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Writing a nostalgia-fueled column about childhood junk foods has some occupational hazards. Trips to the grocery now involve huge chunks of time spent roaming the center aisles ("Chips Ahoy or Famous Amos? Oh, hello Pecan Sandies..."), my notebook at work has more pages devoted to Little Debbie than Petite Syrah, and my coworkers get irate when subjected to taste-testing the same thing twelve too many times ("Soft Batch, again?").
A small price to pay for the chance to revisit my childhood favorites, scrawl tasting notes like je nais se crap, and bore would-be snack thieves out of my kitchen. But what I love most: a chance to try out the sweets I missed the first time around, like Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts.
Before I began this quest, I would have told you I had boundless love for all Pop-Tartkind. But it turned out my love had bounds, strict ones at at that. My heart, smaller than I realized, had no room for anything but Frosted Strawberry. I carried a shameful Pop-Tart prejudice.
Maybe it came from my childhood love for Strawberry Shortcake coloring books, but I always perceived the Brown Sugar Cinnamon variety as somehow inferior. Cheap. I used negative language to describe them (B.S. Pop-Tarts; Poop-Tarts), found their coloring drab and made fun of their lack of sprinkles. I even, it shames me to say, once enjoyed watching a video of someone destroying Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts with a lawnmower.
But I've reformed. You sweet, brown-sugar-loving people have showed me a better way. Your constant, consistent urgings for a Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tart recipe wore me down. Taught me that I couldn't love any Pop-Tart until I could love all Pop-Tarts. That Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts deserved a chance.
Due to your urgings (on both my blog and here on Serious Eats), I bought my first box not so long ago. And, to my total shock, I freaking loved them. The cinnamon flavor shines through without any creepy chemical nuance. Their monochromatic look seems a chic palate of beige and tan. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed licking their smooth frosting, unblemished by sprinkles, without embarrassing myself.
How I survived childhood without their companionship, I will never know. But to compensate, I sought out your memories by taking to Facebook with a Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tart poll. Frosted or unfrosted?
Between my own personal page and the BraveTart page, I had over sixty responses bordering on rabid. Discounting inconclusive comments (e.g., "that just ain't right" and "yes!"), I had forty responses which broke down curiously: seven conservative votes for unfrosted, eighteen frosted enthusiasts, and fifteen advocates for buttered (specifically five for unfrosted and buttered; ten for frosted and buttered).
Buttered Pop-Tarts? <insert obligatory Paula Deen joke here.>
At any rate, getting a good brown sugar cinnamon filling at home involves more than just mixing up brown sugar and cinnamon (pfft, too obvious). Alone, brown sugar will liquify in the oven, bubble out around the edges and cool into a brittle, caramel-like substance. The filling needs something to give it structure. Something that can soak up the melting brown sugar and keep it from escaping. Something with a neutral flavor and absorbent texture. Something to keep the filling moist, even after baking. Something like... bread crumbs. Buttered bread crumbs.
These Pop-Tarts boast everything you remember about the originals and even newcomers like me can appreciate their warm, spicy-sweet flavor. Frosting lovers will enjoy their irresistibly lickable icing while purists can opt to go au naturel. The real question is: will you butter yours?
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About the Author: Stella Parks suffers from an unhealthy obsession with recreating the mass produced snacks of her childhood, but ironically is employed by a Frenchman to make the high brow desserts of his childhood. She blogs that dichotomy at bravetart.com and can be followed on Twitter at @thebravetart.