Citizens, there is so much to appreciate about our neighbor to the North – the great country of Canada! – that I am at a loss as to where to begin! That said, few things represent a better starting point than this culinary touchpoint for all Canucks – butter tarts! 🙂
A butter tart is a type of small pastry tart – highly regarded in Canadian cuisine and considered one of Canada’s quintessential treats.
The sweet tart consists of a filling of butter, sugar, syrup, and egg, baked in a pastry shell until the filling is semi-solid with a crunchy top. The butter tart should not be confused with butter pie (a savory pie from the Preston area of Lancashire, England) or with bread and butter pudding.
Recipes for the butter tart vary according to the families baking them. Because of this, the appearance and physical characteristics of the butter tart – the firmness of its pastry, or the consistency of its filling – also vary.
Traditionally, the English Canadian tart consists of butter, sugar, and eggs in a pastry shell, similar to the French-Canadian sugar pie, or the base of the U.S. pecan pie without the nut topping. The butter tart is different from pecan pie in that it has a “runnier” filling due to the omission of corn starch.
Often raisins, walnuts or pecans are added to the traditional butter tart. However, purists contend that such additions should not be allowed – TFD Himself is a happy heretic when it comes to these additions!
Butter tarts were common in pioneer Canadian cooking, and they remain a characteristic pastry of Canada, considered a recipe of genuinely Canadian origin. It is primarily eaten in and associated with the English-speaking provinces of Canada.
The earliest published Canadian recipe is from Barrie, Ontario, dating back to 1900 and can be found in The Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook, to which a Mrs. Mary Ethel MacLeod submitted the recipe for a butter tart filling. The original cookbook and recipe is housed at the Simcoe County Archives.
Another early publication of a butter tart recipe was found in a 1915 pie cookbook. The food was an integral part of early Canadian cuisine and often viewed as a source of pride.
Butter tarts are an integral part of Eastern Canadian cuisine and are objects of cultural pride of many communities across Ontario and indeed Canada.
This cultural and community connection with the tart has spawned butter tart themed tourism such as the Butter Tart festival at Muskoka Lakes, Ontario, the trademarked “Butter Tart Trail” at Wellington North, Ontario, and the “Butter Tart Tour” in Kawarthas Northumberland, Ontario.
The two competing associations have since resolved their dispute through the mutual agreement to modify “The Butter Tart Tour” to “Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour”.
The first Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour Taste-Off was launched at the Flavour Festival in Peterborough on Sunday, April 28, 2013, where four bakeries were crowned winners by a panel of celebrity judges.
Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival and Contest is an annual event held in Midland, Ontario. The contest portion of the festival attracts bakers from across Ontario, and is Canada’s largest butter tart themed celebration, with over 50,000 tarts sold in the festival market in 2014.
Even National Geographic recognizes the significance of the butter tart in an article on Georgian Bay, Ontario. In October 2013, referring to a stand in Wasaga Beach, they stated that “It’s the homemade Canadian butter tarts – flaky crust with gooey pecan filling – that set this place apart from other lakeside ice cream stands.”
My foundation recipe for these sweet treats was from canadianliving.com – with a few TFD-specific tweaks. For starters, I use a bit of melted bacon fat in the pastry shells to add a hint of smoke to help cut the sweetness. I also added a huge hit of nutmeg into the pastry shell as well. Then, I substituted dried cranberries for the currants in the original recipe, as I prefer their tartness.
Lastly, I make a huge nod to Newfoundland (perhaps my favorite province!) in this recipe – Newfies traditionally added a lashing of their beloved canned cream to top their butter tarts and I emulate their fine example! How seriously do Newfies take their canned cream? Read this!
Since their favored brand – known as Fussel’s- has recently been subsumed into Nestlé, I have gone one step beyond to find a replacement. I call for instead – wait for it! – canned evaporated goat’s milk! I normally prefer cow milk for most recipes, but the faint hazelnut taste of goat’s milk helps complement the nuttiness of the tart while also helping to cut the richness. Feel free to just use regular evaporated milk if you want, but I think the goat works well here. This is my preferred brand.
I have every confidence you will enjoy this delicacy of the North, my Citizens!
Battle on – The Generalissimo