There is one thing I miss about living in South Florida, and it’s not the weather. It’s not the beach. It’s not the lack of state income tax – wait, actually…(Well, more on that topic another time, perhaps.)
For real though, it’s the food – Cuban food, specifically. I mean, of course I miss my family, but they’re tied into what I miss about the food because we’re Cuban. Yep, I’m Cuban on my mom’s side. She was born in Havana and came over to the states with my grandparents as a baby. They settled in southwest Miami, and even though I grew up one county to the north, I spent a good chunk of my childhood visiting them every week. That area of south Florida is a haven of Cuban and Latin American food and culture. Just about everyone speaks Spanish, you can literally smell the cafecito wafting in the air of any shopping center parking lot, and there is probably salsa music playing out of a car somewhere. I’m not kidding, and I miss it.
Don’t get me wrong. I love so much about Chicago. I love that we have seasons. I love the architecture and museums. I love living in a big city that’s not as overwhelming as New York. (Though NYC has been tempting me lately.) I also love the food scene here. But I really, really, really miss the strong presence of the Hispanic and Latin American cultures. I miss that at house parties, the minute some Celia Cruz or Willy Chirino plays through the speakers, everyone couples up and just knows how to salsa or merengue. I miss being able to easily find my favorite comfort food (bistec empanizado) at one of a gazillion Cuban restaurants. I miss ridiculously sweet coffee.
Clearly I’ve been feeling nostalgic, so I wanted to share this little recipe that I’ve been making for years. These are what I like to call, “Cuban” Pop Tarts. I call them “Cuban” because they are filled with guava and cream cheese, just like one of my favorite Cuban pastries, the guava and cream cheese pastelito. Pastelitos are typically made using a puff pastry type of dough and are filled with a sweet cheese, guava, guava and cheese, or savory meat filling. I am a fan of all of them. Since I grew up eating pastelitos at my house and pop tarts at friends’ houses, I thought this would be a fun way to merge two of my favorite treats.
This recipe is simplified by using some ready-to-bake pie dough. However, if you are a fan of making your own dough from scratch, by all means do so! You’ll need enough for two standard (9 in) pie dishes. If you’re unfamiliar with guava and/or guava paste, this is a great introduction to the ingredient! Guava paste is made from the tropical guava fruit and sugar and is typically sold in either a large round tin or a smaller square packet. It’s basically a very thick, sweet concoction that’s typically served with cheese (to cut the sweetness). If you haven’t caught on by now, Cubans love sweet – sweet coffee, sweet plantains and sweet desserts. What can I say, we’re a sweet people. 🙂
Anyway, this recipe requires just a little bit of work in terms of cutting your pie dough rectangles, but after that, it’s just simple assembly. First, prep the guava slices and cream cheese. I easily made eight pop tarts from the two pie crusts, so I cut eight, 1 x 2 inch rectangular pieces of guava and set them aside. I decided to flavor and sweeten up the cream cheese mixture ever so slightly with a touch of vanilla, powdered sugar and a pinch of salt to help bring out the flavors of the guava and cheese.
Then, it’s time for the dough! Unroll your first pie crust, and trim the round edges until you have the shape of a square. Make sure to save that excess dough! Using the slices of guava as a guide, cut rectangles of dough around the guava pieces, leaving about a one-inch border around each slice of guava. (See photo below.) I did this freehand with a small paring knife, but if you have a small rectangular cookie cutter, feel free to use that. Repeat this process for the second pie crust. Then, form any excess dough into a ball, and roll or press it into a flat rectangular shape. Cut out any remaining rectangles. As I mentioned before, I was able to make 8 pop tarts, and then I made a turnover (just for myself) using my left over scraps. I hate to waste anything!
On every other rectangle of dough, place one slice of guava and spread about a half to one tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture on top. Cover those with the remaining rectangular pieces of dough. Do this until you have eight finished pop tarts. Then, take a fork, and crimp the edges together to seal them shut. Trim any excess dough with a paring knife to make nice clean edges. Finally, make a small incision in the top of the tart to allow the steam to escape during baking.
Place your pop tarts on a lined baking sheet, and brush them with your egg wash mixture. This will give them that beautiful, golden sheen upon removal from the oven. It is very important to have pop tarts that are both delicious and gorgeous, FYI. I find when my food comes out of the oven looking amazing, I am encouraged to get back in the kitchen and keep going. Egg wash is definitely the magic trick for your pastries to get them looking fabulous. I also sprinkled the tops with a bit of coarse sugar for some sparkle factor, but that is totally optional.
Bake your tarts at 400 F for 12-14 minutes until done and golden brown. After you remove them from the oven, place them on a wire rack to cool for several minutes while you prepare your lime icing. In a small bowl, mix together your powdered sugar, lime zest, lime juice and pinch of salt until smooth. Once the tarts have cooled completely, drizzle some icing over the tops to your desired liking. It’s quite tart, so a little goes a long way. Let the icing set for a few minutes and then you’re ready to dig in to this south Florida inspired breakfast treat.
I love the fact that I can enjoy the crisp, buttery pastry, sweet guava, creamy cheese and tart lime flavor here in my kitchen – far away from my hometown. If you’re looking for inspiration and motivation to get cooking, look to your roots. What flavors do you long for? What ingredients do you miss? Don’t wait until your next trip home to experience it. What if you tried to create one of your favorite dishes in your own kitchen? You might end up putting your own unique spin on it and creating something really incredible! I say, have some fun, and get nostalgic. In the meantime, you can always make these “Cuban” pop tarts, and sample the flavors I loved when I was growing up. Happy Cooking!
- Guava & Cream Cheese Pop Tarts with Zesty Lime Icing
- For the pop tarts:
- 2- Ready-to-bake pie crusts
- 1 Tin or packet of guava paste
- 4 oz. (1/2 block) cream cheese, softened
- ¼ tsp. vanilla
- 3 TBS powdered sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 egg (scrambled mixed with a splash of milk or water, for an egg wash)
- For the icing:
- ¼ C. powdered sugar
- ½ TBS lime juice
- ½ tsp. lime zest
- Pinch of salt
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
- Prepare your cream cheese filling: Put 4 oz. (1/2 a block) of softened cream cheese into a small bowl. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, a pinch of salt and mix well.
- Slice the guava into 8 small, thin rectangular slices (approx. 1 X 2 inches).
- Roll out the pre-made pie crusts onto a cutting board, and trim the edges to make 2 squares. (Save the edges!)
- With a small paring knife, cut the dough into small rectangles as close together as possible. They should be about twice the size of the guava rectangles. (See photo above.)
- Gather your scraps of excess pie dough, form it into a ball, and roll or press it out into a rectangular shape. I was able to cut out a few more rectangles to make at least 8 tarts. Use as much of the dough as you can!
- On every other rectangle, place one slice of guava paste and about a half to one TBS of the cream cheese mixture.
- Top with another rectangle of pie dough.
- Seal the slices of dough together by crimping the edges together with a fork and make a small opening in the top with the paring knife to let some steam out while it bakes. If you like, trim the excess dough off the sides to make nice clean edges.
- Carefully place the pop tarts on a lined baking sheet.
- Brush the tops with your egg wash so they get nice and golden while they bake.
- Place the tarts in the oven to bake for 12-14 minutes until the dough is cooked through and the tarts are a beautiful golden brown.
- Once they are done, take them out of the oven and place them on a rack to cool. Do not ice them until they are completely cooled or else the icing will completely melt and/or be absorbed into the pop tarts!
- While the tarts cool, make your icing! Mix the icing ingredients in a small bowl until well combined.The icing should be thick, but be able to drizzle. Add more lime juice or sugar until you get the consistency you want.
- Drizzle the icing over top of the pop tarts. Feel free to put as much or as little as you like. It’s quite tart, so a little goes a long way!