BUTTER TARTS . . . the quintessential Canadian dessert

I have shared hundreds of recipes on my food blog MRS. BUTTERFINGERS.  One recipe has been  extraordinarily popular.  It is my recipe for butter tarts. Hundreds of  cooks have down loaded the recipe  this quintessential Canadian dessert.

The melt-in-your-mouth flaky pastry tart is filled with delicious concoction of butter, sugar, syrup and eggs .  Cooks add their own variations.  The purists add only  currants or raisins. Others add variation with nuts, coconut, chocolate chips, figs or dates.

In l955 I was working as a writer at a small Alberta radio station.  One day I brought a box of butter tarts I had baked to work.  I was asked if I would bake butter tarts for a bridal shower.  I was soon working nine to five as a writer, then filling orders for butter tarts at night.   My career in the food business had begun.

This is the very best of pioneer Canadian cooking.  The earliest recipe for butter tarts was found in 1900 in The Woman’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victorian Hospital Cookbook.  Over the years I continually tweaked my recipe.  This recipe found in the Harrow Country Fair cook book (with a few adjustments) is a blue ribbon winner.  I always use currents (reconstituted) as opposed to raisins.  I think their flavour and texture  better compliments the syrupy filling.  The pastry of butter tarts is equally as important as the filling.  It must be flaky and rich yet be able to hold the delicious and sometimes runny filling.

You can  make butter tarts in tiny tart tins for one bite of heaven.  If I plan to use the butter tarts for a dessert I use a larger tart tin and serve with a generous scoop of  sublime vanilla ice cream or a flourish of whipped cream.

When rolling your pastry for the tarts keep your pastry cool.  If it seems to be getting a bit soft return it to the refrigerator for five or ten minutes.  Before you fill your pastry it is a good idea to refrigerate the unfilled tarts to the refrigerator for fifteen minutes.

Butter Tarts will keep about a week at room temperature and freeze beautifully for three to four weeks.  This makes it the ideal dessert for entertaining.


: 12 tarts
The butter tart recipe I used today came from THE HARROW FAIR COOKBOOK. It's filled with nostalgic photographs and prize-winning recipes. It's a joy to read.
  • filling:
  • ⅓ cup (80 ml) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup (250 ml) firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) cream (the original recipe calls for milk but cream takes it up a notch)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup (80 ml) currants (and perhaps a few chopped walnuts to up the ante)
  • 2¼ cups (560 ml) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) fine sea salt
  • ½ cup (125 ml) lard, cubed
  • ½ cup (125 ml) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) white vinegar
  • ice cold water see instructions for the amount
  1. Preheat oven to 450° F (230c)
  2. Lightly grease a 12 cup muffin pan. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Roll out the pie crust.
  3. Cut twelve 5 inch (12 cm) rounds out of the pie crust.
  4. Fit each round into the muffin pan, making 12 tart shells.
  5. I consider the pastry for butter tarts almost as important as the filling. I like to make my pastry tarts just a little thicker, so you may not get as many as 12 tarts, or you could use both pastry discs.
  6. Whisk together the melted butter, sugar, milk, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl.
  7. Place a little over l tsp (5 ml) dried currants in each tart shell. (Some may call it tampering with a good thing but you could also add a few chopped walnuts).
  8. Add approximately 2 tbsp (30 ml) of the filling mixture to each tart shell. Don't overfill as the mixture puffs up with baking.
  9. Bake for 8 minutes are 450°F (230°C) Reduce temperature to 350°F (180°C). Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until the tart shells are golden brown.
  10. Cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the tarts to a rack. Cool to room temperature before serving. Bet you can't eat just one!
  12. This crust, made from lard and butter, is flaky, tender, buttery, and golden brown. Makes enough for one double crust 9 inch pie, or two 9 inch single-crust pies.
  13. Sift together the flour and Salt. Incorporate the lard and butter using a pastry cutter or a food process. The crumbs should be the size of peas.
  14. Beat the egg and vinegar together and put into a liquid measuring cup. Add enough ice cold water to equal ½ cup (125 ml) of liquid.
  15. Pour the liquid over the dough. Knead, or pulse in the food processor, until the dough comes together in a ball. A little extra water may be required to incorporate all the flour. If you are adding the liquid to the flour mixture in the food processor process JUST UNTIL the mixture starts to com together.
  16. Then remove and knead into a ball by hand. When working with the pie dough be sure to use a gentle touch and do not overwork the dough.
  17. Divide the dough into halves. Shape each half into a flat disc and wrap it in plastic wrap. Chill the dough for at least l hour prior to rolling.
  18. Any unused dough can be stored for up to l week in the refrigerator or frozen until needed. If freezing, double wrap the dough in plastic wrap until ready to use. Defrost slowly in the refrigerator.
  20. After the dough has rested in the refrigerator, remove it and let it sit for 15 minutes before rolling.
  21. Scatter a small sprinkle of flour onto your work surface. It is better to use small amounts frequently. Roll the dough out from the centre to the outer edges using a rolling pin. Avoid moving the pin backwards; rolling the dough out from the centre is best.
  22. Roll the dough out as evenly and thinly as possible, without breaking or tearing it. The dough will be about ⅛ inch (3 mm) thick. Lift the dough frequently to prevent it from sticking, and sprinkle with a little flour on the work surface and rolling pin, if needed.
  23. If all this seems a little difficult roll the dough between two large pieces of parchment paper - lifting and peeling the paper away every few rolls to prevent wrinkling your dough.
  24. Depending on the depth of the pans, the dough will to be 1½-3 inches / 4-7.5 cm) larger in diameter than the pans.
  25. Place the dough disks in the pans and use your thumbs to ease the dough in, pushing it up gently to crete a slightly raised edge.
Pie plates come in all sorts of materials; metal, glass, ceramic. Each has a different impact on the crust. Glass pie plates with wide rim crisp and brown pie crusts evenly. I prefer glass pie plates. You can also see how brown your crust is underneath.


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7 Responses to BUTTER TARTS . . . the quintessential Canadian dessert

  1. Pingback: LUSCIOUS LEMON MERINGUE PIE ... a recipe from the past | Mrs. Butterfingers

  2. Pingback: BLUE RIBBON BUTTER TART RECIPE « Bel' Occhio's Blog

  3. I love the ‘print’ feature…. I’ve got it! Now to try my hand…. 🙂

    • admin says:

      Butterfingers and butter tarts – don’t they just go together? Carolyn I do so hope you love them as much as I do. Virginia

      • Suzanne says:

        This is the exact recipe that my mother and grandmother used and I had lost it!!! So glad to have found it again! They are truly delicious!!

        • admin says:

          Suzanne. It is a joy to find a lost treasured recipe. I am so glad the lost has been found and you can treat your family and friends to BUTTER TARTS. My favorite! Bon Appetit, Virginia

  4. Pingback: BUTTER TARTS . . . the quintessential Canadian pastry tart | Bel' Occhio's Blog

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