Butter Tarts are the Ultimate Canadian treat. A sweet, gooey filling, wrapped with a tender, flaky crust. Perfect for the holidays, or dessert anytime.
When I was growing up, Butter Tarts were always a part of Christmas baking. My mom or grandma would make them every year when the holidays rolled around, and they were always on of the family’s favorite items, and always one of the first to disappear off the dessert tray.
Now that my husband and I live in Wisconsin, we still love and make them, mostly at Christmas time, sometimes to celebrate a Canadian holiday, like Canada day.
What are Butter Tarts anyway?
If you’re Canadian, you definitely know what Butter Tarts are and there’s a good chance you’ve eaten them at some point. If you’re not Canadian, I’m guessing you don’t know what they are.
According to Google, butter tarts are ” considered one of Canada’s quintessential treats “. They are tarts (think mini pies) filled with a sweet, buttery, gooey filling, and often raisins (but Canadians are very much divided on this – see below).
The closest thing in American cuisine to a butter tart that I can think of is pecan pie. But with a higher filling to pecan ratio. And no pecans.
How do you make butter tarts?
Butter tarts for me growing up always started out with frozen, store bought tart shells. In fact, there is nothing I hate making more than pastry dough, so I still prefer to use them. But unfortunately, they are not available in Wisconsin, so unless I can have a family member bring them to me, I have to make the tart shells myself.
I have included a recipe for pastry dough that has worked well for me, and certainly results in delicious butter tarts, but if you’re in Canada, feel free to use store bought tart shells. If you’re from elsewhere, you can use your own favorite pastry dough recipe, or use store bought pie dough (the kind that comes rolled, not the kind that’s already in a pie dish).
The filling is the easy part. The ingredients are pretty basic. You probably already have them all in your pantry right now. Butter (of course), brown sugar, corn syrup, salt, egg and vanilla. They all get mixed together to make the filling.
What about the raisins?
Ah the raisins. I know not everyone likes raisins in baked goods. I hate don’t like them myself! The whole time I was growing up, my mom and grandma knew to make a few butter tarts for me without the raisins. But this recipe has a secret that makes it all okay.
Soak the raisins in water before you add them to the tarts. It makes them plump and juicy and oh so tasty. I made a whole batch without a single plain tart. I like them that much. Definitely DON’T skip the soaking step.
Now this is important: fill the tart shells only so that the raisins are just barely covered. Any more than that and you won’t have enough to make 18 tarts and the filling will bubble up and overflow in the oven. Then you will be stuck with tarts that are superglued to the pan.
After your tarts cool, you’ll be left with flaky and tender crust filled with sticky, gooey filling and plump juicy raisins. They’re the perfect addition to your Christmas baking. Otherwise, pack them up and bring them on a Canada Day picnic.
Butter Tarts Nutrition Notes:
I think you can guess from the name that butter tarts aren’t exactly a healthy choice. They are high in fat, saturated fat, sugar and calories. Keep portion sizes small.
Want more Canadian Foods?
For the Crust (see note)
- 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 Tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 Tablespoons butter cut into 1/4″ pieces and chilled
- 6 Tablespoons lard cut into 1/2″ pieces and chilled
- 2 Tablespoons vodka chilled
- 2 Tablespoons ice cold water
- 3 graham wafers (optional – use flour if you don't have any)
For the Tarts
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter softened
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- 1/2 cup corn syrup
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
For the Crust
- Process 3/4 cup of flour, sugar and salt together in a food processor to mix. Spread butter and lard pieces over the flour mixture and process until the fats are incorporated, about 10 seconds.
- Scrape down bowl and add the remaining 1/2 cup flour. Pulse until evenly distributed, about 5 pulses.
- Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Sprinkle vodka and water over the flour mixture. Stir with a spatula and press together until dough is one solid mass.
- Turn dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a 4" disc. Wrap tightly with plastic and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days. Before rolling dough out, let sit on counter to soften, about 10 minutes.
- While dough is softening, break graham wafers into pieces and grind in food processor or coffee grinder. Sprinkle crumbs over work surface (see note).
- Place dough on graham wafer crumbs and roll to about 1/8″ thick. Cut into 4″ circles with a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Push into muffin cups. Form scraps into a ball and re-chill if needed before re-rolling. Cover muffin pans with plastic and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Place raisins into a bowl and cover with warm water. Allow to sit for 30 minutes to soften.
- Heat oven to 400°F.
- Cream together butter, brown sugar, salt and corn syrup together until smooth. Stir in the egg and vanilla until uniform.
- Drain raisins and spread raisins equally among tart shells. Pour butter mixture into tart shells until raisins are just barely covered. Do not overfill!
- Bake for 15-20 minutes (see note). Cool in tins for 10 minutes, then carefully remove tarts from muffin cups and cool completely on a wire rack.