By Rachel Bayes
How do I love thee, oh butter tart? Let me count the ways…
Flaky pastry shell. Rich, buttery, caramel-y filling. Gooey or eggy? Raisins️, plain, or pecans? It’s all semantics: any way you slice it, the butter tart is an iconic Canadian delicacy; the sweet OG hand pie. The Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook, circa 1900, boasts the first published butter tart recipe in Canada, but it’s rumoured that this sweet treat has darker roots. The Filles du roi (King’s Daughters)–young women who were sent from France to Quebec in the late 1600s to “help colonize” the area—brought recipes from their homeland, but had to adapt them to use locally available ingredients. The French tarte au sucre—sugar pie with a creamy cooked pudding filling—is likely an early predecessor of the butter tart. However, some Scots say butter tarts were derived from the ecclefechan, or border tart—butter pastry filled with spiced nuts and fruit—named for a region of southeast Scotland called the Borders.
This recipe checks all the butter tart boxes: it’s got a flaky, buttery crust and a richly flavoured, gooey inside. It’s easily adaptable, so you can put delicious pecans in them (or soggy Sultana raisins, if you must). Heck, you can even throw in cooked bacon bits, if you’d like!
Some pro tips:
- Use softened butter and lard – I know, but trust me, it’s easier to cut in softened fat over chilled, and since you’ll be refrigerating the dough after, the fats will regroup and make the flakiest crust you ever did see.
- Bake in the lower part of the oven – Not the bottom bottom, but like, the bottom third, I would say. This will result in simultaneously golden tart bottoms and edges.
- Let the tarts cool all the way before removing them from the pan – Otherwise you’ll end up with something resembling Eton Mess. Yes, you’d still be eating that mess, but you’ll get 1/10 for presentation.
|Butter TartsMakes 12 tarts|
|3 c all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
|Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.|
|½ c lard
½ c unsalted butter
|Cut in the lard and butter using a pastry blender (or two knives) until mixture resembles coarse oatmeal.|
|1 large egg
1 tsp white vinegar
about 1 c cold water
|In a measuring cup, combine the egg and vinegar. Add enough cold water to make one cup. Gradually stir in the liquid, adding just enough to make the dough cling together.|
|Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gather into a ball. Divide into two equal portions and wrap them tightly with plastic wrap. Place one in the freezer for later use and place the other in the fridge to chill for an hour.|
|Roll the dough on a floured surface to about ⅛″ thick. Cut as many 4″ circles as you can. Re-roll the scraps and cut out more circles to make 12. Fit the pastry circles into a muffin pan and place them back in the fridge until ready to fill. Preheat oven to 375°F and position the oven rack in the lower third of the oven.|
|¾ c packed brown sugar
⅓ c unsalted butter
|In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar.|
|1 Tbsp table or whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg, beaten
|Remove the pan from heat and stir in the cream and vanilla. Let cool to touch (about 5 minutes) before whisking in the beaten egg.|
|½ c chopped pecans, walnuts, raisins, chocolate chips, or cooked bacon bits||Divide the pecans (or what have you) among the pastry shells and pour in the filling until half full.|
|Bake for 13–15 minutes or until the crust is lightly golden around the edges and filling is bubbling.|
|Let cool completely in the pan. The best way to remove the tarts from the pan is to place a cooling rack (upside down) on top of the tarts and carefully flip the pan over. You can then flip each butter tart right side up, pour yourself a good cup of coffee, and enjoy a bite of your hard work.|