The story of my love-hate relationship with pie dough

21 Jan

My friends, I’d like to regale you with an epic tale of epic fail. Except there is a happy ending, so I guess this venture wasn’t actually a fail.

Ok, let me start again.  This is a story of trials and tribulations, a daunting task for an unlikely hero who prevailed in the perils of the kitchen.

Hmm…now that I think of it, this wasn’t that theatrical. How about this: I tried making pop tarts and I almost willingly stuck my head in the oven during the process.

I first read about homemade pop tarts on Smitten Kitchen, and, well, I was smitten. Freakin’ A, man, it’s pop tarts made at home! Obviously when one says pop tarts, for most of us, waves of happy memories hearkening back to childhood snacks of uber-sweet, frosted, full-of preservative, toaster-ready pastries wrapped in crinkly, silver foil. Frosted Strawberry was always my favorite, and I rarely ate them without toasting first. I remember they were a breakfast staple in my household at one point, but they eventually evolved into an afternoon snack. What I can’t remember, is the last time I had one of those pre-packaged goodies. But upon seeing the recipe, and upon coming across many other bakers and cooks who’ve recreated them at home, I didn’t think “MUST GET BOX OF POPTARTS,” I thought, “THIS IS AWESOME. I’M SO MAKING THIS.”

And so one weekend not too long ago, I gathered the ingredients I needed (most of which I actually already had, which is one thing I love about this recipe). I made the dough late on a Saturday night and popped it in the fridge to roll out and bake the next day. I had followed the instructions precisely, carefully measuring every ingredient.

But when I took the dough out the next day, after letting it thaw a bit from the cold of the fridge, I attempted to work with it. And I attempted more. The dough was nearly impossible to roll out, let alone roll into a 9×12 rectangle. I let it thaw out a little more before going at it again, but then it would start breaking on me, and it would stick to the counter and my rolling pin. I dusted flour everywhere – on the counter, on my pin, on the dough, on my hands even – and it still stuck. It seemed to actually get drier. And then it would break again. At some point, I almost burst into tears because I was so adamant on making these damn pop tarts. But it just. Wasn’t. Happening.

In desperation, I called The Boyfriend to come and help and even he, with his big strong muscles (I really do love that man), had issues with the dough breaking and sticking. He did keep working at it, and instead of creating a large, flat sheet of dough, he’d roll out as much as possible to the desired thinness and then cut the smaller rectangles individually that would make the tops and bottoms of the tarts. And then he’d have to gather the dough up and do it all over again. When he got tired, I’d take over.

Eventually, we managed to roll out only 6 tarts, instead of the supposed 9 that we should’ve. By that time, I think it was somewhere around 9:30 or 10 in the evening and I had work the next day, so I just stopped working with the dough and went ahead with the baking part. I even decided to make some frosting to drizzle on top, because I’m a bit of an overachiever. And I really like frosting.

So the tarts baked and I had managed to enjoy at least one before bed. I of course, passed out that night from sheer exhaustion and from the release of all that stress and tension.

The story doesn’t exactly end there, though. I made these again after this first go. I actually researched more pop tart recipes and pie dough recipes (essentially this recipe is just pie in a different form). There is a lot debate on what the best pie dough recipe is, but really, I think it just depends on the baker and his or her preferences. I’ve seen ones that use vodka, ones that use more butter than normal, ones that use oil, etc. On my second try, I decided to just make the dough and bake the tarts all in the same night. The dough, was, again, dry and next to impossible to work with. So, to kind of experiment off of what I had read in some recipes, I added about tablespoon of very cold water to a balled up section of dough that I was working with. I rolled the dough a bit in my hands and felt it was still dry, so I added another tablespoon more.

That seemed to actually do the trick. Again, I was unable to flatten half of the dough into a full 9×13 rectangle, but it was much easier for me to just roll out a section and cut smaller rectangles to make each tart. The whole process still took awhile, but was much quicker and easier than the first time. I also made sure to even the edges out, and seal each tart better than the first time. (In these photos, the bottoms are thicker than they should be – so really press those edges together!)

I think the abnormally-large-amount-of-hard-work-for-a-freakin’ pastry paid off. The dough itself baked nicely, with a slight crispness at the edges and a flakiness that didn’t leave a mess on your shirt. The dough in the middle and each tarts’ insides baked perfectly and I enjoyed the raspberry jam mixture I had put in mine. (Sorry, strawberry, I’ve moved on). Homemade icing is thinner than the stuff on the store-bought tarts, but on the pastry it adds just the right amount of extra sweetness. Despite everything, I will definitely take these over the pre-packaged kind any day.

Homemade Pop Tarts (slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from King Arthur Flour)

For the pastry

  • 2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pats
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) milk
  • very cold water (may need about 1-3 tablespoons depending on how easy your dough is to work with)
  • 1 additional large egg (to brush on pastry)

For the icing (I tend to just eyeball this, it depends on how thick and sugary you want it to be)

  • 1/2 – 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Fillings: Jam or preserves, chocolate chips, nutella or SK’s cinnamon-brown sugar filing

Other “icings” and toppings: melted white or dark chocolate, sprinkles, colored sugar crystals…have fun with them!


To make the dough, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Using your fingers, a pastry blender, or a food processor, “mix” the butter with the dry mixture – I kind of gather mounds of it with my hands and squeeze the butter in. Do this until pea-sized lumps of butter are still visible, and the mixture holds together when you squeeze it. If you’ve used a food processor, transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Whisk the first egg and milk together and stir that into the dough.

Now, recipes say to combine the egg/milk mixture just until the dough is cohesive, but I haven’t yet managed to get to that point without over-mixing it. At this point, I divide the dough in half and work each half into cohesive mounds, and then add a tablespoon or two of water until it becomes something that’s not too dry but not wet and greasy. You can form the dough halves into bricks, wrap them in plastic and refrigerate (for up to two days), or you can go ahead and make the tarts.

If you chill the dough, remove it from the refrigerator first and let it “thaw” for a bit so that it’s easier to work with – this will take sometime between 15 and 30 minutes. Have a large workspace cleared, cleaned and floured and place one dough half on there.

Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out as much as possible. Now, I learned a technique to roll out dough properly – roll your pin over the dough about 5 or so times toward you, to get it to flatten. Then rotate your dough 90 degrees and roll that side 5 times, continuing to roll the pin toward you. Do this until you get your desired flatness.

If you can get it to a size big enough to trim into a 9″ x 12″ rectangle than that’s perfect. You should be able to cut 9 rectangles, each about 3″x4″. If you can’t get enough dough to roll out big enough, just roll as much dough as you can to about 1/8″ thickness and just cut 3″x4″ rectangles out of that. You may manage to get 9 of them, or you may get less. Do the same with the other brick of dough.

Place half of the dough rectangles on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (or two sheets if you need more room). Beat the 2nd egg and brush it over the entire surface of the first dough. This helps adhere the top half of each tart to the bottom half. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling on the center of each rectangle, but be sure to keep the edges free. Place a second rectangle of dough on top of the first and seal the tops and bottoms together with your fingers by pressing down. Use the tines of a fork to press onto the edges of each tart, further sealing them and creating that nice lined edge.

Prick the top of each tart multiple times with a fork to allow steam to escape. Refrigerate the tarts, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven at 350F.

After the tarts have refrigerated, remove and bake them for 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. Allow them to cool completely.

To create the icing, simply mix all the icing ingredients together. If it’s too thin, add more sugar; if it’s too thick, add a little more milk. Drizzle the icing on cooled tarts using a spoon (or you can pipe them with a bag if you want to get fancy). Or baste with a brush if you like LOTS of frosting. 🙂


4 Responses to “The story of my love-hate relationship with pie dough”

  1. lubos January 21, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    🙂 this is pretty funny. It reminds me of my time making Christmas cookies this past December. The same thing happened. I put the dough in the fridge, and the next day, it was basically bunch of crumbly dust like pieces. I let it thaw out more but it didn’t help. What I eventually found to work was simply wetting my hands under the faucet. Not a lot, just a light coating of water, basically what you get after shaking the water off. That helped get the dough gluey again. What I suspect could be happening is that some of the water somehow evaporates in the fridge – or perhaps comes off in the form of ice crystals. So when you take the dough out the next day it’s actually drier than it was when you put it in. Just my gut feeling.

    • TheNoviceNosher January 21, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

      Haha I’m glad you felt my pain! Baking is really such a long learning process…

  2. honeybeeluvsjackfruit January 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    They look wonderful. Ive been thinking of making these lately too. yum!

    • TheNoviceNosher January 21, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

      Thank you! When you make them, I’d love to know how they turn out!

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