Recipe Post: Butter Tarts

Butter tarts are an iconic Canadian dessert, as Canadian as Nanaimo bars. They are also incredibly sweet, and oftentimes a single butter tart will be plenty enough as a treat. More than one, and you often start to get that queasy feeling in your stomach that maybe you’ve overindulged.

There are tons of recipes for butter tarts out there, for both filling and pastry; I’ve tried a fair few, and these notes below are my personal favourite. I’ve split the recipe in half, with a nice pâte brisée pastry dough and two different types of fillings, depending in your preference.

When it comes to pastry, I’ll admit that the simplest and easiest hack is to use pre-made tart shells found in the grocery store freezer section. While there’s no shame in this — you do you, hun — there’s something uniquely satisfying and delicious about making your own tart dough. It’s a finickier (is that even a word?) recipe than regular pie dough in that you need to be a) very aware of temperatures and timing, and b) follow the best way to roll, rest, and handle your pastry so it comes out flaky and buttery, not tough and oily. But it’s worth the effort.

As for filling, there are basically two types; the stable, jelly-like kind which seems to be used in most if not all commercially made butter tarts, and the ooey-gooey kind (my personal favourite for its intense flavour). Both types of filling recipes are at the bottom so you can make your own choice.

Another option is whether you prefer your butter tarts with add-ins, or you like to keep them “pure”. Raisins and/or chopped nuts are a standard addition to those who enjoy their butter tarts with extras, such as one of these suggestions: blackcurrants, raisins, chopped soft nuts such as walnuts, cashews or pecans, chocolate, butterscotch or other flavoured chips, shredded coconut, or even chocolate covered dried fruit like raisins, blueberries, cranberries and the like.

A good rule of thumb is to keep miniature butter tarts without add-ins due to space restrictions, and be very parsimonious with your add-ins in your larger ones. Other than that, try to keep your additions dry, not wet like a fresh fruit, which will alter the consistency of your filling and make it challenging for them to set or bake properly.

However, if you decide to change it up to to a full-size butter tart, feel free to go nuts on the add-ins, or add none at all for a more purist approach.

Go on…you know you want it…

Butter Tarts

Original recipe courtesy of Stephanie Jaworski at The Joy of Baking

Makes 12 – 4″ tarts or 24 – 2″ tarts  

Pâte Brisée (Short Crust Pastry):

  • 1¼ cups/157g all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp/3g table salt
  • 1 tbsp/6g granulated sugar
  • ½ cup/115g unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1″ pieces
  • ⅛ -¼ cup/300-600mL ice water
  • ¼ cup/35g add-ins
  1. In a food processor, place the flour, salt, and sugar and process until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal (about 15 seconds).
  2. Pour ⅛ cup water in a slow, steady stream, through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched.  If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 seconds.
  3. Turn the dough onto your lightly flour dusted work surface and gather into a ball. Flatten into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about one hour before using. This will chill the butter and relax the gluten in the flour (this is called “resting” the dough). You can make this in advance and keep it chilled for up to 3 days at this point.
  4. After the dough has chilled sufficiently, place on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to no ticker than ⅛” thick, and cut 12-4″ rounds (or 24-2″ rounds if making mini tarts). To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll (always roll from the center of the pastry outwards).
  5. Gently ease the rounds into a 12-cup muffin/24-cup mini muffin tin. Do not stretch or overwork the dough to fit; work carefully and quickly to smooth the dough along the top edges. Do this quickly to avoid heating up and melting the butter in the dough.  Cover and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm up the dough.
  6. While the pastry is chilling, make the filling (choose from one of the recipes below). Divide add-ins among shells. Spoon in filling until three-quarters full.
  7. Bake at 375°F/190°C for about 15 – 20 minutes or until the pastry has nicely browned and the filling is set. Remove trays from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 1-2 minutes; run thin metal offset spatula around tarts to loosen, then carefully slide spatula under tarts and transfer to rack to let cool. Serve at room temperature or chilled.  

Butter Tart Filling (gooey)

Original recipe courtesy of Canadian Living Magazine

  • ½ cup/110g brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup/125 mL golden corn syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp/7g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp/5 mL vanilla
  • 1 tsp/5 mL vinegar
  • 1 pinch salt

Whisk together all ingredients until well-blended.

Butter Tart Filling (firm)

Original recipe courtesy of Stephanie Jaworski at The Joy of Baking

  • ⅓ cup/75g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup/220g light brown sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp/5mL pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup/60mL half-and-half cream
  1. In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar with the salt.
  2. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla extract. Stir in the cream until well-blended.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Incredidad says:

    I look forward to trying out your pastries recipe. I tried making butter tarts last christmas but none of the pastries I made turned out the way I wanted them – usually too dry or crumply.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The two best tips I can give for these to work out (and boy oh boy did I make a LOT of these when I was on my externship at a high-end restaurant), is 1) heat is your enemy and cold is your friend. Keep your pastry cool; and 2) less is more; don’t overwork the pastry or it will turn out tough. Good luck!! You got this!!


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