When my niece was in college in Canada, we now and then visited her there and made sure to take her to a meal. We would try quite hard to find a place that offered the Canadian butter tarts for dessert. These are one of Canada’s finest national creations, in my view.
My grandmother, who lived in Canada for a while, also made a version of the butter tart, though she used maple syrup instead of corn syrup. In fact, it is likely the butter tart evolved from pastries made with maple syrup. The tart strongly suggests the South’s classic pecan pie but is even more delectable by being a gooey sweetness surrounded by pastry.
Here are two recipes of the tart, both guaranteed to impress your friends and family. You will want to make them on special occasions and, if making a pastry crust is more time-consuming than you’d like, try the phyllo crust version or adapt a ready-made refrigerator crust to the task. (Just make sure to roll the dough out to a thinner thickness before cutting into muffin-sized rounds. For these tarts, thin and light is best.)
CLASSIC BUTTER TART
Slightly runny but fully yummy filling in a thin pastry crust
2 C flour
1 C shortening
1 tsp salt
1 Tbls vinegar
2 Tbls cold water
1 egg, stirred
1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 C corn syrup
1 Tbls melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 C raisins (optional, or can be mixed/replaced with chopped pecans or walnuts)
To make pastry:
Blend the shortening, salt and flour with a pastry cutter, or two knives, until you’ve created a uniform mixture that is crumbly and about the size of frozen peas.
In a separate bowl, mix 1 egg, 1 tablespoon white vinegar and 2 tablespoon cold water. Add to shortening and flour mixture. Mix all ingredients together, but only until just mixed and no more. (The key to flaky pastry is not to over handle the dough while mixing.)
Once mixed, make a ball of the dough and wrap in cellophane. Place in freezer for 10-15 minutes. Roll out the dough onto a floured surface to about 1/4 in or less. Using a cookie cutter or a jar lid or a large-mouthed glass, cut out circles from the dough. Press dough circles into a lightly-buttered muffin tin.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, mix together the corn syrup, brown sugar, melted butter and egg until well blended. Add vanilla and stir in raisins. Spoon filling into pastry shell to just below the rim. Bake at 400 for about 10 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm or cool, topped with whipped cream, if desired. Makes about a dozen tarts.
EASY PHYLLO BUTTER TARTS
Phyllo sheets make a light, flaky pastry substitute
6 sheets frozen phyllo pastry, thawed
3 Tbls melted butter
½ C packed brown sugar
½ C corn syrup
2 Tbls melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp fresh lemon juice or 1/4 tsp concentrated lemon juice
1/3 C coarsely chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the phyllo pastry between two sheets of waxed paper and cover with a damp tea towel. Place one sheet on a work surface, keeping the remaining sheets covered. Brush the phyllo with some of the melted butter; top with a second sheet. Continue stacking the sheets of phyllo, brushing each with melted butter, until you have a stack of 6. Brush the top sheet well with butter. Cut into 12 even squares. Press the squares evenly into 12 muffin cups.
In a bowl, beat the egg well with a fork or whisk, then mix in sugar, corn syrup, butter, vanilla and lemon juice. Stir in the nuts. Spoon the filling evenly into the prepared phyllo cups, being careful not to let the filling come up above the pastry. (They will appear about half full.)
Bake in the bottom third of the oven until the pastry is golden, about 15 minutes. Place the pan on a rack to cool completely. Top with whipped cream, if desired. Makes 12 tarts.