The Ghost of Breakfast Past

Homemade Pop-Tarts [*vegan*]

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What pre-made breakfast item would you identify as the singlemost iconic food of your childhood?  For me, it’s Pop-Tarts.  Now, before you get all mad at my parents, please know that, for the most part, I ate homemade, balanced breakfasts, which fueled me for many a successful day in grade school.  However, every once in a while, my sister and I were allowed to select the pre-made breakfast item of our choosing — these were the times that Katie and I sought the most highly-refined, sugar-laden, artificially-colored items we could find – think Froot Loops, Toaster Strudels, and, yes, Pop-Tarts.  We were your typical rebellious youths.

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I think that NOT eating these unnatural breakfast oddities on a daily basis made them all the more appealing to us.  After all, what 7-year-old appreciates the wholesome breakfast placed before them each morning by their loving mother who wants nothing but the best for her progeny?  Yeah, no 7-year-old that I’ve ever met.

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Even today, when I would ten-thousand-times prefer a bowl of veggie-filled oatmeal to a Zebra Cake, I still possess a nostalgic appreciation for those processed foods of my childhood that continue to live on to corrupt the children of today.  So, rather than caving to these sugary reminiscences, I decided to bake up a version of my own, featuring my two go-to flavor favs:  Brown Sugar and Strawberry.

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Oh, by the way, they’re accidentally vegan-friendly.

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For the dough, I slightly adapted my mom’s canola-oil-based pie crust recipe.  I cannot remember the last time my mom purchased shortening or butter for a pie crust, and my traditional, meat-and-potatoes dad has never once complained about her pies.  Despite including only heart-health(ier) canola oil, the resulting crust is as flaky and flavorful as any lard-filled crust.

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I tried to keep the fillings simple — especially the strawberry one.  I chose a jar of high-quality strawberry preserves, free of artificial colors and high fructose corn syrup, to replace the cloyingly sweet and shockingly red interior to the classic Strawberry Pop-Tart.  I would caution against using homemade preserves just because of the likelihood of a higher water-content than the store-bought varieties, but still, there are some nice “natural” options to be found in your local jam and jelly aisle.
The brown sugar filling is very alike the spread you would use to make cinnamon-sugar toast (another childhood breakfast favorite, which, incidentally, I thought my father invented until I was about 20).  The most important aspect of filling these homemade pastries is to leave a hefty border all the way around the fillings, otherwise, they’ll leak like a post-iceberg-Titanic during baking.

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A critical aspect of every Pop-Tart (except for those boring, bare-topped strawberry ones that no child wants) is that shellac of icing.  Though a royal icing might be more lifelike, I wanted something that would set faster so that the pastries could still be enjoyed somewhat warm.  I opted for a simple powdered-sugar-and-almond-milk mixture — slightly altered for the brown sugar filled pastry.  The icing is easy to mix together, and sets very quickly, even on the still-warm pastries.
So, put on your footy PJs, grab your Legos, and bite into a piece of your childhood.  Perhaps with a glass of Tang?

Homemade Pop-Tarts [*vegan*]

Yield:  2 pastries (one Brown Sugar Pop-Tart & one Strawberry Pop-Tart)
Dough:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons almond milk + a bit extra in a small bowl for assembly
Micro-pinch salt
Brown Sugar Filling:
1 teaspoon canola-based buttery spread (or softened butter, if not keeping vegan)
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
Strawberry Filling:
1 teaspoon strawberry preserves
Icing:
1/2 tablespoon almond milk
2-3 tablespoons powdered sugar, added gradually to achieve desired consistency
{For cinnamon icing:  add 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract}
Sprinkles, colored sugar, or any other decorations you desire
Prepare dough:  In a small mixing bowl, whisk together flour, both sugars, and salt.  In a small bowl, whisk together oil and almond milk.  Pour wet ingredients over dry, and use a rubber spatula to fold together, using JUST enough strokes to ensure that no flour streaks remain.  Form dough into a ball, and transfer to a piece of parchment paper.  Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the ball, and use a rolling pin to roll dough into a n ~8″ x 10″ rectangle, ~1/8″ thick.  Remove plastic wrap, and slice rectangle in half crosswise and lengthwise, forming four 4″x 5″ rectangles.  Use a knife to make sure that you have nice neat edges on each rectangle.  Transfer parchment to a cookie sheet, re-cover with the plastic wrap, and chill 1 hour.
Assemble pastries:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees farenheit.  Remove chilled dough from fridge.  For the brown sugar filling, combine butter spread, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt until smooth (but still granular).  Spread brown sugar filling evenly over one dough rectangle, leaving a border of at least 1/2″.  Spread the strawberry preserves over another dough rectangle, again, leaving a border of at least 1/2″. Space filled dough rectangles at least 3″ apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet.  Use a fork and gentle pressure to make ~1/8″ indentations around the perimeter of the two filled dough rectangles.  Dip your finger in some almond milk, and run it around the forked edges to make them sticky.   Top theh filled dough rectangle with the remaining rectangles, and lightly press down to seal the edges — to keep your edges neat, hold a knife against each straight edge as you press down to seal (see images above).  Use a fork and gentle pressure to seal the edges, using the same method you used on the base layer prior to sandwiching.   Careful sealing is necessary to prevent mid-bake leaks!  Use a toothpick to make a few steam holes in the top layer of each pastry.  Brush tops with a thin layer of almond milk.  Bake 19-22 minutes, rotating cookie sheet after 10 minutes, until you can clearly see the flaky dough layers delineated at the edges, while the tops and sides remain pale (no golden-brownness should be visible anywhere).  Let cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.
Decorate baked pastries:  Make icing by whisking together powdered sugar and almond milk – consistency should be smooth and spreadable.  Use a spoon to smear half of the icing over the top of the strawberry-filled pastry, being careful not to smoosh the still-warm pastry (don’t spread the icing too close to the edges or it will drip down the sides).  Sprinkle with pink or red sprinkles or sanding sugar.  Beat the cinnamon and vanilla into the remaining half of the icing, and use a spoon to spread it over the brown-sugar-filled pastry.  Icing should set in 3-5 minutes.  Serve while still warm.
*Note:  I’m fairly certain that these Pop-Tarts will not survive a reheat through a toaster without catastrophic, conflagration-causing consequences.  So, just eat ’em whilst they’re fresh!

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