Confession: I have very few junk-food downfalls. Chips don’t interest me much. I have chocolate bars stashed in the pantry that are over a year old. Ice cream, unless it’s homemade or of the Jeni’s variety, doesn’t call my name. There are only three things that elicit a dangerous siren song for my stomach: Cheetohs (crunchy, not puffy – those are gross), Almond Joys and Pop-Tarts.
If there are Pop-Tarts in the vicinity, I’m going to eat them. I like mine frosted, not toasted. I eat the unfrosted end first (one end always seems frosted to the edge), then the middle, and finally the sides. They are my favorite hangover remedy (2 Pop-Tarts, a Diet Coke and a handful of ibuprofen, along with a solemn promise to never drink again). I once launched into an epic fight with a boyfriend that nearly did us in – it began with his refusal to share the last Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tart and ended with tearful accusations like, “You don’t really even love me, do you?” The boyfriend is long gone, the Pop-Tart love still burns on.
Elena loves them just as much as I do, although she prefers the more
disgusting progressive flavors, such as S’mores and Cookies & Cream, to my boring Strawberry. All along I’ve been saying no to her grocery store requests for toaster pastries, telling her it’s all the high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils that are the problem, when in all actuality it’s the fact that her mother can’t resist all the high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils wrapped up in that pretty little foil package.
When I offered to make a recipe or two from my recent book review of Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, Pop-Tarts were by far the most requested recipe (along with Fig Newtons – apparently we all have a little problem in the snack aisle). I was totally down with this. After all, I’m a big believer in one of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” The idea being that if you have to go to the trouble of making potato chips and the sort from scratch, as opposed to ripping open a bag and sticking your head inside, you’ll eat much less junk food.
Damn you Michael Pollan, for being right. Homemade Pop-Tarts are delicious. The crust is light and flaky like pie. The insides are perfect – sweet but not cloying. Mine even had frosting and sprinkles. BUT. But. They’re really not Pop-Tarts. They’re more like pretty little hand pies. What makes a Pop-Tart so alluring is the odd combination of too-sweet filling and sawdust crust. That, and the fact that they are out of the bag and in my mouth in ten seconds with only a few minimal crumbs to sweep away. The homemade version, while delicious, is a hours-long process that left me with a crusty countertop and a sink full of dishes. Both kids took a few bites, willing the freshly baked pastry to morph into an honest-to-goodness Pop-Tart, before they gave up.
I’m sorry, folks, but this time the chemists and food scientists win. If you want a rustic little hand pie, by all means make this recipe. If you want an honest-to-goodness Pop-Tart? Buy it. Just don’t make a habit of it or try to talk me out of mine. Neither scenario will end well.
As featured in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter
Makes 10-12 Pop-Tarts
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
- 1/4 cup cold milk
- 1 egg
- 2/3 cup jam, any flavor
- Sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
For the Icing
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1-2 tablespoons milk
- 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Whisk the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter and, using your fingertips or a pastry whisk, blend until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the milk and mix until clumpy. Form into a ball, then shape into a disk. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease. Beat the egg in a small bowl.
- On a floured work surface, roll out the dough as thin as you can. Cut the dough into rectangles 2 1/2 by 4 inches. Re-roll and cut scraps.
- Brush the perimeter of half of the dough rectangles with some egg. Spoon 2 teaspoons of jam into the middle of each egg-brushed rectangle, leaving a 1/4-inch margin on all sides. Place an un-egged dough rectangle on top of each jam-spread rectangle. Seal the edges tightly by pressing with the tines of a fork. Prick the tops of the pastries to release steam. If you are not going to frost the pastries later, sprinkle the tops generously with sugar. Place the tarts on the baking sheets.
- Bake for 30 minutes, until golden. Let cool completely on a rack.
- If frosting the tarts, in a small bowl, mix the confectioners’ sugar with the milk and vanilla to make a thick, smooth, spreadable frosting. Frost the tarts. These are best eaten immediately, though you can store them at room temperature for up to five days in a cookie tin. You can toast these if you like, but use a toaster oven or a regular oven, unless you want to clean frosting and chunks of pie crust out of your regular toaster.