Thanksgiving Pie-stravaganza P.1: The Butter Tarts

I made so much pie at Thanksgiving. I realize it’s been literally months since Thanksgiving ended here in Canada (though certainly less for any Americans out there!) but let’s not get into that.

Let’s get into BUTTER TARTS.

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Butter tarts are a Canadian delicacy. I’ve wanted to make them since the start of this project, but figured I would wait until a time of year when there was less amazing seasonal Ontario fruit to use up, since butter tarts really only require butter and sugar. If you haven’t had a butter tart before (you again, are you American?) you can just imagine it as a miniature pecan pie, without the nuts. It’s a caramelized sugar custard pie. I don’t really have a sweet tooth (probably surprising for a pie blogger) and butter tarts do send my blood sugar skyrocketing, but they are a thing I love.

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Thanksgiving at my family’s house is always a big deal, at least it has been for the past several years. Since about 2008 my aunt, uncle, and cousins who all live in the U.S. come up for Canadian Thanksgiving to celebrate with us and have a visit. This year, for the first time, another bunch of cousins and family from my mom’s side came as well – we had about 15 people at our house for Thanksgiving. It was really fun. My uncle Phil, who is from the U.S. clan, is French-Canadian and grew up in Northern Ontario. When I told my mom that I was thinking about making butter tarts at Thanksgiving she told me that Phil always buys butter tarts when he’s in Canada because he loves them so much, so this would be way better.

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The thing about most butter tarts out there – much like most pecan pie – is that they are made with corn syrup. Now it is true that corn syrup is just about the worst kind of sweetener out there, health-wise. And that is a concern of mine. But worst of all, for me, is that corn syrup really has no flavour. It’s just sweet. There’s no depth. I don’t use it in my pies, that would be a disservice to pie everywhere. If a recipe calls for corn syrup, I always use maple syrup. Real maple syrup. Put it in your butter tarts, put it in your pecan pie. You won’t be sorry.

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Butter Tarts – recipe adapted from Anna Olson. Makes 12. I doubled it and made 24. So many butter tarts. 

  • one double crust batch of pastry.
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar.
  • 3/4 cup real maple syrup.
  • 1/2 cup salted butter, melted.
  • 2 large eggs.
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice (or white vinegar).
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract.
  • OPTIONAL: raisins or nuts or other accoutrements, if you’re into that kind of thing in your butter tarts.

For the pastry: Instead of flattening your pastry into a round disc before chilling (the way you would do for a pie), roll it into two logs. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour or more. When chilled, slice each log into six even rounds. Each of these slices will make the crust for one butter tart. Flour your counter and roll out each small round – your crust will be thicker than it would normally be for pie. Transfer dough to a muffin pan and line the inside of one muffin spot with pastry. You want the dough to extend a centimetre or so above the pan, because your butter tarts filling will expand as it cooks. Trim off excess dough. Repeat with remaining pastry. Put the whole muffin pan with pastry into the fridge (or better, the freezer!) and chill again. Preheat the oven to 400.

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Melt butter and sugar together in a saucepan on medium heat. Remove from heat and whisk in maple syrup. Whisk in eggs, then vanilla and lemon juice. If you are adding raisins or nuts to your tarts, place them in the bottom of each pastry shell before adding filling. I made 24 tarts and made 12 with raisins and 12 without anything added. For the raisin ones I meticulously counted out 8 Thompson raisins and added them to each shell. Pour the filling into the pastry shells, filling about 2/3 of the pastry. Bake at 400 for 5 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375 and bake for another 20 minutes or so, until the filling begins to dome. Remove from oven and set the pans on a cooling rack. After 5 minutes, run a butter knife around the edge of each tart to loosen them from the pan. Let cool before removing from the pan. Store in the fridge, but bring up to room temperature before serving. Have with a cup of strong black coffee for the ultimate yum.

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