11 Piping Hot Facts About Pop-Tarts

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

They’ve been making a hot breakfast possible for anyone who owns a toaster for over five decades, but even if you’ve munched through box after box of Frosted Strawberry and Brown Sugar Cinnamon, you may not know all of the sweet inside scoop on Pop-Tarts. 

1. A Competitor’s Business Blunder Made Them Possible

Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts are breakfast icons, but the company’s cereal rival Post actually had the idea to make a toaster pastry first. In early 1963, Post announced a line of shelf-stable pastries called Country Squares diners could heat up in their toasters. The idea was promising, but Post had made a critical error in its announcement: Country Squares were months away from being ready to go to market. Rather than springing the new breakfast treats on an unsuspecting Kellogg’s, Post gave the competition a chance to develop an answer to Country Squares. Kellogg’s began scrambling to make a pastry it could rush onto store shelves. 

2. Kellogg’s Brought in an Expert to Perfect the Product. 

If Kellogg’s was going to beat its rival to the breakfast-pastry punch, it would need to round up some baking help. Naturally, the company turned to Keebler. In September 1963, Bill Post, the manager of Keebler’s Grand Rapids, Mich. Plant, started working on what would become Pop-Tarts. Post, the son of Dutch immigrants, had been working at Keebler since his 16th birthday. If anyone had the baking know-how to quickly create a toastable treat, Post was the man. 

3. Bill Post’s kids played a key role in the taste testing. 

Before Pop-Tarts were Pop-Tarts, they were just product samples that Post would bring to his kids. As he recounted to Northern Express in 2003, Post first realized these particular pastries might take off when he shared them at home: “I used to bring a lot of samples home, and they‘d turn up their noses at some of them. But they‘d say, ‘Bring those fruit scones home.‘ That‘s what we called them at first, fruit scones. ‘Bring some of those home, will you, Dad?‘” 

4. Cleveland Got the First Taste of Pop-Tarts. 

After Post’s children helped convince him that Pop-Tarts were ready for store shelves, Kellogg’s tested the pastries in the Cleveland market in late 1963. They were an instant hit, and four flavors of Pop-Tarts – strawberry, blueberry, brown sugar cinnamon, and apple-currant – rolled out nationally in 1964. As Post remembered in 2003, the success of the Cleveland test convinced Kellogg’s to boost the first national production shipments from 10,000 cases to 45,000 cases of pastries. The entire run sold out anyway. 

5. They Come in Pairs for a Reason 

In her book Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods that Changed the Way We Eat, Carolyn Wyman solves a Pop-Tart mystery. If the serving size for Pop-Tarts is just one pastry, why do they always come packaged in pairs? Bill Post revealed that the decision had more to do with economics than portion control. The machines needed to wrap Pop-Tarts in foil weren’t cheap, and when the pastries were still unproven commodities, Kellogg’s didn’t want to make any unnecessary investments. By doubling down on how many tarts went into each packet, the company could cut its machinery budget in half. By the time Pop-Tarts were a hit, consumers were used to the double packages. 

6. The Original Pop-Tarts Were Subtly Different from Today’s Tarts. 

Fans of modern frosted Pop-Tarts might mistake those first batches from 1964 with any of the legions of knockoffs that have sprung up in the intervening decades. The original Pop-Tarts had rounded corners instead of the square ones we’re now used to, were marked with a long diagonal score to facilitate splitting, and didn’t feature frosting. The scoring eventually fell by the wayside because it made it more difficult to see the fruit filling in each half of the Pop-Tart.

7. The Holes Are an Important Design Feature. 

An Ad Week story from June revealed the way in which those “docker holes” are a crucial part of every Pop-Tart’s makeup. Without the holes, steam would collect in the pastry as it toasted, resulting in a soggy Pop-Tart.

8. Kellogg’s Brass Was Skeptical of Frosted Pop-Tarts. 

After Bill Post’s triumphant national introduction of Pop-Tarts in 1964, he elevated the treats into the breakfast staple we know and love with the addition of frosting in 1967. The first prototype frosted versions were the result of sending regular Pop-Tarts through a machine used to ice cookies. When Post’s boss was concerned that frosting wouldn’t be able to withstand a toaster’s heat without melting, Post walked into a meeting carrying a toaster to demonstrate the durability of the sugary stuff. Kellogg’s execs gave him the go-ahead to start frosting the entire Pop-Tart line just minutes after the meeting ended. 

9. Unfrosted Pop-Tarts Pack More Calories Than Frosted Ones. 

Princeton sophomore Spencer Gaffney kicked off years of confusion and curiosity with a 2009 blog post in which he unearthed a strange fact: Frosted strawberry Pop-Tarts contained 200 calories each, while the unfrosted versions were a stouter 210 calories a pop. How could skipping the sugary frosting result in a more calorically dense breakfast treat? Earlier this summer, Quartz finally solved this enduring riddle. The crust on unfrosted Pop-Tarts is just a little bit thicker than it is on their frosted brethren, which results in a net gain of calories if you grab the seemingly healthier option. 

10. They Can Generate Terrifying Flames. 

iStock

Since at least the early 1990s, Pop-Tarts have been blamed for causing numerous house fires following toaster mishaps. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 2001 that the pastries had been implicated in at least 17 fires and explained that the heat of a toaster could ignite the corn syrup in the filling, which would then cause the crust to burst into flames. This finding jibes with a playful 1994 “study” in which pastries that weren’t ejected from a toaster shot 20-inch flames. While these fires are uncommon, they demonstrate why Kellogg’s clearly warns consumers not to leave an unattended tart in the toaster. 

11. You Can Buy or Make Fancy Fresh Baked Versions Now. 

It feels like there is at least one small company out there making an artisanal version of any snack you can think of, and Pop-Tarts are no exception. Since 2012, Brooklyn-based Megpies has been making gourmet versions of the venerable toaster treats for discerning eaters. The company offers handmade takes on familiar flavors like strawberry, blueberry, and cinnamon brown sugar alongside newer combos like salted caramel apple. You can order them online here, or if you’re feeling industrious, you can grab a recipe and try making your own.

The Most Popular Christmas Cookie in Each State

Jen Tepp/iStock via Getty Images
Jen Tepp/iStock via Getty Images

While opinions about peppermint bark, reindeer corn, and other Christmas candies are important enough to warrant a map of their own, we all know that the real crown jewel of any kitchen counter during the holidays is an enormous platter of homemade cookies.

In a festive endeavor to guess which type of cookie is most likely to be on your counter this Christmas, General Mills collected search data from BettyCrocker.com, Pillsbury.com, and Tablespoon.com, and created a map that shows which recipes are clicked most often in each state.

Those universally adored Hershey Kiss-topped peanut butter cookies, known on Betty Crocker’s website as Classic Peanut Butter Blossoms, took the top spot in seven states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Kentucky, Nevada, South Carolina, and Wyoming. And people don’t just love peanut butter in blossom form—Easy Peanut Butter Cookie Cups, Peanut Butter-Chocolate Cookies, and 2-Ingredient PB-Chocolate Truffles also made appearances on the list.

general mills christmas cookies map
General Mills

Peanut butter treats are definitely a popular choice among holiday bakers in general, and cookie decorators are likely responsible for the prevalence of plain old sugar cookies across the nation. Sugar Cookie Cutouts, Easy Spritz Cookies, and Easy Italian Christmas Cookies all offer a deliciously blank slate for your artistic aspirations.

Apart from peanut butter- and plain sugar-based desserts, the rest of the results were pretty scattered. Iowa most often opts for the figure eight-shaped Swedish Kringla, while Michigan loves a good jam-filled Polish Kolaczki. Surprisingly, Hawaii was the only state to choose gingerbread cookies as their seasonal favorite.

If you’re thinking classic chocolate chip cookies are suspiciously absent from this map altogether, you have great dessert-related detective skills: General Mills decided to omit them from the study, since they’re Betty Crocker’s most-searched cookie recipe all year long, and they would’ve dominated in a staggering 22 states.

Whether you’re looking for a new show-stopping cookie recipe or just wondering how your long-standing family traditions compare to others’, you can read more on the study—and see all the recipes in full—here.

[h/t General Mills]

Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?

iStock
iStock

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

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