Canada 150: Butter Tarts




Okay the Birthday Bash is over, but let’s not forget that Canada is still whooping it up this summer, and we are celebrating all things Canadian all this year. And what better way to celebrate than by indulging in perhaps that most iconic of Canadian pastries, the Butter Tart.

The Collins English Dictionary describes the butter tart as “one of the few pastries with a genuinely Canadian origin.”

A butter tart is a small pastry tart, which generally consists of butter, sugar, syrup, and egg, filled into a flaky pastry and baked until the filling is semi-solid with a crunchy top.- Canadian 

 Who knew that such a seemingly innocent little tart was capable of creating such a stir! In a country this vast we are bound to have certain touchstones that elicit visceral reactions; historical and political events that both unite us and engender debate, sporting events and teams that the whole country can rally around during playoff time, the on-going posturing skirmishes between East and West for bragging rights. Canadians love a good debate, and in this regard the humble butter tart is the source of many a rousing and impassioned disputation. It all boils down to this: raisins. Do they belong in a butter tart or not? The Trojan War may have started with an apple, but the Butter Tart War starts-and ends-with a raisin.


Friend or foe?

Friend or foe?


 The first published recipe came in 1900 with The Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook. However, the origin is believed to be much older, most likely the result of the filles du roi (King’s Daughters), in which approximately 800 young women were sent to Québec from France between 1663 and 1673 to help colonize. These young ladies brought with them their traditional European recipes but were forced to adapt them according to what was available. The sugar pie, a single-crust pie with a filling made from flour, butter, salt, vanilla, and cream, is a likely precursor to the butter

And let’s not forget nuts, yes, there are some misguided souls who insist on putting nuts, typically pecans or walnuts in their tarts. To them this is an essential part of the butter tart experience, but to purists it is sacrilege. In my opinion, butter tarts have raisins. Not too many, it’s not raisin pie. But a few. A butter tart without raisins is Like Anne Shirley without freckles. Anne without an E. There’s something missing.


Amybeth McNulty, 14, who portrays Anne Shirley in the CBC/Netflix "Anne'' production, said she first read the "Anne of Green Gables'' series when she was nine. McNulty added that she shares many traits withy Lucy Maud Montgomery's feisty heroine.


Is it a regional thing? Is it historical or personal? Is there any way to change someone’s mind about this important issue? Can a Habs fan become a Leafs fan? These are all deeply Canadian issues that cut to our National quick. Happily for all of us, there is room in our Great Canadian Butter Tart loving hearts and tummies for a little innocuous variation on the theme, and we do forgive a minor transgression, we are a magnanimous people.

Now if you want to decide truly and definitively for yourself, I will be hosting “The Great Canadian Butter Tart Battle” at The Drake Hotel, Monday, July 24 at 7 p.m. Top pastry chefs from Buca Yorkville, Café Bouloud, OB Events, Mabels and The Bruce will be duking it out for Butter Tart supremacy. Will there be raisins, will there be nuts? Will a butter tart change your mind and your life? The answers to these and more life affirming questions can be found Monday night. Admission is free. In the meantime, why not have a go at making your own butter tart and seeing how it compares to Toronto’s best? Here is Courtney Ralph’s recipe from the Canadian Encyclopedia. She suggests using a flaky pie crust for the tarts, but you could use your favourite recipe or even frozen, pre-made shells.

Butter Tarts

Makes 16

1/2 cup of raisins

1/4 cup soft butter

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 pinch of salt

1/2 cup of corn syrup

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Soften the butter, which you can do by leaving it on the stovetop overnight or in the oven with the bulb on. With a wooden spoon, mix it with brown sugar, salt, and corn syrup. Stir well until the sugar is dissolved and the butter creamed. Then add egg and vanilla bean and mix well. Soak the raisins so they’re not dry. Reconstitute whatever dried fruit you use in tepid water for about 30 minutes. Divide the mixture and raisins equally and dump it into the tart and bake it at 400°F for about 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and bubbly.


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