Friday, December 9, 2011

the breakfast battle

I am not a morning person.

Scratch that. I am Not A Morning Person. I do not react favorably to the sight of early morning sunshine. I build defensive trenches of comforters against the creeping threat of seven am. I sleep soundly and cannot be woken by anything other than an alarm clock, because only an alarm clock is implacable against my threats and invective. I do not merely abuse the snooze button - I am guilty of capital crimes against it.

If I had my way, I'd only ever sneak up on mornings from behind, catching them in passing after staying up all night.

Mornings are difficult. Breakfast, more so. My stomach doesn't wake up until at least half an hour after my eyes are open, and while I like many breakfast foods, I have no love for breakfast hour. Pancakes are delicious at four am and eleven am. At eight am, they are an abomination.

I didn't grow into my aversion to mornings. Even as a child, it took a lot to rouse me out of bed before nine. If there was ever an argument for giving children caffeine, I was a walking point in its favor. My mother, who took to heart the idea of breakfast as the most important meal of the day, would sigh and fret as I sat sullen and bleary-eyed at the kitchen table, refusing fruit and yogurt and Weet-Bix before finally choking down a few half-hearted bites of margarine toast, pointedly avoiding the crusts. When my sister reached an impressionable age and began imitating me in everything I did, my mother - my sugar-phobic mother - broke down and bought Pop-Tarts.

If the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation had created a snack machine to go with their Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser, a Pop-Tart is the sort of thing it would produce. Rectangular, about the size of a small envelope, consisting of a sickly, jammy confection sandwiched between sheets of damp, crumbly pastry product, the Pop-Tart is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a jam tartlet. Their tooth-aching sweetness was enough to give even me and my sister (hardened sugar junkies, the both of us) serious pause. Still, the joy of the forbidden was enough to get us eating them, and for a few weeks, the breakfast battle reached a ceasefire. Then the novelty wore off, and Pop-Tarts didn't last on their merits. We went back to margarine toast.

Later, I left for boarding school and discovered the magic of coffee. Mornings, while still not agreeable, became at least bearable, and I found that granola bars were a fairly effective mid-morning compromise. The last time I encountered Pop-Tarts - in the vending machine at law school - I noted with a certain bafflement that they'd introduced a double-frosted chocolate variety, complete with sprinkles. I had neither the nostalgia nor the morbid curiosity to try them.

Suffice to say, Pop-Tarts were the last thing on my mind when I was tinkering with a recipe for maple cookies. The results failed on their merits as cookies - the amount of maple syrup required to give the cookies a strong maple flavor also gave them an odd texture - but showed promise as pastry. Replacing the sugar and water in a standard sweet shortcrust with maple syrup and egg yolk, trading out regular butter for browned, and giving it a few quick turns produced a pastry that was flaky and fragrant. All I needed was the right recipe in which to use it.

A tart or pie didn't seem quite right. Then I learned through the blogosphere that people make homemade versions of Pop-Tarts, little pastries that keep the Pop-Tart's rectangular shape, but more like turnovers or hand pies in character. The pastry-to-filling ratio struck me as a good one, and it was easy to cook up a sweetly spiced mixture of apples and raisins to sandwich between sheets of pastry. A wash of egg and a spell in the oven, and the results were browned and delectable, perfect for eating at the kitchen table in one's pajamas.

Well, maybe not at breakfast hour. Could we skip that battle - and make it a late brunch?

Apple-Raisin "Pop-Tarts" with Flaky Maple Brown Butter Pastry

If you're not inclined to fuss with measuring and cutting rectangles, this recipe can also be used for turnovers: stamp out rounds of pastry with a large cookie-cutter, top with filling, and fold over into half-moons. Feel free to play with the filling, too - apple-cranberry and apple-cherry are possible variations, and I imagine these might be tasty with rhubarb compote or pumpkin butter too.

(Makes six, with leftover filling, which can be eaten with pancakes or toast.)

Start by cutting eight ounces of butter into small chunks and placing them in a light-colored pan over low heat. Cook until the butter melts and you can see the milk solids at the bottom (they'll be a whitish sediment); keep cooking until they turn a toasty, caramelly brown. Pour off the melted butter into a heatproof container; scrape the pan to get all the solids. Allow to cool, then refrigerate until solid. (You'll have roughly six ounces of brown butter.)

In a big mixing bowl, combine eight ounces of flour and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt. Cut in the chilled brown butter, and rub it in with your fingertips until the largest bits are pea-sized. Add six tablespoons of maple syrup and half a beaten egg (set aside the other half) and stir until the mixture just starts to clump.

Turn the mixture - it will be a crumbly mess - out on a sheet of wax paper. Top with another sheet of wax paper and roll it out until it's about half an inch thick. Peel off the wax paper, and fold the dough - it will still be a crumbly mess - into thirds. Turn the pastry so that the folded seam is perpendicular, cover with wax paper and roll it out again. (It should be a little less crumbly by this point.) Fold it into thirds. Turn and repeat the folds again. (It should look like dough now.)

Fold the wax paper back over the pastry and wrap the whole package in plastic. Stick it in the fridge to chill.

Meanwhile, peel and core two tart apples (Granny Smiths or Macouns are good) and cut them into small dice. Place in a small saucepan with a quarter-cup of raisins, six tablespoons of sugar, two tablespoons of water, a big pinch of cinnamon and a big pinch of nutmeg. (Optional extra: a teaspoon of brandy.) Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples have softened and the mixture is sticky. Remove from heat; set aside to cool.

Pull the dough from the fridge. Roll it out to an eighth of an inch, and cut the pastry into a dozen rectangles of three by four inches. Using a fork, prick half the rectangles lightly (make sure the fork doesn't go all the way through.) Take the remaining beaten egg from the pastry, and add a little water to thin it.

Set out a parchment-covered baking tray. Arrange six of the rectangles on the baking tray. Use a fork to prick the pastry lightly (make sure they don't go all the way through.) Spoon apple-raisin filling onto the rectangles, leaving space at the edges. Dip a finger in the egg mixture and use it to moisten the edges, then top with another pastry rectangle. Press the edges with the tines of a fork to seal. Repeat the process with all the remaining rectangles.

Brush the tops of each pastry with egg wash, then prick all over with a fork, making sure you do pierce all the way through. If you like, the pastries can be sprinkled lightly with fleur de sel or cinnamon sugar.

Bake at 350F until nicely browned, about fifteen minutes. Turn out on a rack to cool a little - you don't want to burn your tongue on the filling. Serve warm.

Note: I haven't tried baking these from frozen, but I see no reason why it couldn't work.

1 comment:

Cakelaw said...

These look delicious! I have never had a pop tart but am game to try these.