Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Butter Tarts Recipe

Butter tarts are apparently a Canadian classic (though I had no idea till I left Canada and nobody had heard of them). They're delicious and easy to make, and I still have some former co-workers who drool at the memory and demand I make them when they visit.

So here's the recipe, in two parts (pastry, and filling).  Pastry can obviously be used for any kind of tart instead, also!

Short Pastry

This is an unsweetened shortbread-like pastry. You might be able to find pre-made short pastry in a supermarket; if so, you can be lazy, and skip straight to the filling section. It probably won't taste as good though, and this isn't hard to make, so here's how.

4 oz butter (softened, though not totally melted - leave it out of the fridge for a few hours, or microwave VERY briefly, maybe 5-10 seconds.)
8 oz plain flour
1/2 tsp salt

Put these into a bowl, use a knife to chop the butter up into small blocks about the size of a pea, then use your finger tips to mix the butter in completely.  The mixutre will look a bit like fine breadcrumbs at this point, depending a bit on how hot it is where you are. If it's a very hot day you may find the mixture is soft enough to stick together, in which case you can stop here.  Probably however it'll still be loose crumbs, so in this case add no more than 2 tablespoons of cold water and mix in, using the knife, adding only the minimum amount of water required to get it to stick together. (Note: flour + water = paste.  This is not tasty.  Flour + butter = shortbread.  This is yummy.  Therefore, the less water you add, the more tender and tasty your pastry will be.)

The pastry will still look fairly crumbly but can be carefully rolled out into a sheet, or just shaped by hand. For tarts I don't usually bother rolling out the pastry but just shape it to the baking dish - I used fancy little tart dishes here because these are for a dinner party, but you can use almost anything - muffin/cupcake tins work well for example.  Use your fingers to push the pastry smoothly into the dishes/muffin tin, and stick it in the fridge to wait while you make the filling.

Clockwise from top right:  pastry ready to be pressed into the dish; pastry ready for filling; pastry with walnuts; filled tart ready to bake.

There is no need to grease or spray the dishes before putting the pastry in, since it contains so much butter it should be easy to remove as long as the sugary insides didn't overflow and turn to sugar cement; and if that happens all the greasing in the world won't prevent them from welding themselves to the dish. If you have a little sugar overflow and are using something smooth edged like a muffin tin, try using a sharp knife to gently slide down the sides and ensure the tarts can spin slightly in place while they are still hot, which will make them much easier to remove when cool.

Butter Tart Filling

4 oz butter (softened, as above)
8 oz light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice
1 egg
chopped walnuts (optional)

Mix together in a bowl (don't need a mixer, just a spoon). Put into the pastry shells, fill them only about 2/3 full as the filling will expand a bit and bubble while cooking. Add some chopped walnuts into each tart if you like, this is optional.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 400 F. When the pastry is just starting to turn colour but not too brown, and the filling should have significantly darkened, they are good to go. (They can be taken out earlier, but this will leave a liquid filling in the center which is still tasty but more dangerous to eat!)  Let them cool to room temperature, or refrigerate them for about an hour, before eating them.

This recipe made exactly enough for 6 tarts this size.  It will make 8-10 using standard muffin tins, or even more using mini muffin tins (and these are very rich, so smaller may be better).
This is what they looked like directly after removing from the oven:

And this is what they look like when cool.

Depending on the size of the dishes or muffin pans you use, you may end up with either extra filling or extra pastry.  Both can be separately frozen in air tight containers and thawed to cook later.


  1. That reminds me a lot of pecan pie filling!

  2. It's quite similar to pecan pie, but obviously, without the pecans! Butter and sugar, pure simple deliciousness =)