The Great Canadian Butter Tart

Butter tarts are a uniquely Canadian dessert.   Like other iconic Canadian foods such as maple syrup and poutine, they originated in 17th Century Quebec, where the wives of early French settlers made use of the available ingredients of maple syrup and dried fruit to whip up a treat to make life in the wilderness a little more bearable.   Their experimentation led to the evolution of the modern butter tart, although most recipes today do not call for maple syrup.   

As Canadian as maple syrup….

This decadently sweet tart consists of a filling of butter, sugar, syrup and egg, baked until the filling is semi-solid, ie nice and gooey.  Raisins or nuts are added, with the raisin debate being a whole other topic, along with the degree of consistency, runny or firm.  Butter tarts tend differ from other sugar-based pies such as pecan pie in that they have a runnier filling – no cornstarch or flour required.  

Other than those basic ingredients, there are as many variations as there are family recipes, many dating back to the pioneer days.  Butter tarts were all the rage in the early 1900’s, appearing in many cookbooks and have since become an ingrained part of Canadian cuisine.   There are several butter tart festivals held every year, including one in Midland which sells over 50,000 tarts, with the contest portion attracting bakers from all over to vie for the Best Butter Tart title.  Like a rib-fest for dessert lovers you can walk around and sample to your heart’s content.

My inspiration for this post came from a trip to the bakery which used to sell my favorite version (past tense intended).    Their pastry is good, but I had noticed the filling kept getting skimpier and skimpier, and the last batch, which was pre-ordered and boxed before being paid for, were basically just pastry shells with a thin scraping of filling , and at $10 for 6 tarts they were certainly no bargain.  My second favorite source, a local coffee shop, sells tarts with plenty of filling but their pastry is thick and hard as a rock.   Maybe those two could marry and produce the ideal butter tart progeny, or….maybe I could make my own, for a lot less money too!  

My mother made butter tarts when I was growing up but they were usually reserved for the fall of the year when she was deep into pie-baking and made use of the left-over pastry.   A batch or two often graced our Thanksgiving table along with the apple and pumpkin pies.   So I got out her old recipe, which was vague in the way that my mothers recipes often are, (she was never one of those cooks who measured) and we proceeded to experiment.  

My mothers recipe…..more or less…..

 They turned out as we remembered them, not overly sweet, with the multiple eggs making for a firmer consistency, but I thought they needed more sugar.  I didn’t have my glasses on, but if I had read my own notation, it very clearly stated that!   As for the bake 10-15-20 minutes, her oven is temperamental so I left them in longer in an attempt to get the crust brown and the filling got too firm….but the end result was a perfectly good butter tart.

Mom’s old 1950’s tart pan.

The recipe made twenty tarts, and try pawning off tarts during a pandemic when we’re now back in our smaller social bubbles and they are encouraging people not to congregate for Thanksgiving (which is next weekend here in Canada).   

Anyone care for a butter tart?

Moving on in my search for the Great Canadian Butter Tart, I wasted much time googling and then referenced back to my old farmhouse cooking bible, the Purity Cookbook, first published 1911, and there was the recipe for the best butter tarts ever!   

Unlike the previous recipe this one called for corn syrup. I used the dark corn syrup for color. It had been so long since I bought corn syrup I didn’t even know it also came in a colorless format. I omitted the salt and lemon juice as I like a sweeter tart.

I added a bit more sugar to taste, and a bit more butter as there was some left in the bottom of the dish.  (I am my mother’s daughter after all.)   I pre-baked the store pastry shells for 5-10min, as I was using her oven and then added the raisins. (no need to presoak the raisins).

Those of you who might die if you ate a raisin (which is but a wrinkled grape) can use nuts or nothing if you prefer.   The pioneer women used currants. 

 I baked them for exactly twenty minutes and they came out with the perfect degree of runniness.   The pastry was a bit browner than I would have liked, but flaky and good for a no-name store brand.  If using my oven, I may not have pre-baked the shells and would just have left them in for 20-25 minutes.  Live and learn is the lesson for an inexperienced cook like me, with a perfectionist streak.

All in all, both my mother and I gave them a ten – and thought they were the best butter tarts we’d ever eaten – simply perfect in taste and texture.  They were even good after a few days, although I stored them in the fridge and heated them for ten seconds in the microwave.   The recipe made twelve, enough for a sweet treat with a mug of hot tea every night while watching the evening news. Most days you need that to carry on. 

Tea and tarts….

Keep calm and Butter Tart On – maybe a slogan for next years festival?   

41 thoughts on “The Great Canadian Butter Tart

    • Joni says:

      Yes, pecans are a southern thing! Actually the ones my coffee shop sells have pecans too, and they also have plain ones, but no raisins. I’m a raisin fan and always have been, although I do like pecan pie too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Peanut butter raisin sandwiches?! I’ll have to try that. Yes, to hot oatmeal too! Not for awhile though, we are having a week of beautiful warm weather. I hope your forest fire situation is better.

      Like

      • Jo Shafer says:

        California fires still rage, I’m hearing, but Washington has stabilized. Yes, the raisin things I mentioned are for winter. My mother used to put raisins in peanut butter sandwiches — butter on one slice and peanut butter on the other, with raisins as a filler.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. ruthsoaper says:

    These sound delicious! It might be that I LOVE butter or it might be that some of those early settlers were (possibly) my ancestors. 🙂 I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving.

    Like

  2. Ally Bean says:

    Normally once a summer my husband goes to Canada with his friends to go camping– or hang out at a cabin. He returns to the US with maple syrup and those delicious butter tarts. I miss those tarts this year. Maybe I need to follow your lead and make my own.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anne says:

    These sound delicious! I love it when you wander off to the kitchen to produce something. Is the pastry flaky or shortcrust? I always buy frozen flaky pastry but make my own shortcrust.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      It’s flaky Anne, not shortcrust. I just bought store brand pastry tart shells (30 for $4) and they were fine, actually better than the brand name Tenderflake one I used for the peach galette.

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    • Joni says:

      Yes, Annie I know I’m lucky to still have my mother, when so many people my age don’t. She doesn’t bake much anymore but enjoys watching me and helping out a bit. Tomorrow the museum is coming to pick up 31 pieces of art for her Oct. show – she helped me wrap and label them – I’ll be glad when the show is hung.

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  4. Eilene Lyon says:

    How funny – the New York Times newsletter this morning featured Canadian butter tarts, and then I saw this post. I’m sure I would love your tarts. I’ve never seen a tart pan like that. I could go for raisins, nuts or both.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I’ll have to check out the NY Time recipe. My mothers tart pan must be from the 50’s. I’m not even sure what material it’s made of but it’s very lightweight. Tonight I made my third batch of tarts and had enough filling left over for 2 extra which I put on one of those non-stick baking pans and the pastry browned better than the ones in the old tart pan, so now I’m wondering if that was my problem with the pastry not browning at the bottom the first time? My mother doesn’t remember where she got it from, but tarts used to be a big thing back then. It looks well used….

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dave says:

    Reminds me a little of mincemeat pie (without the mincemeat – ha). Maybe not a fair comparison, because mince is more like pecan in its consistency; heavier with a lot of spices mixed in with the fruit. A jar of mincemeat feels like holding a brick!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks for the reminder Dave – I love mincemeat! But it can be a heavy dessert, so a mincemeat tart would be just the perfect size…..esp with Christmas not too far away. The bakery sells mincemeat tarts, but again skimpy filling. I should set up shop next door….I made my third batch of tarts tonight and have perfected it now.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Linda Schaub says:

    Butter tarts – mmmm. This brings back nice memories Joni, from when we lived in Canada and also when we returned home to visit my grandmother several times a year after moving here She would always send my aunt to Knob Hill Farms to buy a few packages – some to enjoy there and some to take home. My mom never made them that I can recall, but she did make pecan nut tartlets – very small tarts made with cream cheese and tasted very flaky, but no corn syrup inside inside, a dryer nutty filling. Those were really good. I appreciated Mom’s baking then, but even more so now that I don’t have it. She loved pies and tarts and at Christmas made the pecan tarts, damson plum with toasted coconut tarts and mincemeat tarts. She would buy a large bottle of None Such Mincemeat and half it and put some rum in and seal it back up every July. My mom never drank as she took various meds but she did have those mincemeat tarts which smelled pretty potent by the time the holidays arrived.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      You have such nice memories of your mom Linda. You must miss her terribly. I know I’m fortunate in still having my mother at my age, as very few people do. She doesn’t bake anymore, but enjoys watching me or helping out, so I tend to do my baking lately in her kitchen. She doesn’t cook as much anymore either, but if we have a big meal every few days, there are lots of leftovers. We’re having a nice turkey dinner tomorrow for Thanksgiving (we always did the Sunday not Monday as that was county fair day) with all the fixings…..wish I could sent you some for Canadian Thanksgiving! Hope you are out this weekend enjoying the beautiful weather!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Yes, I do Joni – you are right. Our moms, like us, are the same age. I thought it was nice you were baking at your mom’s house. My mom really enjoyed cooking and baking and that’s why I never learned my way around the kitchen as she always wanted to do it. So, I never got a chance to learn anything.

        We used to celebrate the Canadian Thanksgiving on the Sunday as well. Less hurried than on a weekday as I’ve always had to work. Columbus Day is always the same day, but it is a bank holiday or government holiday so I never had it off. My mom would make the dinner and a pumpkin pie, so that took up most of Sunday. It did bring back memories with the butter tarts … my grandmother’s house and eating them. We had several treats that were just in Canada and not over here. I was excited to find Digestive cookies recently at Meijer … the chocolate covered ones too. A real find. I liked them when we visited my grandmother and that was another item we always came home with after visiting her. We also bought home Habitant Split Pea Soup, Aerobars, Coffee Crisp, Red Rose bread and butter pickles, No Frills Cheese buns … I did love those back in the day. Cheese buns with cheese dribbled over the top of them..

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        I like the chocolate digestive cookies too, and Habitant Pea Soup, coffee crisp, and bread and butter pickles. Never had cheese buns but mom liked those, I don’t see them around anymore. Hoping this nice weather continues all week. Got half way through Reader tonight, only 2 days behind now….

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Did you like the Aero bars (the original ones)? I looked on Amazon once for them – they come in mint which I would not like, orange too. Today I went shopping for Winter and went 2X … walked over 4 miles by the time I ran around the store, then up/down the stairs. So got three packages of Digestives and this time I got milk chocolate which I didn’t seethe last time … I got dark chocolate last time. When we visited my grandmother, the woman down the street was Italian and her elderly father lived with her family. He liked pasta for every meal – so when we were visiting, she’d send down a big pot of spaghetti and meatballs and I made meatball sandwiches on the No Frill cheese buns. Wonderful. We also missed Kaiser buns – they have no equivalent bun here – they are all soft, not crunchy crust that goes all over when you open it. Plus the hot cross buns in Canada have spice in the bun – they put no spice at all … they are just white buns with candied fruit in them. I was gone the better part of the day and got here about 8:00 p.m. …. I was almost caught up on Friday night – yesterday putting away groceries from last Thursday’s big shopping when I returned from walking and it took almost all day. I think I’ll end up going to bed early tonight. I got home late and skipped the second cup of coffee. Supposed to nice here in the mornings through Wednesday – but a storm and rain tomorrow afternoon. Supposed to change radically colder by mid-week.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        You are like your squirrels putting things away for winter already! I’m starting to stock up on things on sale now, as when our stats go up (currently none now) I don’t plan on going out as much. No to Aero bars – I never did like them, not sure why, not as chocolately as other brands? I could not handle hot cross buns without spice – what are they thinking! Yes to Kaiser buns – I hate when the crumbs go all over too. Caught up on Reader tonight finally – going to bed early! Hope you did too!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I always felt like Aero bars melted in your mouth and were gone too soon! The first Easter we lived here (1967) I remember my mom got some hot cross buns and opened the package for Good Friday breakfast – no fragrant spicy aroma, just yeasty smell. She said “next year we go to a bakery” … we did but same thing. We never got them again. They just are not the same. My grandmother used to have one of those mini carpet sweepers she kept in the corner of the kitchen just for Kaiser buns. Everything here is a soft bun, like a hamburger bun. Even a baguette here is not as crispy/crunchy. I am going to stay and get caught up tonight but we are having storms around 8:00-9:00 so will shut down then. I have nodded off a few times today … the shopping wore me out! Putting it away will be another whole experience, but if I don’t mind looking at it, I don’t have to do it all in one day. I think I can finish in three more shoppings (hopefully).

        Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I’ve made 3 batches lately so I think I’ve got the recipe perfected now….they are disappearing fast. The cup was from Winner’s – a got a set of square red Chinese looking dishes one Christmas with matching mugs. I have way too much china….

      Liked by 1 person

  7. DougD says:

    Yum! sadly my mom is gone, but her baking skills live on in my 17 year old daughter. Maybe I can get her to try your recipe.
    A few years ago we hopped in our 1963 VW and went on a butter tart tour of our region. Dyments had the best crust and 97 General Store had the best filling.
    Happy Thanksgiving, still lots to be thankful for 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  8. J P says:

    Here I sit at my desk during a brief break spent catching up on my blog reading and now I have a hankering for a butter tart – despite never having heard of them before. They sound delish!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks for reading JP, especially when you’re so busy. I remember when an afternoon treat at work was the only thing that got me through the rest of the shift.
      They are very easy to make – I’m on my third batch already…..

      Liked by 1 person

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