Pro tips for baking the best butter tarts

Butter tart

If you’re Canadian or you’re a cottager—and if you’re reading this magazine, you’re probably one of those—you know a good butter tart when you taste it. Flaky pastry, delicious filling, just the right amount of raisins. Or maybe Absolutely No Raisins Ever. And you probably have a favourite cottage-country bakery, general store, roadside stand, or neighbour’s kitchen that you hit up whenever you need a fix. If you don’t, then find one, quick! (There may be a butter tart trail near you. The Township of Wellington North has one with more than a dozen tasty stops, and Kawarthas Northumberland Tourism launched the Kawarthas Butter Tart Tour this April.) Better yet, fire up your rolling pin: It’s time to make your own butter tarts. But not without a little help, of course. We asked a few cottage-country bakers for their expert butter tart tips.

Filling fix
Runny or firm? Tarts with more corn syrup or maple syrup tend to be runnier. If your tarts come out too liquidy, Carolyn Rooke of Algonquin Gourmet Butter Tarts in Maynooth, Ont., suggests baking them two to three minutes longer (but watch carefully).

Boiling mad?
To stop tarts from 
boiling over, line each muffin cup so that the pastry comes about 1/2″ above the tin, says Nancy Coady, owner of Betty’s Pies and Tarts in Cobourg, Ont. If you use an electric mixer to combine ingredients, start on the lowest setting. Overmixing can add air to the filling, causing it to bubble.

Easy on add-ins
You can put almost anything in butter tarts: chopped nuts, dried fruit, chocolate…but add too much and you’ll crowd out the filling. For even distribution, put your add-ins (about six to eight pieces per tart) into the empty shells first. Soak  raisins in hot water for five minutes to plump them up, says Lori Campbell-Sim, owner of The Red Door Bakery, near Parry Sound.

Perfect pastry
Never overwork the pastry or it will be tough. “Make sure you’re leaving small chunks of shortening in the dough,” says Kirk Schriefer, who co-owns The Pie Plate Bakery and Café in Virgil, Ont., with his wife, Ruth Anne. “That’s the key.” And keep it cold: Chill the dough in the fridge for at least half an hour before you prepare to roll it out (or use very cold water to mix); chill it again before baking.

Quick release
Let the pan cool until it’s room temperature, then slide a paring knife  around the perimeter of each tart before removing, says Campbell-Sim. Leave them too long and they may stick (check after 10 minutes). Even simpler: Rooke suggests using large muffin liners.

Click here for Cottage Cook Jane Rodmells butter tart recipe from her latest cookbook, All The Best Recipes.