Butter tarts are the quintessential Canadian sweet treat. They are a truly a Canadian invention and the oldest recipes date back as far as 1900. There is a good reason that there is a national obsession with these sweet, buttery, oozy caramel-like tarts in thick flaky pastry: they are the perfect marriage of flavor and texture and just the perfect size.There is considerable debate on whether to make them runny or firm and preference is often regional. Baking time solves the issue pretty easily to please both sides: a bit more time in the oven yields a firmer filing. But with the crisp caramelized top, it is soooo good to bite into one and release that buttery runny filling inside! For me, they seem more like a pecan pie filling without the pecans, if baked firm. But I jump ahead. I just can’t help myself. These babies are so darn good!
Opinions also run strong on whether to include raisins or not. Purists say absolutely not. If you don’t like raisins, just omit them. I like my butter tarts runny with raisins in a thick flaky pastry. In my opinion, the BEST butter tart recipe is my mom’s and is the recipe featured here. Butter tarts originated in English Canada but my French-Canadian maman remembers making them with the nuns at her French school. Many recipes feature corn syrup which gives them the runny consistency but my research shows corn syrup was developed in the 1950s and made its appearance in 1960s kitchens. Early recipes must have been made entirely with brown sugar. No matter what side of the butter tart debate you fall on, there is no debate on the deliciousness of this irresitible Canadian classic. Oh, Canada!
Best Canadian Butter Tarts
For the Flaky Pastry:
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup shortening
5 tablespoons ice water, enough to bind the dough together
For the Filling:
1/4 cup densely packed brown sugar
1/2 cup golden(light) corn syrup
1/4 cup butter at room temperature
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
½ cup raisins(I would halve this the next time I make them)
To prepare the pastry:
Using a fork, blend the shortening, salt and flour together until it ressembles coarse oatmeal. Sprinkle the water over the surface and toss with a fork or your fingers until the water is just incorporated into the dough. Do not over work the dough. Handle it only enough so that the dough stays together. Form two rounds of dough, each about an inch thick.
Wrap in plastic and chill for about a half hour or as long as overnight. Roll out on a lightly floured surface. Cut into rounds with 4 inch cutter. Fit into 12 muffin cups. Chill in the fridge while you prepare the filling.
To prepare the filling:
Preheat oven to 400F. Cover the raisins with warm tap water and let rest about a half hour to soften. Combine all filling ingredients except the raisins and mix well with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle raisins in the bottom of the pastry lined muffin cups. Fill 2/3 full with syrup mixture. Bake on the middle rack at 400 F degrees for 15 minutes for a runny tart, or 20 minutes for a firmer tart until the filling is bubbly and the edges of the crust, golden. Ours took an extra 5 minutes of baking time. Cool completely on a wire rack and remove tarts from from pans.
Since I am writing this post from Canada where I vacationed in the beautiful Maritime provinces and in my hometown of Timmins, Ontario, I leave you with some beautiful scenes of my birth country. Oh, Canada indeed.