Some weeks I feel like I’m really progressing in my baking and making important strides in understanding baking chemistry… This was not one of those weeks. Between going back to work after having the summer off, ruining a batch of homemade puff pastry, and being involved in several Italian dessert projects for my upcoming Italy series (finally!), my mind was not on pop tarts. This was truly a shame, because it’s probably a generally good practice to set aside some mental energy at any given time for making pop tarts, but this week was not ideal. I have been looking forward to making Baked Occasions‘ Chocolate Pop Tarts with Peanut Butter & Jam Filling since the book arrived in my hot little hands way back in 2014. At long last, with only 3 recipes to go in the entire book, Baked Sunday Mornings is tackling the pop tarts this week! This recipe is meant for Halloween, though I’m not entirely sure why, because I can’t make any coherent argument whatsoever for not making them all year. If I had to come up with something, at best, I’d say these feel autumn-esque. In fact, a pumpkin spice filling of some sort would be spot-on. Anyway, this is a really fun and tasty recipe, even though I had a few struggles.
My problems were namely with yield and dough formation, and the instructions were unclear at some points in the recipe. I got a low pop tart count– the recipe should produce about 10 assembled tarts, and I got 7, but some were miniature ones utilizing scraps. I think that a) I didn’t roll the dough thin enough, and b) I cut some of the rectangles a little too big. Still, I’m not sure that I would’ve gotten 20 dough rectangles, unless I had cut them much smaller.
The dough is made by cutting frozen butter into the dry ingredients (all-purpose flour, cake flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt) by hand with a pastry cutter, and let me tell you that this is quite difficult and takes a rather long time. Next time I would try either doing that step in a food processor, or using slightly warmer butter (frozen for 10 minutes or so, instead of frozen solid), then re-chilling the flour and butter mixture if needed before adding the wet ingredients. The butter pieces should be the size of “lentils”, which I’ve never heard before as a dough descriptor, so I wondered if that also meant the flat shape of lentils, which possibly explains the need for frozen butter. When you cut frozen butter by hand, you get lots of butter shards and flakes, rather than pea-shaped crumbs. (I was in a rush to leave the house, so I did the best I could, but my pieces were probably a little big.)
I then combined the wet ingredients (egg, milk, cream, vanilla) in a measuring cup and added that to the butter/flour mixture, which I had transferred to my stand mixer. The recipe says a few times not to overwork the dough, so I was careful not to handle it too aggressively. My dough was very marbled-looking, and I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. It looked more like a pie dough with butter chunks, which would theoretically produce a flaky dough, whereas the recipe describes a soft sugar cookie dough texture.
When I rolled the dough out after chilling, I initially thought I’d rolled one piece too thin (I was wrong), so I re-rolled it, which caused the butter marbling to blend in. The instructions say to roll it ⅛” to ¼” thick, and I would definitely err on the side of ⅛” next time. I used a pizza cutter to cut the dough into rectangles.
The filling is a gorgeous chocolate-peanut butter ganache made by pouring hot cream over chopped chocolate and peanut butter. I thought that using chocolate disks would be fine, but lots of them didn’t melt, so next time I would chop them down. (However, it wasn’t a big deal because the chocolate would be baked anyway.) The ganache had a thick, smooth, silky texture, and I quite seriously contemplated forgoing the whole project and eating it with a spoon. I only made a half-batch since I had fewer pop tarts, but….
We are supposed to pipe the ganache in a Z pattern over half of the dough rectangles, then an inverse Z of jam. Problem was, the recipe didn’t specify how much filling to use, and I probably used too much, being that I ran out. I’m not sure why it’s necessary to zigzag the fillings, to be honest. I think it’s perfectly fine to spread the ganache and dollop teaspoons/spread a thin layer of jam on top. (I didn’t bother piping the jam– I just dolloped it in the gaps where there was no ganache.) I then put the top dough pieces carefully over the filling, crimped the edges with a fork, and poked vent holes in the tops. Because the dough had gotten quite soft by this time, I put the pastries on a small sheet pan and stuck them in the freezer to firm up.
The pop tarts are supposed to bake for 12-18 minutes, and I took them out at 14. They seemed dry enough on the surface despite some greasiness, but as they cooled, they felt soggy, so I stuck them into my countertop oven for another 15 minutes or so. I could see the flaky layers on the edges, which made me so happy, though I’m not sure if that was the intended texture or not! However, some of them felt heavy and a bit soft, which led me to conclude that the dough had been rolled too thick (hence not fully baked), and the pastries were filled too much.
The final step is making a cocoa frosting, which was delicious. You simply beat together confectioners’ sugar with cocoa powder, then add milk and vanilla. Mine was not at all “crumbly” like it was supposed to be, but came together without issue using a hand mixer. Lastly, butter smooths it out into a bowl of creamy swirls, which I slathered liberally on top of the pop tarts. I had tons left over– I made a full batch to avoid running out (like what happened with the filling), but next time I would probably halve this portion of the recipe even if I did have the full 10 pastries. A sprinkling of Halloween jimmies was the finishing touch.
I expected the pop tarts to be pretty sweet, but the dough was actually a little bland. Now that I think about it, since I was distracted when mixing the dough, I can’t guarantee that I remembered to add the sugar and salt to the flour/cocoa mixture, which would probably explain the lack of flavor. Buuut I can’t really know one way or the other at this point! Anyway, they were still very tasty and I’d probably make them again, now that I know what to expect. The filling had a nice fudgy texture with a deep chocolate flavor, though I felt that the peanut butter got a little lost. I didn’t personally even need the jam, if I’m being honest. 😉
If you’d like to try your hand at making homemade pop tarts, whether for Halloween or not, head over to Baked Sunday Mornings for the recipe for Chocolate Pop Tarts with Peanut Butter & Jam Filling— pop tart eaters of all ages will thank you! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017.