Canadian Butter Tarts

from my grandmother

Knee update! Count your lucky stars, I know that you have all been waiting with bated breath. I finally sucked it up and went to a doctor on Monday after having my knee be swollen for over a week. I’ve been told I tore or punctured or somehow injured a nerve under my kneecap. My doctor confirmed this by sticking his fingers as far into my knee as humanly possible and watching tears well up in my eyes, which was not because I was crying but because he was poking and prodding said broken nerve. I felt like I was one of those people saying, “I’m NOT crying, I just have something in my eye!” while my doctor went, “Of course you do. Of course you do.” All of this was done in front of his student, who took my patient history for what seemed like h o u r s. After asking me every question under the sun, he read the whole thing back to me, then went back in to make edits. Students, am I right? Anyway, I’ve got some physical therapy to do now, but they said that it may only take four or five visits, which is great because I hate going to appointments, especially doctor’s appointments. They take too long and I never feel like I am getting as much out of it as I am supposed to. I spent an hour on the phone the other day between the office and my insurance company trying to figure out exactly what I would owe for physical therapy. It was like pulling teeth, which is so unfair. I just don’t want to get stuck with a huge bill for the privilege of having someone tell me how to bend my knee properly for an hour. Hopefully my doctor was right in that I only need to go a few more times.

GrandmaGrandpa
My grandparents.

Anyway, enough with my complaints, as I have more where that came from. I want to share these butter tarts with you. This recipe was featured on Food52′s Heirloom Recipe Series earlier this week, but I wanted to post about it on my blog, too, because not only is it a fantastic dessert, but it’s a beloved family recipe. We don’t have a lot of those – I didn’t grow up surrounded by extended family, so our holidays were smaller than a lot of people that I know. I preferred that for a lot of reasons, most important of which being that there were more leftovers for me. However, that also meant that we didn’t have a lot of traditional family recipes that got passed around and shared, other than my mom’s sausage and chestnut stuffing which I still make every year for Thanksgiving. That isn’t to say that I have many recipes I make over and over again, either – I get bored with the same thing and like to try something new all of the time. Kramer and I rarely eat the same thing for dinner week after week, unless it’s a busy day, in which case we have bacon and eggs. In any case, my grandmother’s butter tarts are one of the few things that everyone in my family knows about, know how to make, and absolutely adores. Every time I go to visit my grandmother, she has a big container full of these Canadian treats at the ready. When I went to visit her last month, she of course pulled them out after dinner, and even though I was stuffed, I had to have just one. My grandmother is very grandmotherly, I guess you could say. She always wants to feed you, offers you anything that she has, and I’ve never seen her be judgmental or finicky. My grandmother is incredibly easy going and has a great sense of humor. Even after having a number of surgeries, she still cracks jokes and does a lot of cooking, which I know isn’t always easy, but she loves it, just like me. I was so happy that we got the chance to go up to visit her, and I hope that we have the time to go up and see her in Canada again, soon!

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That’s the stuff.

If you aren’t familiar with butter tarts, allow me to fill you in. They are sort of similar to pecan pie, although they are always made in muffin pans in order to get a miniature, handheld tart, and they are much richer. It’s important to make a nice, thin crust, as you don’t want to be overwhelmed by it in such small amounts, so I like to use a combination of shortening and butter. The butter adds the nice, flaky quality you look for in a crust, like the shortening allows you to roll the dough out just a little bit thinner than an all-butter crust. The filling is simple, and sort of old fashioned, which you should embrace. You’ve got brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and of course, plenty of butter. You can add raisins in, like I did, although I’m told that there is a great Canadian divide over that aspect of these treats. You can substitute currants or pecans or walnuts…whatever makes you happy. Or, you can leave it just as it is. I also sprinkled a little sea salt on top, as I feel something this rich and sweet is crying out for some salt to cut through it all, but that is optional, too. The best part about butter tarts is that they are almost meant to be frozen so that you always have a little something in the freezer to share with friends or family, just like my grandmother. Honestly, I prefer them frozen. The caramel seems thicker, chewier and more delicious after thawing out for just five minutes or so, trust me.


Grandma
My grandmother as a child.

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My grandmother with me as a baby.

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First thing’s first: you have to make your crust. I used my food processor this time out of laziness, but I honestly think that a pair of clean hands work best.

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After your dough has chilled for at least 3 hours and you’re ready to bake, whisk together your butter tart filling.

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Roll out the dough and cut out circles that are almost twice as large as your muffin cups – this will ensure that there is enough crust to hold the filling in.

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And really butter those muffin tins. I mean really.

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Then fold the crust into tins.

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Drop a few raisins or currants in the shells (or nuts…or nothing – chef’s choice).

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Then fill with your caramel! Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden and set.

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Allow to cool before removing from the pan.

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Canadian Butter Tarts
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

Serves: 30-35 tarts
 

My grandmother’s recipe of flaky pastry crust and gooey, caramel filling.
Ingredients
For the Crust:
  • 3¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅔ cups unsalted butter, COLD (NOT room temperature), cut into pieces
  • ⅔ cups shortening, COLD (NOT room temperature)
  • ⅔ cups ice water
  • 3 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
For the Butter Tarts:
  • 1½ cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup dark corn syrup
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup raisins or currants
  • sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)

Instructions
  1. First, make your crust. Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl or the bowl of your food processor. I used my food processor, but I didn’t always have one and have had great results making this crust by hand. Add in the chopped pieces of cold butter and cold shortening . Blend together with your hands or pulse with your processor until you have coarse crumbs (it doesn’t have to be perfect). You can use a pastry cutter, too, but I find that a clean pair of hands work best.
  2. Mix together the water and vinegar in a small bowl. When ready, slowly drizzle it over the dough, a tablespoon or so at a time, gently stirring the mixture with a fork or pulsing with your processor, until fully incorporated (you may not use all of the water). It might seem a bit too wet at this point, but it will dry up while it sits in the fridge. Form the dough gently into 2 loose balls, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours or as long as overnight (as always, overnight is best). Make your filling when you are almost ready to use your dough.
  3. When you’re ready to bake, liberally butter your muffin tins. This recipe makes about 30-36 tarts, so plan accordingly. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly flour a work surface, and take one of your balls of dough and roll it out to about ¼-inch thick. Cut out circles that are a bit larger than the circumference of your tins, so that there is enough crust to hold in the filling, and gently place each circle in the tins, re-rolling your dough as you go. Drop 3-4 raisins in the bottom of each tart before adding in the filling.
  4. Whisk together your dark brown sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, and vanilla. Drop 2-3 teaspoons of filling (it will bubble, so don’t overfill or you will have a hell of a time getting the tarts out of the pan) in each tart, then sprinkle with a touch of sea salt. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden and mostly set. Allow to cool completely before removing the tarts from the pan. I like to use a dull paring knife to cut around any hardened caramel and then popping each tart out. These will keep well at room temperature for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

 

18 Responses

  1. Tieghan says:

    Ugh, your doctors visit sounds painful! So sorry! But I do love the fun baby photos and photos of your grandparents. So fun and I have never heard of Canadian Butter tart, but these look awesome!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Your grandmother is beautiful! I love her wedding dress. So classic.

  3. Rebekka says:

    These tarts look delicious! I just made your white bread and it turned out great.

  4. Jemma says:

    Your grandmother is really sweet. Thank you for sharing your family recipe here. I’ll make some for my parents this weekend. :) And get well soon!

  5. Lokness says:

    Hope your knee will get better soon! How cute is that picture of your and your grandmother! The butter tarts look fabulous. I have never heard of anything like that. But I sure want to make and try some. Have a great weekend.

  6. Lynna says:

    Dealing with insurance is such a pain. Haha. Get better soon! Also, you were an adorable baby.

    I`ve never had butter tarts before, but I definitely want to try since these look so gooddd.

  7. canalcook says:

    Great recipe. Lovely photos too, your grandparents looked so glamorous on their wedding day.

  8. angie says:

    These look so good! Insurance is annoying, but as a physical therapist, I can guarantee that if you see a good one (as most of us are) you won’t be spending an hour with someone telling you how to bend your knee.

  9. I love the unique shape of these tarts…I’ve never heard of butter tarts before, but will definitely need to give it a try!

  10. Rachael says:

    YUM. I’d keep them plain and simple and yeah I need to definitely make these <3

  11. RK says:

    Thank you for posting this recipe….I haven’t lived in Canada since ’92 & I sure do miss butter tarts!

  12. I must buy familar mold, i always eat buttertarts, but never doing myself and I want try, thanks for recipe.

  13. Minnie says:

    Yeah in my family butter tarts were also a favourite. My Nana always had to make two versions; instead of corn syrup she’d use maple syrup and my grandpa liked it running out with one bite and coconut mixed in. We don’t know how he ate them but he did. Butter tarts are awesome but if you’re really hankering you can make butter tart squares…easier, faster, just as yummy. Your grandma should have a recipe.

  14. Hope your knee is all better! We don’t have a lot of family recipes either, so it’s important to spotlight them. These look awesome. That gooey filling would have me hooked instantly!

  15. HeatherB says:

    I made these yesterday. I did add an egg yolk to the filling (because I remember that being an ingredient that my grandmother used). I’m introducing them to my American coworkers!

  16. Cora-Lee Ertler says:

    Excellent pastry! A Canadian Christmas would not be the same without butter tarts and I have been using the same recipe for a very long time. Handed down from my Grandmother who was French Canadian. I still used my own filling, but your pastry recipe was absolutely fantastic. Best butter tarts yet. I’m leaving a few out for Santa. :)

  17. […] Photo of Butter Tarts by The Crepes of Wrath […]

  18. Butter tarts are the main Canadian food that I miss living in the states. I like the single rumple in each of the tart shells. I make gluten-free butter tarts at home now, based on my families recipe! Thanks for sharing your stories, photos and recipe!

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