Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Tutorial and Recipe: Butter Tarts

Image courtesy of Canadian Living Magazine
Butter tarts are an iconic Canadian dessert, as Canadian as Nanaimo bars, in fact (although we'll talk about those in another post).

There are tons of recipes for butter tarts out there; the simplest and easiest call for the baker to use pre-made tart shells found in the grocery store freezer section. The more complicated recipes call for making one's own pastry dough as well as the filling, and essentially require the baker to keep very aware of temperatures and timing; it's important to understand the components of pastry dough and the best way to roll and rest your pastry so it comes out flaky and buttery, not tough and oily.

Of course, since it was my wedding and I am proud of my baking, I opted for the latter method.

Because it's not like I had anything else to do. /sarcasm

I opted for the recipe below because of its stable, "jelly-like" filling, as opposed to the ooey-gooey filling that is my personal favourite, mainly because I worried that the gooey tarts might drip too much, and I didn't want anyone to get their lovely wedding frocks all dirty!  

I have included two gooey filling recipes at the bottom if you prefer those, like I do!



Butter Tarts  
Original recipe courtesy of Stephanie Jaworski at The Joy of Baking

Makes 12 - 4" tarts or 24 - 2" tarts


Pate Brisee (Short Crust Pastry):

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1" pieces
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup ice water

In a food processor, place the flour, salt, and sugar and process until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal (about 15 seconds). Pour 1/8 cup water in a slow, steady stream, through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched.  If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 seconds.


Turn the dough onto your lightly flour dusted work surface and gather into a ball. Flatten into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about one hour before using. This will chill the butter and relax the gluten in the flour (this is called "resting" the dough). You can make this in advance and keep it chilled for up to 3 days at this point.


After the dough has chilled sufficiently, place on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to no ticker than 1/8" thick, and cut 12-4" rounds (or 24-2" rounds if making mini tarts). To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll (always roll from the center of the pastry outwards). Gently place the rounds into a 12-cup muffin/24-cup mini muffin tin. Do not stretch or overwork the dough to fit; ease the pieces in and work carefully and quickly to smooth the dough along the top edges. Do this quickly to avoid heating up and melting the butter in the dough.

Cover and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm up the dough. Next, make the filling.


Butter Tart Filling (firm):

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half cream (10% butterfat)
  • 1/2 cup raisins or 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts (toasted and chopped) (optional)


In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla extract. Stir in the cream. If using nuts and/or raisins, place a small amount (to taste) in the bottom of each tart shell and then fill the unbaked tart shells 3/4 full with the filling. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for about 15 - 20 minutes or until the pastry has nicely browned and the filling is set. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 1 minute; run metal spatula around tarts to loosen, then carefully slide spatula under tarts and transfer to rack to let cool. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Butter Tart Filling (gooey)
Original recipe courtesy of Canadian Living Magazine

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) corn syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) butter, softened
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vinegar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) currants or raisins or chopped pecans or shredded coconut
Whisk together brown sugar, corn syrup, egg, butter, vanilla, vinegar and salt until blended; set aside.  Divide currants etc. among shells. Spoon in filling until three-quarters full.
Bake in bottom third of 450 degree F oven until filling is puffed and bubbly and pastry is golden, about 12 minutes. Let stand on rack for 1 minute. Run metal spatula around tarts to loosen; carefully slide spatula under tarts and transfer to rack to let cool.


Maple Butter Tart Filling (gooey)
Original recipe courtesy of Canadian Living Magazine
  •  3/4 cup (175 mL) packed brown sugar 
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) maple syrup, (No. 1 medium grade) 
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) butter, melted 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) cider vinegar 
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt 
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped walnut halves, dried currants, golden raisins (or a mixture)
Whisk together brown sugar, maple syrup, butter, eggs, vinegar and salt. Divide walnuts, currants and raisins among pastry shells. Spoon scant 1/4 cup filling into each shell.
Bake in 350?F (180?C) oven until filling is set and pastry is golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Run thin knife around edges to release tarts. Let cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Transfer to rack; let cool completely.