As a red-blooded Canuckistanian gal, I get the occasional craving for that wholly Canadian of treats, the butter tart. I used to make butter tarts fairly often as a kid because they were my Dad’s favourite treat, but I can’t actually recall making a batch since I moved out of my parents’ house in 1987. It’s not that they’re necessarily difficult to make, it’s just that, like most pastry items, I never really want a full batch. Generally I want one butter tart, maybe two, not twelve. So I tend to buy the things, preferably at bakeries where I can get a limited number and where they’re decently tasty.
My recent craving happened when I was nowhere near a decent bakery and a stroll through the bakery department of my admittedly low-end supermarket offered the option of a half-dozen of some pretty sad looking tarts, with an ingredient list that scared the beejeezus out of me.
At home, I realized that I don’t actually have a butter tart recipe. Not a one. I’ve got plenty of recipes for maple syrup pie/tarts, and I can drag out a number of books with southern-style pecan pie recipes, but none of those are butter tarts. So I turned to the intarwebs, but it got even more confusing.
Apparently I’m not the only person who can’t find a decent butter tart recipe because there’s an awful lot of people out there making butter tarts using pecan pie filling. You can tell this by looking at the ingredients. Southern pecan pie uses corn syrup for that oozy gooey runny centre. Real butter tarts do not.
Once I had weeded out the pecan pie recipes from the butter tart recipes, most of the what I found seemed to have roughly the same ingredients; butter, brown sugar, eggs, a bit of salt and some kind of acid – lemon juice or apple cider vinegar were the most common. What was striking were the variance in proportions. I found recipes that called for a full cup of butter for 12 tarts (!!!) and other recipes that used only a Tablespoon – the diet version, perhaps?
I finally settled on one that called for a quarter cup of butter, which sounded reasonable in proportion to the other ingredients. It also called for maple syrup and vanilla which were nice flavour additions, although next time, I might go with rum instead of vanilla, especially for the raisin-topped ones.
As always, my pie crust was crap. I found a couple of recipes that called for sweet pastry like pate sucre, but that seemed like a sweetness overload. Butter tarts need a neutral pastry to balance the sugar from the filling. Pate sucre might have been easier to work with, though, as would a pate brisee, but I like the contrast of a butter-based filling and a shortening-based pastry. Butter filling and butter pastry, especially a sweet pastry, would just be too much.
I wasn’t completely happy with these. Again, my crust was crap and I didn’t get enough high heat on it at the beginning so in the time it took the pastry to cook, the filling was slightly overcooked. I need to play with these a bit and work on proportions. But the filling flavour was great – gorgeously caramelly with the maple undertone coming through nicely. Now that I’ve remembered how easy they are, I absolutely have to perfect these and get them just right.