Plumb Tasty Butter Tarts

Plumb tasteless. That's how Colonel Sanders described his experience with Canadian cuisine back in 1957 to CBC reporter Joe Taylor. The Colonel felt that Canadian food was 'bland, lacking the proper seasonings and condiments to compliment the dishes.' To be fair, he did say that most of the US was afflicted by 'listless chicken'. You can hear the six minute interview by visiting this link to the CBC archives:

Oh, how far we have come. When I think of KFC these days, my stomach does not revel in "11 herbs and spices", but begins to recoil in horror. We don't call it 'the dirty bird' for nothing. I used to live across the street from a KFC, and remember the smell wafting thick through the air on my way home from school. The smell is deceiving - it seems like a good idea until the pit of your stomach begins to protest. I won't go farther down the digestive tract, although I think we know what the result is.

So here we are, half a century later, and I'm thinking about how ironic it is that KFC is now a staple of many a Canadian's diet. Alas, I take issue with Harland Saunder's opinion; Canadian cuisine, much like Canada itself, is diverse. Our dishes are regional and local, often telling a story of immigration and adaptation to the massive land and sea that defines our boundaries. For me, some of my favorite meals are those that connect me to the history of Nova Scotia, like haddock, scallops and lobster, corned beef and cabbage, or roast beef with yorkshire pudding. I am a fan of rappie pie, an Acadian specialty made with a potato crust. I can also say as far as 'junk food' goes, the Halifax donair rivals KFC any day. (Although, a donair is a treat to enjoy in moderation. It also deserves a post of its own!)

Like the sterotypical Canadian character, we take for granted the roots of our cuisine and often are unaware of what defines us. I experienced this over the week after making homemade butter tarts. Butter tarts are a unique Canadian treat. I was surprised that most of my friends and coworkers were not aware of this fact. The history of the butter tart is not well documented, although the oldest recipe goes back to 1915 out of Northern Ontario. It is similar to pecan pie, or French-Canadian sugar pie, but not exact. Nonetheless, the recipe represents the coming together of culinary traditions into something new.

The perfect butter tart is a matter for national debate. There are a few essentials that define a butter tart - a pastry crust, and a filling made with butter, sugar, and eggs, often with additions like raisins, nuts or coconut. I have seen a few recipes made with maple syrup, but the purists will tell you that brown sugar is to be blended with the butter, not syrup. Corn syrup is sometimes used, particularly for those who like a 'runny' tart. Personally, I prefer a more stiff tart, and my recipe adds walnuts. So, here is my quintessential Canadian butter tart - which is most certainly, plumb tasty:

Pastry - Pate Brisee 
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 stick butter, chilled
6-8 tbsp ice water

1/3 cup softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup light cream (10% m.f.)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

To prepare the pastry, combine the flour, salt and sugar, and add the chilled butter in a food processor, and pulse until the mix is pea sized. (I used a pastry blender by hand, and blended until this consistency.) Gradually add the water until the dough holds together. Chill the dough for at least 20 minutes. When ready, roll out, and use a cup to cut out circles, which you'll place in a muffin tin. This is the tart shell, and you'll get about 12 or so.

To make the filling, cream the butter and sugar first, next add the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla. Stir in the cream. Place the walnuts at the bottom of each tart shell, and pour the filling into each shell. Bake the tarts at 375F for 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden, and the filling is set. The walnuts will rise to the top, and you'll see a gorgeous sugary crust form over the top of the tart. If you decide to use raisins, be sure to soak them prior to lining the tart, so that they are nice and plump when you bite into this heavenly piece of Canadiana.

Colonel Saunders - eat your heart out!


  1. Enjoyed your post, as always. Now KFC - I'll hold my counsel and with hold my opinion.

    Butter Tarts are not as unknown as you might think - I've made them and I love them, finding them a worthy rival to both Pecan Pie and Treacle Tart. And there is a little corner fry shop here in our tiny, sun drenched island that sells....wait for it.... Poutine!! It's my secret vice. But in all honesty, I've exhausted my store of knowledge on Canadian cuisine LOL

    Looking forward to more enlightenment courtesy of your next post :)

  2. I'm drooling... They look lovely! Good job on the pastry.

    I have a recipe for cranberry pecan butter tarts. I must make them soon.

  3. I just started making butter tarts and now wonder why I waited so long! Just made a batch today with both raisins and pecans. Soooo heavenly!! Will try your recipe next time...thanks for posting


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