02/27/2012 04:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Cooking With Kids: Homemade Pop Tarts


Several years ago, a friend volunteered to keep my oldest daughter while I went to an appointment. When I came back, we debriefed on what they'd done, whether she'd eaten, etc. My friend said to me, "I gave her a Pop Tart and she said, 'what's that?'. What are you doing to this kid? She's never had a pop tart? She's five!" I felt a little exposed, having been a wee bit controlling with my daughters diet. Yes, I was one of those mothers.

As the years have gone by, I've realized that I need to loosen up a bit. Don't get me wrong, I'm not endorsing Ramen noodles and blue Gatorade every night at the dinner table or anything; not by a long shot. I'm just not as uptight about their diets anymore. I've come to believe that if I want to steer my kids away from possibly harmful decisions, it's helpful to be able to steer them toward something better. I can't just go around saying "no, that's bad" to everything they see. I need to show them, and let them experience, what's actually good.

So, when my kids are wanting "food" like, say, Pop Tarts, instead of instilling them with some false sense of pride over how we don't eat that kind of stuff, I can take a more positive route, get them in the kitchen with me, and try to show them what a Pop Tart was meant to be in the first place. I can aim for a filled pastry's original goodness, of which a God-knows-how-old Pop Tart is merely a shadow. Then my kids would know that pastries aren't something you eat every morning, but are treats (because they'd see the enormous amount of butter involved). They would know that real food isn't instantaneous; there's a process to walk through. They'd know that pastries are best warm, and that the warmth is fleeting, so they should enjoy it. They might even notice that good pastry is light and flaky and makes a delicate breaking sound when they bite into it. Or, maybe, since they are kids, and not an over-thinking, slightly obsessive mother, they would just eat our homemade pastry and know that they like this better than a Pop Tart, that this is good. And that would be enough.

Homemade Pop Tarts adapted from King Arthur Flour

2 cups (8 ½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 quarter-pound sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) milk

Cinnamon Filling
1/2 cup (3 ¾ ounces) brown sugar
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, to taste
4 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 large egg, to brush on pastry before filling

Jam Filling
¾ cup jam
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with one tablespoon water

Make the dough
: Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Working quickly with your finger tips (or a pastry blender or food processor) blend the butter into the mixture until there are pea-sized clumps of butter still visible, and if you squeeze some dough, it holds together . Mix the egg and milk in a small bowl and then add it to the dough, only mixing until everything is cohesive. You should still be able to see bits of butter in the dough.

Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a smooth 3" x 5 rectangle. Roll the dough out immediately or wrap in plastic and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Make the cinnamon filling
: Whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and flour.

Make the jam filling: mix the jam with the cornstarch/water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool. Use on tablespoon per pastry.

Assemble the tarts
: If the dough has been thoroughly chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to soften and become workable, about 15 to 30 minutes. Place one of the pieces on a lightly floured work surface, and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8" thick. You should have around a 9"x 12" rectangle to work with. Trim the edges where it is over 9"x12". (*if you want a snack for the kitchen helpers place the scraps on a baking sheet, sprinkle them with cinnamon-sugar and bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.)

Roll the second piece of dough just as you did the first. With a well floured knife, score both pieces of dough into thirds lengthwise and widthwise; you'll see nine 3" x 4" rectangles.

Beat the egg, and brush it over the entire surface of the first piece of dough. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each marked rectangle. Place the second sheet of dough, scored side up, on top of the first and press firmly around each pocket of filling, sealing the dough well on all sides. Cut the dough, along the scored lines, to make nine tarts. Press the cut edges with a fork, to seal.

Carefully, place the tarts on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet (I like parchment). Prick the top of each tart with a fork; this is to make sure steam can escape, or the tarts will become better pillows than pastries. Refrigerate the tart, on the cookie sheet, for 30 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 350°F.

Remove the tarts form the fridge, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until they're a light, golden brown. Remove tarts from the oven, and allow to cool on the pan.

Yield: 9 tarts.

Originally posted on Space and Thyme.

Photo by Monica Strawbridge