Bake Club: Gram’s Butter Tarts

There is nothing more polarizing to Canadians – hockey withstanding – than butter tarts. The debate is endless. Do you prefer runny or firm? Nuts or raisins? Frozen or room temperature? I could go on. I think the defining recipe is dependent on the one you grew up with. I made the mistake of not asking for my grandma’s recipes while she was alive. Thankfully my Aunty had the good sense to not only ask, but write them down. She has been my baking angel this fall with family favourite baking dishes. Her recipes come with “Mom Tip” sections and “Memory” sections. I need to do this. I talked before about hand writing recipes and writing the origin, but the mom tip and memory sections add another layer to the specialness of the recipe.

My dad will reminisce about his mom’s butter tarts and the importance of drippy raisin filled tarts. Every recipe I have tried all tasted fine, but they never were the same from childhood. I heard my Aunty and her family reserve November 11th as official Butter Tart Day. They all get together and make eight dozen tarts. Then divvy them up. I love this idea. So I wrote to her and asked for the recipe. I think the reason I have never found a recipe similar is because there are secret ingredients and methods no professional chef has ever written down. This recipe has honey instead of cornsyrup. It cooks the filling before baking AND it has a pastry recipe I have never experienced before. My grandma always made great pie crust but this recipe goes against everything all pie experts ever taught me. It was the most flavourful and flakiest crust ever.

This recipe needed common knowledge by baking it with someone in the know. The pie dough said it made 8 dozen, I got four dozen. Clearly I didn’t roll the dough thin enough, and honestly, I don’t think I will next time either. I loved the thick flaky crust. I also recommend a circle cutter. I don’t own one. I used a flower cutter and it makes pretty fluted edges but the tart overflows into the divots and the results aren’t pretty. I am sharing this because my grandmas made the best butter tarts ever. Every November 11 my grandma and her mom would bake these with my two aunties. I suspect this recipe was originally my great gram’s, but who knows? I think it is important to share vintage recipes and origin stories.

Pastry

Do NOT substitute any ingredients and be sure to measure carefully!! (These are the instructions – first of all I never heard of baking powder in pie dough and I never have used lard, nor have I added brown sugar. I assure you, this makes the easiest, most flaky and delicious piecrust ever. Suck it Erin McDowell, my gran knew what she was doing!)

5 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

3 tbsp brown sugar

1 lb. (2 1/3 cups) lard (Mom uses Tenderflake)

2 tbsp white vinegar

2/3 cup water

1 egg

Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.  Blend the flour mixture and the lard with a pastry blade until it is equally fine and feels silky.  Make a well in the centre.  In a separate bowl or large measuring cup add the vinegar to the water and beat in the egg with the hand mixer.  Pour this mixture into the well in the dry ingredients.  Mix well and form into a large ball.  This will keep for a week or two in the fridge.

Roll on a lightly floured counter from centre out.  Do not roll back and forth or turn over the dough – this will make your pastry tough.

Will make 6 double pie crusts. Double recipe makes 8 – 81/2 doz. tarts. (Edmonton Tourist Tips: ummm I only made 4 dozen. I ran to the store to buy another pound of lard. I have a quart of filling left so I wanted to use it up. Roll thin to get 8 dozen – or don’t. I am not mad at the thick pie crust. Cut with a sharp circle cutter (Aunty uses 3 7/8 or 98 mm diameter cutter). Flute the shells into the tart pans. Also – this is good snacking dough for those who are inclined to snack on raw dough. I chilled the dough for 30 minutes – I recommend this to give structure and hydrate the flour. This is the easiest and most forgiving dough I have ever made!)

Butter Tart Filling

1 cup raisins (I use Sultanas)

1 kg and 1 cup brown sugar ( I nearly died when I saw this amount but it makes 96 tarts – that made sense while I filling endless tart shells.)

6 tbsp honey (liquid)

2 cups butter (maybe a bit more)

6 eggs (room temperature)

3 tsp vanilla

Put cleaned (check for and remove any stems) raisins into mixing bowl and cover with HOT water. Let soak for a half an hour. In a heavy saucepan , over LOW melt butter and add honey and vanilla. Beat the eggs with hand mixer and add slowly while stirring constantly (you don’t want the egg to cook into little pieces!) – I use my hand blender in the mixture while adding the eggs. Stir regularly until mixture becomes like syrup. Add raisins. (Edmonton Tourist Tip: Don’t add raisins to the liquid – add to unfilled tart shells. They become evenly distributed that way – Or nuts. I made three different tarts, raisin, pecan and plain. I like them all but my kids and definite preferences. The beaters were the secret tip – use them if you have them!)

The mixture should have a butterscotch syrup consistency. Keep warm at on medium low stirring regularly. Half fill with raisin mixture (it will boil up and over the edges if you fill them too full – then they will stick to the pans and you won’t be able to get them out). Edmonton Tourist Tip: Fact! I have non-stick tins that are the best I have ever had. Mine all boiled over so I was fussing with my offset spatula to scrape the syrup away to free the tarts. It also makes them ugleeeeeeey)

These are my Aunty’s – her’s are prettier.

Edmonton Tourist Tip: Do not have holes in your tarts and be carful when cooling. If these suckers spring a leak you will have syrup all over the place. When that happened, sprinkle with pastry crumbs or flour to absorb the stickiness and the use your bench scrapper to remove from the counter.

Verdict? Dad said they were the best. I could give him a shoe to eat and he would tell me it was the best. My dad is the best. But…. It did conjure up childhood memories for him and honestly that was the purpose. That is the number one reason to make these…. and also because they are the best.

Thanks Aunty! I love you to pieces!

Stay healthy friends!