Food Sunday: Pop Tarts

Seven years ago today, I woke up in tears. It was my due date for my first child, but I had been in and out of labor for three weeks, and I was convinced that I would be pregnant forever. Even though there is no actual case of a woman staying pregnant for the rest of her life, somehow so many women go through the experience of suspecting that they will be the first.

By the end of that day, I was a mother, and tired as I was from all that, well, birth, I didn’t sleep at all. I looked at her little face the entire night, absolutely amazed. Of course, I was in love, and in awe, and all of that. But there was something else. I had had all sorts of images of what my baby would look like. Because I had no other point of reference,  I assumed that my baby would look like me, that she would have a full head of dark hair, that her nose would turn up like mine had. It was just what I saw in my mind.

When she was born, my little girl was entirely bald. Her face was dominated by the most magnificent and royal nose. It was gigantic. She cast her gaze around the room like she owned it, and she looked like an eagle. I looked at that face, and it was not only so different from mine, it was different than anything I could have imagined, and at that moment, I thought, "I have no control over this." Birth is a messy thing, and as magical and life changing as the moment when a baby comes into the world is, it is also a good moment to get used to letting go of your ideas of how things will be.

In preparation for the seventh anniversary of that day, I decided to make pop tarts.

The day before her birthday was a little bit packed, but I carved aside a few minutes to blend together the dough. Like always when it comes to me and pastry, the whole thing seemed too dry, and although I added so much more water than the recipe specified, it still didn’t quite hold together. I just pressed and pressed and hoped for the best. When it came time to roll it out, it started to look more promising.

Still though, I pressed holes back together. I patched here and there. I felt doubtful. I was instructed to measure carefully so that I would have nice, even rectangles. No matter how I try to have nice, even anything in my life, my kitchen is where straight lines go to die.

I’m trying to get better at this, but as things stand right now, I will never be a pastry chef. I will continue to be…rustic.

My big girl has been coming into herself in a pretty cool way lately. Seven looks good on her, I must say. I think that she has been really becoming aware of how much she can accomplish, and so, ironically, she doesn’t have to try to control everything, either. It’s so nice to see her relax a bit. She is just having more fun with her days, I think. Finally, every moment does not have to be perfect for her.

Who started this whole idea of making perfect looking food at home? Was it Martha? I’m thinking that it might have come earlier than that. Maybe it’s my deficiency with the whole straight line element, but there is enough to stress over without cursing myself in the kitchen because my icing piped out funny, or, ahem, my crust didn’t quite keep together. Enough!

On her birthday, we ate pop tarts, and the jam squeezed out of every little space. They were beautiful in a non-traditional sense. These were no fashion models, but they sure had a nice personality.

This recipe came from the April issue of Bon Appetit, and in the photograph that accompanies the recipe, the pastries are laid out in a perfect star, each equal rectangle devoid of any little leak of jam. The powdered sugar is shaken in such a way that I suspect it might actually have been placed, grain by grain by some sad intern dreaming of the day when they might be able to eat one of these lovely snacks. Stunning.

Maybe your pop tarts will look like that. That is so great, and I applaud your success! But if they don’t, then I urge you to embrace the character of your own homemade deliciousness. If the crust falls apart, or the jam comes through, and you even think about feeling any anxiety or stress about the whole thing, repeat after me:

These are going to taste so good.

And oh boy, they will. The nice thing about personality, is that it is what counts.

"Pop-Tarts"
adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2010

  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour plus additional for shaping and rolling
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 10 tablespoons ice water, or more if needed (note: the original recipe calls for 4 tablespoons, but this just didn’t even start to do it for me. Start low, but be aware that you might need as many as 10 or 12)
  • 10-12 tablespoons fruit preserves (I used blueberry rhubarb that I made last week, but any will do, and low or no sugar will be best here)
  • powdered sugar, for dusting

Whisk the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Add the butter, and using your fingertips, rub the butter in until it the whole mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water by the tablespoonfuls, tossing with your hands or a fork until the dough starts to stick together. When you pick up a handful and it stays together when you press it, it is ready.

Gather dough into two balls and shape each half into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least an hour.

Line 2 large rimmed baking pans with parchment. If you have limited freezer space, and you cant put two pans in your freezer, you can probably get them all onto one pan, but if you can do the two, it is safer. Working with one disk at a time, roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 13×11 inches. Trim to a 12×10-inch rectangle, and cut into eight 5×3-inch rectangles.

Arrange 4 rectangles, spaced apart, on each sheet. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of jam down the center of each rectangle. Top with a a second rectangle, and gently press together at the edges. Then double seal it with a fork, pressing the edges all around the rectangle. Repeat with the other tarts. Poke each top with a toothpick a few times. Cover with plastic wrap, and freeze tarts on sheets for at least two hours and up to one week.

Position 1 rack in the top third of the oven, and one rack on the lower third. Preheat to 375 degrees. Bake frozen tarts uncovered until golden, reversing sheets after 15 minutes, 25-30 minutes total. Immediately transfer tarts to a rack. Sift powdered sugar lightly over the tarts, and serve warm.

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