Traditional butter tarts are a distinctively Canadian sweet treat. Flaky pastry is baked with a sweet filling made with sugar, butter, vanilla and dried fruit such as raisins or currents. Sometimes, chopped nuts are added. They are utterly delicious and difficult to eat just one!
What is a butter tart?
Recipes for traditional butter tarts have been around for generations throughout Canadian households. They are similar to a British treacle, a French sugar pie or a Scottish Ecclefechan tart. They can even be compared to the American pecan pie. The filling is quite easy to make, but it is the pastry that quite often gets the home cook driven mad. It needs to be tender, flaky and fit precisely into a tart or muffin pan. Many headaches have been had trying to roll out and achieve the perfect tart crust.
Raisins, currents or nuts?
Traditional butter tarts come in many different forms, whether they are made with a blend of raisins, currents or nuts. You’ll hear great debates amongst Canadian families about what belongs in a proper butter tart. This recipe is my family’s version. We typically added only raisins. However, you can add chopped toasted walnuts or pecans to the mix if you like. As a side note: I grew up in Canada, but now make my home here in Seattle. I know many blended American and Canadian families that make Washington their home. The search for local butter tarts is always “on” over the holidays. For this reason, butter tarts are a great recipe to share with you today.
Traditional butter tarts are a labor (or labour, if we’re staying true to our Canadian roots) of LOVE. They do take some time to prepare and bake. I’m not gonna lie, you may need a stiff drink whilst making them. But your efforts will be rewarded as you indulge in an amazingly delicate sweet treat. They melt in your mouth and go perfectly with a cup of tea or coffee. I hold this recipe for butter tarts near and dear to my heart since it is my mom’s. She gave me her recipe many years ago and I still have it today along with her little notes on the side.
How to make butter tart pastry
I find the easiest way to make the delicate flaky pastry is to use a food processor. With short pulses of the blade and icy cold water, the pastry comes together quickly without overworking it. I use a combination of shortening and unsalted butter. If you don’t have a food processor, use a pastry cutter. Turn the pastry out onto a sheet of parchment paper. Simply lift the ends of the paper inwards pressing the dough together. Do this a couple times until it comes together. Then chill the dough. Rolling out the pastry to the right thickness and cutting them “just so” is the most challenging part of making butter tarts.
Tips for cutting out the pastry
- Place the pastry in-between two sheets of parchment paper before rolling it out. This makes transferring the pastry from the paper easier.
- Dust the pastry with additional flour as needed to avoid sticking.
- Keep the pastry cold and do not over work it. If necessary, take breaks putting the pastry in the fridge for several minutes to keep it cold.
- Use a floured glass or biscuit cutter slightly larger than the size of the pan wells to cut out the pastry. For the butter tarts pictured, I used a standard non-stick muffin pan. This makes rather large butter tarts. But no one has ever complained. 🙂
- Lightly prick the wells of the pastry with a fork. This helps prevent bubbles from forming as they bake.
How to make butter tart filling
Once the pastry is prepared, we make the sweet sticky filling. Making the filling is quite easy. It consists of sugar, corn syrup, eggs, vanilla, butter, raisins and lemon juice. Combine the ingredients in a saucepan on low heat and bring it to a soft boil. That’s it. Fill the pastries 3/4 full. Once the tarts are filled, they are baked to a light golden brown in the oven. Perfection!
Much ado about corn syrup
There is much reluctance on the part of many bakers to use corn syrup recently because of potential negative health effects associated with high-fructose corn syrup. These products are both made from corn starch, however, they are in fact different. I use Karo light corn syrup in this recipe. It contains no high-fructose corn syrup. The concern with high-fructose corn syrup is around the process by which the glucose is converted to fructose enzymatically. As with all types of sugar, too much of it is a bad thing no matter what the source is.
After the butter tarts have cooled, use a sharp knife around the edges of the tart to loosen them. They should pop right out. I have never had a butter tart stick.
Can I freeze butter tarts?
Yes! One great thing about butter tarts is that they freeze very well. Use quality air-tight containers and layer with parchment paper. You can have a marathon day of baking tarts and set them aside to be enjoyed another day. Watch them like a hawk while they cool. Otherwise you will return to your kitchen (after a well deserved break) only to find far too many butter tarts have mysteriously disappeared. No doubt eaten by that person named “not me” in the household (so sneaky of him/her)!
Have you ever heard of butter tarts or tried one before? If you like pecan pie or pastries in general, I think you’ll love butter tarts. Let me know your thoughts below in the comments. I wish you the best of luck and cheer you on as you make these delicious treats. Here’s to the butter tart!
If you make any of my recipes, use #northwestspoon and share your photo.
Traditional butter tartsCourse: Desserts, Holiday favoritesCuisine: CanadianDifficulty: Difficult
Butter tarts are a distinctively Canadian sweet treat. Flaky pastry is baked with a sweet filling made with sugar, butter, vanilla and dried fruit such as raisins or currents.
- Pastry crust
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup shortening
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting and rolling)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup ice cold water
2 large eggs, remove white membrane from egg yolk
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup Light Karo corn syrup
juice of half a lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
1 cup raisins, lightly chopped
- Pastry crust
- Cut the butter and shortening into tablespoon sized pieces. Make sure the butter and shortening are cold.
- Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
- Have icy cold water and a tablespoon set aside.
- Fit the food processor with the S blade. Add in the flour mixture, butter and shortening. Pulse for short bursts until the mixture begins to look like coarse meal. You should see large pea sized chunks of butter and shortening. Add two tablespoons of the icy cold water and pulse. Add two tablespoons more water and pulse until the dough begins to just hold shape. If it is still crumbly, add another tablespoon of water, one at a time until the right consistency is reached. If you do not have a food processor, you can do this by hand with a pastry cutter.
- Turn the dough out onto a large piece of parchment paper. Bring the ends of the paper inwards, pressing down with your hands. Cut the dough into two disks. Repeat and shape the dough into a round. Do not over work it. Do this just until it takes shape. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or parchment paper and place it in the fridge to rest and cool for 60 minutes before making the tart pastry.
- Make sure your work surface is dry and clean. Have additional flour set aside for dusting as needed. Cut out a large piece of parchment paper and dust it with flour. Place a dough disk in the center and dust it with a little flour. Cover it with another large piece of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough from the center outwards. Give the disk a 1/4 turn each time you roll outwards. Roll it out to about 1/8 inch thickness. Gently pull off the top layer of parchment.
- Use a floured glass, tea cup or biscuit cutter slightly larger than the wells of the non-stick muffin pan to cut out the pastry for each tart. Gently remove the small circles of pastry from the bottom parchment paper and gently place them into the muffin pan wells. Use your fingers to gently guide them in. Don’t press too hard, but you can shape them. Lightly prick the pastry several times with a fork. This helps prevent bubbles from forming.
- Keep the pastry cold while you prepare the filling. Place it in the fridge. Gently cover it with parchment paper.
- Filling and baking
- Preheat the oven to 375 F.
- Beat the eggs slightly. Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, vanilla, melted butter and raisins. In a medium saucepan, on low heat, slowly cook and stir the mixture until it reaches a soft boil. Remove from heat.
- Fill the pastries 3/4 full. Bake in the oven at 375 F for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes. The butter tarts should be a light golden brown.
- Allow the butter tarts to cool on a rack. Run a sharp knife around the edges of each tart to gently release it from the pan. Enjoy!
- Use a standard non-stick muffin pan or specialized tart pans for this recipe. If you use a muffin pan, you will yield 12 large butter tarts. There will be some pastry left over. If you’d like to prepare 24 butter tarts, double only the filling recipe provided. Any left over pastry can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days or can be sealed in plastic wrap and frozen if desired.