With little cartoon pumpkins spreading throughout grocery store aisles like some sort of vegetable venereal disease, it’s hard to know which products do the orange orb its proper justice. And when you’re 5 minutes late to work in the morning, you certainly don’t have time to philosophically pontificate over the pros and cons of different pumpkin breakfast options (“the frosting on this one really speaks to me, but what would Kierkegaard think?”).
But don’t worry. We’re here to help.
Better than Wrestlemania. Better than a monster truck rally. Better than the World Series, Stanley Cup championship, and Wimbledon all mixed together in a Super Bowl: it’s time for a toaster tart face-off.
In one foil-wrapped corner, we have the familiar classic: Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts. Weighing in at 50g per pastry, with white icing and sprinkles that look like candy corn beard stubble, it’s Frosted Pumpkin Pie!
In the other, more hipster corner, we have the 52g people’s champion: Trader Joe’s Organic Frosted Pumpkin Toaster Pastries. For short, we’ll lovingly call ’em TJOFPTP, which sounds like someone tried naming Game of Thrones characters in the middle of a sneeze.
Since I’ve made the authoritative decision that there are three acceptable ways to eat toaster pastries, this buttery batter battle will be judged in three rounds: plain, toasted, and frozen.
And before you say anything: no, microwaving is unacceptable. If I wanted to eat a flimsy, floppy breakfast abomination that scorches my mouth, I’d eat a…uhh. I’d eat a…
Really struggling for a fitting analogy that’s so specific.
I’d eat one of Beelzebub’s banana pancakes? Sure, let’s go with that.
On with the battle!
Unceremoniously awakening each pastry from its shiny, foiled hibernation (I bet those pairs of spooning pastries get to know each other real well in there), there’s a jarring contrast in appearance alone. Pop-Tart is the one who went to the Halloween party in full gaudy makeup, complete with festive glitter. Meanwhile, TJOFPTP is just Lady Gaga after all the bubbles on her famous costume popped.
But like any teen movie, it’s what’s inside that counts, so I take a generous nosh of each pastry. The Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tart is super flaky and buttery. The slightly chalky, plain edges on Pop-Tarts have always tasted a bit like pie crust, but the crumbly, doughy butteriness here is even more pronounced.
As for the dark orange pumpkin innards? I’ll be honest, I struggled to taste much pumpkin at room temperature. There are definitely notes of cinnamon and nutmeg if I concentrate, but they mostly just add a creamy sweetness to the nearly cloying vanilla blast of the Tart’s icing.
Trader Joe’s pastry, on the other hand, is a complex beast. The crust tastes much more like a graham cracker pie crust than a buttery one, with strong notes of wheat-y dough. The brown filling has a definite “canned pumpkin” vibe, but this time it’s overwhelmed by a dark richness of brown sugar, molasses, and a bit of spice.
I have to give this one to Trader Joe’s: with its light icing, the pastry tastes like a pumpkin had a baby with a gingerbread man. I’m not sure how that would work biologically, but I’m sure there’s some weird fan art out there somewhere.
Round 2: Toasted
Things are starting to heat up now. As I waited impatiently for the tarts to spring up from their food tanning beds (what, you guys don’t call toasters “food tanning beds?”), the scent of golden browning dough beckoned. Even worse, once they were done, I had to stare at them hungrily as the bubbling pumpkin magma inside of them cooled. I wasn’t about to let a singed tongue ruin the professional integrity of this competition.
Much like the pie from which it takes its name, toasting a Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tart really bakes in the previously faint pumpkin flavor. The slightly melted icing is like a dollop of whipped cream that compliments the very sweet, whipped pumpkin puree taste. It has strong spicy notes from pumpkin spice favorites like nutmeg and cloves, but those tastes still play second fiddle to the buttery crust shell, which now has darker notes at its crunchy edges.
My Trader Joe’s pastry benefitted even more from the heat exchange. The warm insides have a much bolder ginger and cinnamon profile on top of the pumpkin and molasses. It’s like one of those dense and rich pumpkin spice cookies or muffins that crafty moms and aunts bring to autumn galas, making all the snooty party guests say, “oooh, that looks sinful!”
It really is fall reincarnated in a pastry. I’m almost afraid to eat it; I wouldn’t want to destroy one of the season’s 7 Horcruxes (the other six Horcruxes are all VHS copies of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving).
So I raise a toast to you, TJOFPTP: the winner of round 2!
Round 3: Frozen
Whenever I tell people that freezing Pop-Tarts is the best way to eat them, they look at me like I have a Pop-Tart for a head. But it’s true! The cold crispiness you get with a frozen Tart, plus the chewier inside filling makes good flavors great, and great flavors like Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Frosted Strawberry into gods amongst men…or at least amongst pastries.
After giving my two pumpkin pastries the early winter treatment, I bit into their chilly goodnesses. Since real pumpkin pie tastes best when chilled, it makes sense that the Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tart reached its maximum pumpkin pump-tential when cold, with the actual vegetable taste being more pronounced than ever before. The crust, likewise, retains its strong, buttery crumble. However, something strange must happen to the spices when frozen, because there is a bizarre, nearly floral aftertaste.
But it’s TJ’s Tart that triumphs once again, as the Siberian wilderness of my freezer only makes it taste better. The pliable, chewy graham crust and creamy filling give it the texture and taste of a pumpkin ice cream sandwich (which are an actual thing! What a time to be alive!).
It’s a decisive knockout victory for Trader Joe’s Organic Frosted Pumpkin Toaster Pastry. While neither pastry bludgeoned me over the head with its pumpkin flavor (idea: a horror movie were the villain bludgeons people to death with pumpkins), TJ’s pastry portrayed the spicy and squashy taste more authentically.
And don’t get me wrong: Pumpkin Pie is still a great entry in the long ancestral history of Pop-Tarts, but like a boxer who bobs and weaves to run out the clock, the Tarts hide their pumpkin spice too much behind their crust and frosting flavors.
But hey, if you have a couple bucks to spare, it’s worth trying both. Maybe even get the best of both worlds by eating one of each in a sumptuous, pump-tuous double decker pastry.
With pumpkin spice cookie butter spread in between.
And maybe even throw a pumpkin ice cream sandwich between ’em, while you’re at it.
The “Bowl:” Frosted Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tarts and Trader Joe’s Organic Frosted Pumpkin Toaster Pastries
The Breakdown: The Pop-Tarts have a crust taste straight outta Grandma’s oven, but the pumpkin taste is
crust just not strong enough to stand out. Trader Joe’s pastries combine pumpkin, pumpkin spice, a graham crust, and fan favorite molasses to produce an edible love letter to autumn.
The Bottom Line (Pop-Tart): 6 pancakes from Hell out of 10
The Bottom Line (Trader Joe’s): 8 pastry Lady Gagas out of 10