Best-Ever Canadian Butter Tarts
Happy Mothers’ Day! And since I have the best mom out there, I figured I’d bake one of her favorites for her. This is likely going to be a new one for most of you. You’re probably thinking, “What the heck is a butter tart?”. Well, I’m so glad you asked! The butter tart is a true gift of a pastry from our fabulous Northern neighbors that I’m on a mission to spread awareness of in the States. The glorious butter tart and I have a long history that I can’t wait to share with y’all.
My family first encountered butter tarts while we were spending the summer on the Georgian Bay in Ontario, an annual tradition for our entire family dating back to more than 100 years (no joke. Great Great Granddad Elmer Isaac Phillips was a true trendsetter). You can find butter tarts in every grocery store in Canada (at least in the tiny town of Parry Sound) and they became a weekly purchase.
Of course, I started eating butter tarts as any kid would, by taking a spoon to the ooey gooey sweet goodness inside and leaving the “crust” behind. Eventually I graduated to eating them in a normal manner and I could not have imagined that they were even better together than apart! I’ve always had a hard time explaining to people what a butter tart is. So I’m going do my best, but the only way to truly understand its glory is to try them yourselves! And since the US apparently wants to kill my happiness by not having them ANYWHERE, you’re just going to have to make them yourselves!
A butter tart is a mini tart pastry consisting of a flaky pie dough bottom and filled with a mixture of butter, brown sugar, egg and golden corn syrup. They occasionally have mix-ins like the traditional raisins or pecans. While the plain ones are truly delicious on their own, mix-ins are always fun, so I’ll share a few of my favorites too. The closest comparison I can make to a butter tart is a pecan pie filling (sometimes minus the pecans) but a little bit runnier. Let’s get started then, eh?
Let’s start with the dough. This is likely not a college-friendly recipe unfortunately, simply because the dough requires a food processor. But other than that snag, it is fairly simple to make! Pulse together all the dry dough ingredients in the processor just to mix them. Make sure that the butter is straight out of the refrigerator. NOT ROOM TEMP! This will ensure that you get chunks of butter in the dough that makes it good and flakey. Add butter and pulse for about 10 times, or as long as it takes the mix to look like coarse meal with pea-sized chunks of butter.
The fact that it’s ice water is very important too. I just filled a bowl with ice and water and took tablespoons from that. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time while pulsing. Keep adding the water just until the dough can clump together when pressed with between your fingers. It may look very crumbly, but if you press it together between your fingers, it should hold. If it doesn’t hold, keep adding ice water a tablespoon at a time.
Remove the dough from the food processor and place onto a clean surface. No need to flour the surface, because this dough should not be very sticky, but more so crumbly. Knead the dough just a few times with the heal of your hand and then form into 2 disks. Sprinkle a little flour over the disks and wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.
While the dough is chilling, make the filling (the childish part in me just laughed at that unintentional rhyme). In a medium bowl, whisk together brown sugar, softened butter, corn syrup, egg, salt, and vanilla. Do not use regular light corn syrup; golden corn syrup is important to give the tarts their flavor and color. I’ve had a hard time finding it in the US, but you may find it in the regular baking aisle or international food aisle. If you still have no luck, here it is on Amazon.
Once the dough is finished chilling, remove and roll out on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thick. Use a 3” cookie cutter or glass to cut out circles of dough. Press the dough circles between your fingers to make the circles a little bit bigger and thinner to better fill the tin cups. Place each circle into the cups of a greased muffin tin and press dough up the sides as best you can. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the filling into each cup. I used a mini ice cream scoop for more control.
Bake in the bottom third of your oven at 450 degrees for 12 minutes. The tops of the filling should be slightly puffed up and bubbly and the dough should be a light golden brown. Let cool in the pan for 1 minute then run your knife around each tart to loosen them. Remove the tarts from the pan gently and place on a cooling rack to completely cool. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
This will be your new favorite pastry, promise!