The butter tart – that iconic Canadian dessert recognized world-wide for its flaky crust and gooey, sweet filling. Its fame is rivalled only by the contentious debate surrounding it- to raisin or not to raisin? (Yes, there have been Facebook wars and online clashes over this issue!) In the shadow of the raisin debate is the question about whether the filling should be runny or solid. Then, of course, there is the matter of which nuts (if any) should be included with the filling. Yes, Canadians take their butter tarts very seriously!
The butter tart is basically an individualized version of a sugar pie and it actually originated before Canada became a country, during the period between 1663 and 1673 when the king of France sent young women known as Filles du Roi (Daughters of the King) to New France (modern-day Quebec) for the purpose of marrying and helping with colonization efforts. These women had to be resourceful with the ingredients that were available to them, and they adapted the traditional recipe for sugar pie by putting New World staples like maple syrup, butter, and dried fruit into creating the forerunner of the butter tart. There is also conjecture that it was derived from Scottish border tarts. Despite its early origins, the first documented butter tart recipe was published in 1900 in The Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook; the recipe included currants. Butter tarts continued to gain popularity throughout the 1900’s, especially during the 20’s and 30’s.
The butter tart rage does not appear to have slowed down, either. While Quebec may be the province of origin, Ontario has perfected the recipe down to a science! Bakers are passionate about their version and Ontarians are more than willing to taste test each one. There are a couple “Butter Tart Tours” and “Butter Tart Trails” that take visitors to all the best bakeries. Every June, Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival is held in Midland, Ontario. Then there is the Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour which features over 50 bakeries across Northumberland County, Peterborough County, the City of Peterborough, and Kawartha Lakes; DIY your own road trip, biking tour, or weekend away for a sweet-themed adventure in beautiful rural Ontario!
There are many versions and variations out there. Some recipes use corn syrup while others use maple syrup in the filling. Purists believe that a butter tart is a just pastry and filling – nothing else! Other bakers prefer add-ins such as pecans, chocolate, coconut, bacon, and, yes, those contentious raisins and currants.
Below I’ve shared a classic butter tart recipe that doesn’t overdo the corn syrup and can easily be modified to include whatever extras and add-ins your heart desires. Did I mention that it’s super easy, too?! I’ll share some of my tips and tricks for getting delicious results without spending too much time on the pastry or prep work!
Trick #1: Don’t stress over keeping everything cold!
If keeping the butter chilled intimidates you, this recipe’s got your back as the dough needs to chill for at least one hour; you can even make it the day before and refrigerate over night (up to 24 hours). That gets everything nice and cold again!
Trick #2: Use your hands
Rather than using the knife and fork method for cutting the butter into the flour, just use your hands. You’ll get a nice coarse meal consistency more quickly than by using utensils. Simply work the butter and flour together, rubbing it between your hands until it starts to make small “pebbles”.
Prep Time: 30-45 min
Chill Time: 30 min+
Bake Time: 30 min
Total Time: 1 hr + Chilling
Makes: 12-15 tarts
2 2/3 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 c butter, margarine, or shortening
2-3 Tbsp water (or as needed)
1/4 c butter, margarine
2 c lightly packed brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly whisked
2 Tbsp corn syrup
3 tsp vanilla
Raisins or Pecans, optional
Pastry: Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter to the bowl and, use your hands to work the flour and butter together until pea-size crumbs form.
Drizzle in water and toss with your hands, adding enough water to bring the dough together into a smooth disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes, but preferably overnight.
Filling: Cream together the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add corn syrup and vanilla. Mix until smooth but do not overmix (Also avoid using a whisk, as this adds too much air.)
Assemble & Bake: Grease a 12-cup baking tin. Roll out pastry on a floured surface to about 1/8″ thickness. Use a 4″ round cutter to cut twelve rounds and fit into the tin. Reroll the pastry up to one more time.
If using raisins or pecans, place them in the unbaked tart shells, then pour filling into shells. Simply fill the tart shells with filling if you are omitting the optional add-ins. Fill tarts to just below the top of the tart shell.
Bake at 375° F for 30 minutes or until crust is golden and the centres are bubbling.
Recipe Source: Adapted from 13th Street Bakery Butter Tarts recipe via House & Home Magazine