Top 10 Foods: Past & Present – #7 Butter Tart Controversy
photo by Alyssa Bistonath

Any Canadian in possession of a sweet tooth will agree that biting into a warm, gooey butter tart is a moment of pure bliss.  This quintessential piece of culinary Canadiana is not only one of the country’s most beloved recipes, but also one of its most contested; the pastry, filling consistency, and additives vary from family to family, and when it comes to preference, it’s often “Grandma’s way” or no way at all.

Although it bears some resemblance to the British treacle tart and the Southern Pecan Pie, the butter tart has a distinct history of its own. When the French filles du roi were sent to New France to marry settlers in the1600’s, they were confronted with sparse pantries in their new homes. Making use of what they had, these young brides were thought to have concocted a filling for tarts using maple syrup or sugar, fresh butter, and dried fruits. The result was a precursor to both the Quebecois sugar pie and the English-Canadian butter tart. One of the earliest recipes for a butter tart can be found in the Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook printed in 1900 in Barrie, Ontario. Attributed to a Mrs. Malcolm MacLeod and entitled simply “filling for tarts,” the recipe called for pastry shells filled with a mixture of sugar, butter, eggs, and currants.

With such a small list of ingredients, one might think it would be difficult to create a variation while still maintaining the elements of a traditional butter tart. This, however, is not the case. The debate rages on as to whether the pastry should be flaky or shortbread-like, whether the filling should be firm or runny, and whether raisins and other additives enhance or detract from the flavor. As writer Sarah Brown stated, there are three things which most Canadians have strong opinions on: religion, politics and butter tarts: “Never should these words, or any reference to them, be mentioned in social gatherings unless waging bloody battle is the intended result.”

Whether you love or hate raisins, prefer your filling oozing or set, or have simply never sampled a butter tart, we guarantee you’ll love these award-winning tarts from Capital Chef Doug Fletcher, which won Best Dessert in the Capital Cutting Board Chef Challenge at Dwell on Design 2012. Co-sponsored by Capital Cooking & American Standard, Capital’s booth was turned into a live kitchen for spectators & media alike. This pro chef showdown saw Chef Doug Fletcher battle with celebrity Chef Jamie Gwen to develop a main course and a dessert that includes one secret ingredient announced to them at the beginning of the challenge (bacon!). The chefs demonstrated their culinary prowess while entertaining and offer cooking tips and techniques to the audience.

Butter Tarts with Chocolate Covered Bacon   Two-Crust Pie Dough • 2 1/4 cups cake and pastry flour • 2 tablespoons sugar • 3/4 teaspoon salt • 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces • 6 tablespoons cold water • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar   Butter Tarts • 1/2 cup unsalted butter • 1 cup packed dark brown • 2 large eggs • 1/2 cup maple syrup • 1 tablespoon lemon juice • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract • 1/4 teaspoon salt • 1/2 cup lightly toasted pecan pieces • 2 strips of bacon • 2 oz semi-sweet chocolate     Directions Bacon

  • Fry bacon until crispy. Set on paper towel to dry and cool.  Melt chocolate over double boiler. With pastry brush paint bacon with melted chocolate and set on wire rack to cool.

Two-Crust Pie Dough

  • Stir the flour, sugar and salt to combine in a bowl or using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cut in the butter by hand with a pastry cutter or on low speed until just small pieces of butter are visible and the mixture as a whole just begins to take on a pale yellow colour (indicating that the butter has been worked in sufficiently).
  • Stir the water and lemon juice together and add this to the dough all at once, mixing until the dough just comes together. Shape the dough into 2 discs, wrap and chill for at least 2 hours before rolling. Alternatively, the dough can be frozen for up to 3 months and thawed in the fridge before rolling.

• Shape into 2 logs and chill.   Butter Tarts

  • Preheat the oven to 400 F and lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Pull the chilled dough from the fridge 20 minutes before rolling.
  • Cut each of the logs of chilled pie dough into 6 pieces. Roll each piece out on a lightly floured work surface to just under a ¼-inch thick and use a 4 ½ inch round cookie cutter to cut each into a circle. Line each muffin cup with the pastry so that it comes about ½-inch higher than the muffin tin, and chill the lined tin while preparing the filling.
  • Melt the butter and brown sugar in a sauce pot over medium heat, stirring until the mixture is bubbling. Remove the pot from the heat.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with the maple syrup, lemon juice, vanilla and salt and slowly pour in the hot sugar mixture while whisking constantly until incorporated. Sprinkle a few pecan pieces into the bottom of each tart shells and ladle or pour the filling into each shell.
  • Bake the tarts for 10 minutes at 400 F, then reduce the oven temperature to 375 F and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the crust edges have browned. Cool the tarts in the tin and after about 5 minutes, carefully twist them around in the pan to prevent sticking and keep them in the pan until completely cooled.
  • Chop bacon and garnish tarts with bacon.
  • The butter tarts should be stored refrigerated but are best served at room temperature. The tarts can be stored chilled for up to 3 days.