Friday, November 12, 2010

butter tarts

This recipe is more than half a century old.

I wrote it out on a recipe card, copying it from my great aunt Marjorie’s recipe card. On her card (and now mine), the back says, “Original recipe from Elva Doyle in South Arm Cookbook, 1950?”

Elva’s recipe is simple and quick. The only patience comes in rolling out that pie pastry.

But these butter tarts are worth it.

They are full of hidden gems: currants, raisins, pecans . . . even figs and dates. They hide in a gooey, buttery filling that is the perfect foil to their flaky pie pastry crust.

Butter tarts are meant to be pantry food. Bake a batch, put them in a tin, and let them ripen. After a couple days, the character of the brown sugar starts to shine and their velvety centre tastes richer and darker than ever.

And did you know that butter tarts are enjoying a resurgence as a uniquely Canadian food? I say, anything I can bake and eat to bump doughnuts and poutine down the list, and I’ll be a proud Canuck.


A note about the filling:
Yes, you can choose whatever you like. For this batch, I used 3/4 c. raisins, 1/3 c. currants and 1/4 c. pecans.

A note for the gluten-free:
Gluten-free pastry crust tastes good, but is more difficult to work with. I’d recommend making small tarts with a special tart shaper device. I have a wooden tart shaper that I cover in GF flour and then use to push a ball of dough into each tart cup. This is much easier than rolling it out and transferring fragile circles of dough into the tart cups.

butter tarts

bakes 48 small tarts, about 12 – 14 big tarts

2 eggs
2 c. brown sugar
2 tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter, melted
1 1/3 c. currants, raisins, dates, figs or nuts, chopped
regular or gluten-free pie pastry (enough to make a double-crust pie)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Make pastry and chill in the fridge.

In another bowl, beat eggs just until the whites and yolks are blended well.

Beat in sugar. Stir in vinegar, vanilla and salt and mix well.

Stir in melted butter and fruit and nuts. Set aside.

Pull the chilled pastry out and roll out circles or make small balls you can smoosh with a tart shaper. Put them in muffin or mini-muffin tins.

Fill with butter tart filling, leaving about 1/4 to 1/8 inch from the pastry top for it to grow.

Bake regular tarts at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 350 and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the filling is firm.

For mini tarts, bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 350 and bake for 7 – 9 minutes, until the filling is firm.

Let cool before removing from pans.


  1. These look lovely, and thanks for the tip to store them to let the flavour improve. But here's a funny thing...we have something very similar in Scotland called "Ecclefechan Tart" - just without the vanilla. I wonder if that is a distant relative?

    1. Well, thank you for introducing me to the Ecclefechan tart! I had never heard of it, but now I'm quite intrigued. (I would also like to plan a trip to Ecchlefechan, Scotland to try the original.)

      I think our butter tarts must be a colonized version of Ecclefechan. Besides the vanilla, the only difference is that we always make ours small (although not always super-small, like in my photos) and we use plain vinegar.

      Your Ecclefechan tart looks lovely, by the way. If anyone else would like to see it, it's here: Here's to butter tarts and Ecclefechan tart!