Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Payday: A Brief History

Today at work I had a conversation about the candy bar, PayDay. This has always been my favorite, which is rather inexplicable for me because I always prefer that my candy be chocolate. However, I have always been a sucker for the sweet-salty combination, and in that category, PayDay is a classic. 

Our friends at Wikipedia tell us that the PayDay was introduced by Frank Martoccio in 1932. Martoccio served at the head of the Hollywood Candy Company in Centralia, Illinois. Hollywood was sold to Consolidated Foods in 1967, which later became Sara Lee. After the plant was destroyed by fire in 1980, the PayDay was produced by L.S. Heath and Sons Company until a new plant could be built. In 1988 the company was purchased by the Leaf Candy Company, which became part of Hershey in 1996. 

In addition to this info, there was a big uproar in 1996 when the main plant in Centralia was going to be closed. There was a large and far-reaching campaign to save the plant. This is, of course, the same plant that is featured in Michael Moore's 1997 film The Big One. Many of you may remember the scene where the workers put the PayDay bars into the coffin in protest. 

The plant was ultimately closed. 

None of this explains the actual origins of the candy bar itself - why did Frank Martoccio make it? I guess that's what happens to history when the company is steeped in drama - it drowns out the rest of the history. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pop Tarts: An Attempt

Homemade Pop Tarts: Check. 

There are a few tweaks I want to make on my next batch, and the final verdict won't be in until I can figure out if they hold up in the toaster. 
  • The dough was easy to work with and didn't require too much waiting time while it chilled (probably because my house is cold). 
  • The dough tastes good - not too heavy and dry, not too sweet. 
  • The filling is dead on - exactly like the brown sugar-cinnamon in a store-bought Pop Tart.
  • They sealed up well and no filling was lost to melting out in the oven - which is a good sign in terms of upright toaster reheating possibility. 
  • They look pretty close to the store bought Pop Tarts
  • The dough, while being easy to work with and good-tasting, is light and flaky, which to me is the opposite of store-bought Pop Tarts, which are dense and more like a cookie. More experimentation needed. 
  • Sort of a lot of work for nine tarts. In the future I would double or triple, since they're probably going to need to be kept in the freezer anyway. 
  • I didn't have any jam I wanted to open (my own fault, obviously), so I only made one filling. 
  • With the filling recipe designed for filling the full nine tarts, it wasn't easy to half it. This wouldn't be a problem if doubling the recipe, though. 
Unlike the homemade Doritos, I didn't have to cobble together a recipe based on the ingredients list of the store-bought product, and I already had all of the ingredients needed for this. As mentioned above, I didn't end up making any pop tarts with fruit filling because I didn't have any jam. Ok, that's not entirely true - I have a closet full of it that I made over the summer, including peach habanero (which I was excited to make into Pop Tarts, actually), but most recently I had opened a jar of clementine rosemary marmalade, which is still mostly full. We don't go through jam that quickly, and I didn't want to open a whole other jar just for a few tablespoons full. Next time, though.

So let's begin. I'm not going to bother re-typing the recipe up, because I didn't create it or really make that many changes, and it's just as easy to click through to The Smitten Kitchen and read it there - it even has a print version. The recipe can be found here.

This recipe, like all good pastries, calls for a lot of butter. The butter should be cold, and cut into pieces, and tossed into a bowl of flour, sugar and salt.

You have the option here of how you're going to incorporate the flour. I used my pastry cutter. I wonder whether that was responsible for the awesome, light and flaky and completely unlike store-bought Pop Tarts texture?

Once all that is mixed (but not too mixed), the dough divided in two and is wrapped in plastic and chilled in the fridge or freezer, depending on how much time you have. It can be refrigerated for up to two days. While that's chilling, you can mix up the filling. I mean, I guess you could technically do this any time, but why not use your down time, right? If you've already made the filling, I guess you could go watch tv, but good luck having the motivation to get up and finish the project...

Once the filling is made (or your tv show is over) and the dough is chilled, you can roll it out on a floured counter. What I feel honestly is that the dough is way easier to work with when it's a little warmer. If it feels too warm by the time you get it rolled and cut, you could always pop it back in the fridge or freezer before you assemble and bake.

Once you get these suckers rolled out, you have to get technical. I have a kitchen ruler for just the purposes. A lot of people scoff at my kitchen ruler, but it's come in handy more times that I can count. Anyway, you're going to roll this dough to 9" x 12", and about 1/8th of an inch thick. This always feels impossibly thin to me, but the kitchen ruler tells me I've nailed the thickness as well as the shape.

Ultimately what you're getting at here is cutting this dough into thirds both directions. You end up with nine rectangles about 3" x 4" each. Then you have to turn around and do the same thing with the other dough.

There's a catch here, though. To fill these tarts, you have to brush the insides with egg. These first four that I placed on the prepared baking sheet and brushed got awfully messy - egg was everywhere. I transferred them back to the counter and brushed them there, while they were all touching each other. This kept the egg on the dough. Once that was done, I transferred them back to the tray to pile on the filling.

The key, of course, is to get the egg all the way to the edges in order to help seal the lid. Once the lid is on, you can get as fancy as you want with the edges. I used a fork because it looked nice, but you could use anything. I wanted something, though, because I was afraid that just smashing them down with my fingers wouldn't make them stick.

Once you've finished this, you need to put some holes in these lids to let the steam escape. I used a toothpick. I should also note that before I did this, I brushed the remaining egg over the tops to make them shiny. The recipe doesn't call for this, but why waste the egg?

These are going into a pre-heated, 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. I was terrified that the filling was going to spill out, but it didn't! They came out golden brown, slightly puffed, shiny, and smelling delicious.

Once they cooled, I tried one, and I have to admit it was awesome. While the pastry was decidedly un-Pop Tart, the filling was dead on. I guess it isn't hard to get brown sugar and cinnamon right. When they were completely cool, I left one out for my husband and put the rest in a Ziploc bag in the freezer.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pop Tarts: Dilemmas and Options

Unlike the homemade Doritos, there seems to be no shortage of others out there online who have attempted homemade Pop Tarts before. Not just a string of individual bloggers, either. Even Bon Appetit and King Arthur Flour are in on the game. There are a lot of options out there, but the King Arthur dough recipe seems to be the most common recipe.

The concern that I have with this is that in all of the photos on the various recipes, the dough looks puffy and flaky and delicious... and that is essentially the opposite of an actual Pop Tart. The store bought Pop Tarts have a crumbly crust that almost reminds me more of graham crackers than of flaky pastry. I don't know whether this is because they are mass produced, or because they're full of preservatives, or because they're never actually fresh, and I don't know if that particular type of crust is possible to recreate or not. That could very well be. It is also possible that everyone assessed the situation and thought, well, you could make it like the store bought product, but why bother?

So I'm going to start with a recipe from one of my favorite cooking blogs: The Smitten Kitchen. This recipe is adapted from the King Arthur recipe, but differs primarily when it comes to the fruit fillings - King Arthur doesn't have one listed. This fruit filling notes that you should mix it with corn starch in order to thicken it. Not doing so causes it to seep through the edges of the pastries.

I have yet to come across a recipe that purports to result in a pastry that can actually be put in an upright slot toaster. I'm sure all of these would be fine in a toaster oven, but I'm not sure whether I'm willing to potentially wreck my regular toaster trying. Another thing to note is that most of the recipes that I came across indicate that if you want to freeze these pastries, you should do so before you bake them, which kind of defeats the purpose of a pre-baked snack that you just pop into your toaster. I think I'll bake them all and freeze half to see how they handle later on. Most likely I'll reheat them in the oven, but I may also try the toaster by laying it on its side.

Initially, I'm going to follow the recipe exactly, but I'm thinking that maybe in a later batch I would swap in some whole wheat, or white whole wheat flour. I'll initially try a jam filling and a cinnamon-sugar filling (why mess with the classics, right?), but I'll think of some more flavor combinations as I go.

Well, what are we waiting for? Get to the kitchen!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Pop Tarts: A Brief History

According to the good folks at Wikipedia, Pop Tarts started out as an idea that the Post company had for a side to accompany breakfast cereal, and as a way to showcase a method of preserving food in a foil pouch, which had originally been designed for dog food. They apparently screwed up the timing of the release of the product, though, which gave Kellogg the opportunity to develop their own version six months later in 1964. The Kellogg version was so popular that they could not keep up with demand.

The original version was no frosted, due to a concern that a frosting could not withstand the heat of the toaster. Three years later, someone figured out that frosting could, in fact, hold up in the toaster, and a frosted version was released. The first Pop Tarts came in four flavors: strawberry, blueberry, brown sugar cinnamon, and apple currant. It seems that apple currant fell out of favor, probably because no one knows what currants are anymore. Today, as we know, there are a variety of flavors, some of which seem slightly ridiculous.

Unlike some of the lawsuits that plagued our previous project, the only noteworthy legal drama that Pop Tarts had to deal with was a claim that the pastry caught fire in the toaster. Apparently, a university professor later performed an experiment proving that the Pop Tart could, in fact, produce a flame of up to one foot if left in the toaster too long. Consequently, Pop Tarts now have a warning on the packaging reminding you not to leave them unattended in your toaster.

There are also complaints from heath groups with criticize the product of falsely claiming any kind of health benefit because some of them are filled with "fruit". In times following this, the company has removed, and then added again from the packaging that Pop Tarts are made with real fruit. Personally, I'm not sure why anyone would be particularly offended to find out that a baked good, which is meant to be stored for a long period of time without refrigeration, is not actually good for you, but that's just me.

But I get the appeal. It's like a baked pastry any time of day or night. You can eat them without heating them up, you can carry them with you. They're just as good as a dessert or a snack as they are for breakfast. I don't think for a second that my homemade version will be as convenient, but it's worth trying them out, anyway.