One of my dad’s favorite foods is pop-tarts. Along with oreos and cocoa puffs, pop-tarts top his list of perfect breakfast foods and, consequently, we often had them in our house when I was growing up. The pantry in our home did not contain very many convenience foods, and we never had sugary cereals, but pop-tarts were a frequent treat. Maybe because we had them around so often, pop-tarts never really appealed to me the same way that Fruit Loops or Apple Jacks did. I still don’t find them all that enjoyable and I really don’t like eating sweet things for breakfast in general; even the enticing cereals listed above have lost their charm. I recently tried a pop-tart again, for the first time in many years, and it was just as I remember: overly sweet with a chalky aftertaste. This experience inspired me to try making a homemade breakfast pastry that actually tasted real and appealing. Here’s what I came up with:
Adapted from Bon Appétit April 2010
I used a kind of thin royal icing to top these tarts because I wanted to recreate the hard, sugary coating of a boxed pop tart. However, if you do not have access to meringue powder, you could easily mix together 1/2 cup powdered sugar with a couple Tablespoons of water and just drizzle this icing over the pop tarts. Or just got for the unfrosted version and simply sift some powdered sugar over the tops, as they did in the Bon Appétit recipe.
Makes 8 Pastries
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup cold shortening
1 large egg, well beaten
2-4 Tablespoons ice cold milk
1/2 cup fruit preserves
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons meringue powder
1 Tablespoon water
Decorative sugar or sprinkles, optional
1. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt until well combined. Cut in the butter and shortening with a fork or pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the beaten egg to the bowl and mix lightly with a fork just until mixture is moistened. Add the milk, 1 Tablespoon at a time, and continue to mix gently with a fork until the mixture is moist and begins to clump together.
2. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead a couple of times just until it forms a cohesive lump. Divide the lump into 2 equally sized balls and wrap each in plastic wrap. Flatten each ball into a flat disc and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. If the dough chills for longer than a couple of hours, it may need to warm up a bit before being rolled out.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Unwrap one disc of dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 12 by 10-inch rectangle. Trim the edges of the rectangle so they are straight and then cut the rectangle into 8 equal pieces (about 5 by 3-inches each, but they don’t have to be exact).
4. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and put 4 of the pastry rectangles on each sheet. Spoon 1 Tablespoon of the fruit preserves in a line down the center of each pastry rectangle. Roll out the second disc of dough in the same way as the first and cut into 8 5 by 3-inch rectangles. Place one rectangle of dough over each of the prepared ones on the cookie sheets. Press together the edges of each tart using the tines of a fork so that the two pieces of pastry are sealed together.
5. Place one cookie sheet a rack in the middle position of the preheated oven with the second cookie sheet on the bottom rack and bake for 25 minutes, switching the cookie sheets with each other halfway through. Remove from the oven once the pastry is lightly browned on top and place the tarts on cooling racks. Allow to cool to room temperature before frosting.
6. To prepare the icing: In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sifted powdered sugar, meringue powder and water. Beat with a whisk or a hand held electric mixer for several minutes. or until the mixture is smooth, glossy and begins to thicken. The icing should be thin enough to still drizzle slowly off of a spoon. If it becomes too thick, add a tiny bit of water and whisk until combined.
7. Using a small offset spatula or a butter knife, spread about 1/2 Tablespoon of icing on each pastry. If desired, sprinkle with decorative sugar or sprinkles immediately as the icing hardens very quickly.
Since my dad inspired my quest for pop-tart perfection, I naturally had to have him as one of the taste testers for this comparison and here is what he said: “The homemade pop-tarts have better pastry, better frosting and better filling . . . but other than that they’re pretty much the same.” I think that means the homemade recipe was a success! Speaking as someone who doesn’t like the store bought pop-tarts, these homemade tarts were everything I always wanted the boxed kind to be. They had a wonderfully flaky crust that wasn’t too tough or chewy, the filling actually tasted like real berries, and the icing added just enough sweetness without the chalky aftertaste. I might even consider actually eating one of these for breakfast (with a strong cup of coffee)!
Obviously, the main appeal of store bought pop-tarts is how quickly one can pop them in the toaster for an instant breakfast and that is certainly not true of the homemade recipe. This recipe is quite involved and takes over two hours to make, including the chilling and baking time. Not exactly a quick breakfast. I did try reheating the homemade tarts by wrapping them in foil and heating them in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes. They came out toasty hot and just as flaky as they began, but of course this isn’t nearly as fast as popping something from a box into a toaster.
The homemade and store bought pastries were amazingly similar in price, with the homemade coming out a little bit more expensive. The fruit preserves really brought up the cost of the homemade pastries but the cost of preserves depends on what brand and type you choose to buy. I had a fairly pricey jar of blueberry preserves that I decided to use for this post and those brought the cost up above store bought pop-tarts. If you use a less costly type of jam, the homemade tarts would probably be slightly cheaper than store bought.
Bottom Line: Homemade pop-tarts were delectably flaky with a real fruit flavor that I find irresistible. However, they took a long time to prepare and were not any cheaper than the store bought variety. If you are like me and never understood the appeal of hard, overly sweet pop-tarts, or if you like pop-tarts but want to try a more “real” version, give this homemade recipe a try the next time you crave a breakfast treat. On the other hand, if you eat pop-tarts mostly for the convenience of a pop-in-the-toaster breakfast, it’s probably best to stick with the convenience and familiarity of the boxed variety.