooth rectangle, about 3×5 inches. You can roll this out immediately (see Warm Kitchen note below) or wrap each half in plastic and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
Assemble the tarts: If the dough has been chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to soften and become workable, about 15 to 30 minutes. Place one piece on a lightly floured work surface, and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8″ thick, large enough that you can trim it to an even 9″ x 12″. [You can use a 9″ x 13″ pan, laid on top, as guidance.] Repeat with the second piece of dough. Set trimmings aside. Cut each piece of dough into thirds – you’ll form nine 3″ x 4″ rectangles.
Beat the additional egg and brush it over the entire surface of the first dough. This will be the “inside” of the tart; the egg is to help glue the lid on. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each rectangle, keeping a bare 1/2-inch perimeter around it. Place a second rectangle of dough atop the first, using your fingertips to press firmly around the pocket of filling, sealing the dough well on all sides. Press the tines of a fork all around the edge of the rectangle. Repeat with remaining tarts.
Gently place the tarts on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Prick the top of each tart multiple times with a fork; you want to make sure steam can escape, or the tarts will become billowy pillows rather than flat toaster pastries. Refrigerate the tarts (they don’t need to be covered) for 30 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 350°F.
Charming tip from King Arthur: Sprinkle the dough trimmings with cinnamon-sugar; these have nothing to do with your toaster pastries, but it’s a shame to discard them, and they make a wonderful snack. While the tarts are chilling, bake these trimmings for 13 to 15 minutes, till they’re golden brown.
Bake the tarts: Remove the tarts from the fridge, and bake them for 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. Cool in pan on rack.
Whole Wheat Variation: I was itching to swap out 1/2 cup of the flour with whole wheat flour. I am sure it would make it more deliciously breakfast.
Pop Tart Minis: The biggest struggle I had with these was the size. I actually like my baked goods on the tiny size, thus I think this could make an adorable batch of 16 2 1/4″ x 3″ rectangles.
Savory Pop Tarts: Nix the sugar in the dough and halve the salt. Fill with pesto, cheese, ground nuts or olives, or any combination thereof. Brush the tops with additional egg wash and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds. Please invite me over.
Do ahead: The sweet versions should keep at room temperature in an airtight container for a week. If you’d like to make them further in advance, I vote for freezing them unbaked between layers of waxed paper, and baking them as you need.
Warm kitchen warning: Guys, I live in an inferno, the kind of steam-heated, 85 degrees inside (68 gorgeous degrees outside) existence many other New Yorkers are familiar with. Between the heat and yesterday’s rainy humidity, me and this dough were struggling. To keep it from being too warm and soft, I was stuffing the trays of dough in the freezer for 10 minute shifts almost every time I worked with them. If you find yourself in an overly warm kitchen working with dough that gets soft too quickly, just keep using your freezer. The 10 minutes here and there that you extend this project will save you many gray hairs as the dough becomes easy to work with again.