Quintessentially Canadian

(Photo credit: Algoma Country)

Oh, Butter Tart, We Stand on Guard for Thee

This may be the most delicious anatomy and history lesson you'll ever read.



Article aussi offert en français

I hesitated to write this article because everyone writes about butter tarts.

But when asked to write one, I still hesitated. And then wrote one anyway.

Let’s assume you reading this already know what a butter tart is. If you do, skip this next paragraph. But for those who don’t know what a butter tart is, read on:

ANATOMY OF A BUTTER TART

A butter tart is not complicated in any way, shape, or form. It’s a simple, tasty Canadian dessert. It’s similar to pecan pie, or Quebec’s sugar pie. And in Canada, we are obsessed with butter tarts.

The basic recipe is simple: flaky pastry in a tart shape, sugar, egg, syrup, and butter. It’s then baked and gets a crunchy top. Common add-ins are pecans, raisins, shredded coconut (don’t ever add shredded coconut… just… no). There are twists on butter tarts like the bacon butter tart, and it’s become a flavour in other desserts such as butter tart ice cream or butter tart cheesecake. In my personal opinion just a simple, nothing-fancy butter tart is the best butter tart. But do as you wish.

butter tart with bite

BUTTER TART CULTURE IN ONTARIO

In Ontario, there are dedicated butter tart trails that lead to bakeries, and festivals where people compete to make the tastiest butter tart ever (The Butter Tart Fest or Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival).

In researching this article, I even learned that in 2013, National Geographic noted our butter tart love in an article about Georgian Bay.

And yes, there are people who specifically seek out the best-tasting butter tart, at every place they travel in Ontario.

THE HISTORY OF THE BUTTER TART

Because Canada is not a melting pot but a place where we celebrate different nationalities and cultures, there are very few traditional Canadian recipes. Butter tarts were common in Canadian pioneer cooking. The earliest published recipe for a butter tart is from Barrie, Ontario dating back to 1900 in the Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook. According to my research, another early published recipe was found in a 1915 pie cookbook.

The fact I found the most interesting: 

"According to thecanadianencyclopedia.ca… 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 tart.” And there are those who say the Scots should lay claim to the tart’s identity, given they create a similar treat. 

I learned all these facts from an article from the Toronto Sun published in June, 2017.

two butter tarts

BUTTER TART CULTURE IN ALGOMA COUNTRY

Traditionally, butter tarts are made with corn syrup. But in Algoma Country, our favourite choice of syrup is fresh maple syrup. That’s one of the secrets of butter tarts in our region. (But if you ask for someone’s pastry recipe, you’ll probably get a dirty look. Those are super secret.)

I’m sure you’re getting really excited about eating butter tarts. Especially if you’ve had them and know the deliciousness that awaits from the first bite. And the next question you might ask, with large hopeful doe eyes, is: Does Algoma Country have a butter tart trail? Nope. 

So, how do you find a butter tart in Algoma Country? Well, we’ll start you with a list of places that 100% have butter tarts; but you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you learn that many locally owned restaurants, bakeries and even some family-owned convenience stores sell them as well. And half the fun is discovering them. 

Our Favourite Butter Tart Stops in Algoma Country

These are just some of the butter tart stops in our region. If you have a favourite butter tart stop in our region, email us at info@algomacountry.com and we’ll add it to the list below.

Bobber’s Restaurant, Bruce Mines
Tazzi’s Café, Sault Ste. Marie
Sandro’s Restaurant, Sault Ste. Marie 
Aurora’s West Side, Sault Ste. Marie
Voyageurs’ Lodge & Cookhouse, Batchawana Bay
Jo-Anna’s Bakery, Thessalon
A Touch of Home, Blind River
Thyne’s Family Bakery, Sault Ste. Marie
Moir's Convenience Store, Thessalon
The Queen's Tarts, Sault Ste. Marie (Mill Market)
The Butter Tart Shack, Echo Bay
Paul's Bakery, Sault Ste. Marie
Muio's Restaurant, Sault Ste. Marie

Ingredients

Prepared pastry (see...we really don't share our pastry recipes...here's a good one from Canadian Living)
1/2 cup of lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup of maple syrup (try Mountain Maple Products' Syrup)
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup raisins or chopped nuts (optional)

Directions

For this recipe, you should plan on 12 butter tarts. Roll pastry thinly on a lightly floured surface. Cut into four-inch rounds, fit the rounds into a medium size muffin tin, place in the fridge until ready to be filled.

Combine maple syrup, brown sugar and butter, stirring until smooth. Add remaining ingredients (except raisins or chopped nuts) and mix well.

If using raisins or nuts, simply sprinkle a few in the bottom of the pastry shells.

Fill the shells 2/3 full with the maple syrup mixture; be sure not to overfill. Bake on the bottom shelf of your oven set at 425°F for 12 - 15 minutes, or until just set. Be careful not to over bake.

If any filling has overflowed, run a knife or spatula between the pastry and muffin tin so that breakage does not occur. 

Tarts can be eaten warm or cold. Enjoy!

It’s hard to say if there’s a true butter tart recipe, because every family has their own special recipe or extra added ingredient. You can make it your own—but again… don’t use shredded coconut… ever.

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