Ask anyone and they will tell you that the quintessential Canadian treat is the butter tart. In fact, it is likely a question on the test for Canadian citizenship.

But this icon is not without controversy. What is definitely up for debate is whether the purest form of the butter tart is allowed to have raisins or nuts. Some even question whether it is allowed to be runny. For me, my only restriction is the inclusion of butter.

From a historical perspective, we are closing in on the ‘centennial tart’. One of the earliest known recipes for the Canadian butter tart dates back to 1915 and was from Northern Ontario.

After reading a blog entry called The best butter tart in cottage country from Cottage Life Magazine’s food editor’s blog The Feast, I was left wondering why one would stop at just looking for the best butter tart in such a limited geographical area. The search for the best butter tart seems to be such a Canadian pass time. I thought consideration should be given to at least cast the net as far as the entire province since some think that the butter tart is really just an Ontario thing. At the very least, that breadth of scope would then include me in the running for best butter tart. On the post that day I left my smug comment, “If there is going to be some sort of butter tart smackdown, I want to be in it. I think I might make the BEST butter tarts. I have a secret ingredient.” A lot of bluster I guess but it bothered me that if I was ever called upon, I may not be ready enough to win.

And so it was this pre-occupation to own the title of best butter tart that moved me to the test kitchen these past few days to finally put the quest to rest. I have been hanging on to two Ottawa Citizen articles on butter tarts since 2005. One from November 16, 2005 and the second from a short while later. From these articles I used the filling recipes of Grahame’s Bakery in Kemptville, and George Jackson and Kim Stringer, both from Ottawa. I also made a 4th filling following Madame Benoît‘s classic butter tart recipe. Can you get more Canadian than that?

One thing I am totally comfortable with is my pie crust. I used my own recipe for all 4 batches of tarts. What I did vary was the baking time and temperature. For that I tended to stay true to the filling’s recipe. As not to get too overloaded with tarts in the house, I made only 4 of each kind. Judging took place by me and the mister and involved taking a reasonable taste of each tart.

***

The filling of Grahame’s Bakery was baked at 375ºF for 20 minutes. I placed this tart #1 and the mister ranked it #3.

***

George Jackson’s filling was baked at 450ºF for 10 minutes and 350ºF for 6 minutes. I placed this tart #2 and the mister ranked it #1.

***

Kim Springer’s filling was baked at 375ºF for 17 minutes. I placed this tart #3 and the mister ranked it #4.

***

Madame Benoît’s filling was baked at 450ºF for 10 minutes and 350ºF for 6 minutes. I placed this tart #4 and the mister ranked it #2.

***

The reality was that all tarts were quite good and it does come down to preference of sweetness and viscosity. What we both agreed on was that the tarts baked at the higher temperature to start, made for a nicer pastry finish.

Still feeling there was room for improvement, I continued on in the test kitchen for a second day. I HAD to. There was so much filling left over from the first 4 recipes. I decided to combine all the fillings into a kind of “mutt” filling, never to be duplicated again. Having learned a few things from the 4 recipes on day one, I came up with my own recipe formulation. A formulation in the end that proved to be the winningest butter tart.

***

The reformulated filling was baked at 450ºF for 9 minutes and 350ºF for 5 minutes. I placed this tart as the new #1.

***

The “mutt” filling was baked at 450ºF for 9 minutes and 350ºF for 5 minutes. I placed this tart as the new #2.

***

We both considered the two butter tart fillings from day 2 to be ahead of the the recipes from day 1. At this point though we were splitting hairs. Any true butter tart aficionado would throw lots of coin down on the the counter unconditionally for any of the 6 tarts baked in the test kitchen. I was lucky to have started with some top recipes, as it made the effort of reformulation a breeze. And maybe the task wasn’t really that hard since the ingredient list is so classic and so short.

So here it is, the winningest butter tart. If you give it a try, let me know how it went.



World’s Best Butter Tarts By One of Ottawa’s Real Foodies

Pastry:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup Tenderflake lard

Measure the flour and salt and mix together. Measure out 1/3 cup of this mixture into a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup of water and stir to make a smooth paste. Cut the lard into the pastry until the lard is pea size. Add the paste to the flour mixture and gently bring the ingredients together. Try not to overwork as the heat from your hands can over mix the lard into the flour. The small peas of lard help to make the dough so flaky. Wrap the dough and put it into the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

To make tarts, roll out 1/2 the dough and cut circles using a yogurt container. This is a little over 4″ wide but works well for a standard 2 3/4″ muffin tin. You should be able to get 4 circles from this first dough. Once in the pan, prick the bottom and sides of the shell with a fork. Repeat with the other 1/2 of the dough.

Filling:

1/3 cup softened butter

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup pure Canadian maple syrup

2 tablespoons half and half cream

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

10 raisins per tart

Work the butter and brown sugar together. Beat in syrup, then the cream, then the egg, vanilla and salt.

Put the raisins in each tart before adding the filling. Fill 2/3 or 3/4 full.

Bake at 450ºF for 9 minutes. Turn down the temperature to 350ºF and bake for another 5 minutes.

Bake at 450ºF for 9 minutes. Turn down the temperature to 350ºF and bake for another 5 minutes.



UPDATE: Fast forward to May 2011 and I have made a few more changes to the Four Biter World Famous Butter Tart.

Advertisements