Hey you talked to Mark lately?
Uh, haven’t really talked to him but he looks pretty down.
He looks pretty down?
Yeah well maybe we should cheer him up then.
What do you suppose we should do?
Well… does he like butter tarts?
This is the lead-in to Steal my Sunshine, a blip of a conversation that seems to have spurred questions from non-Canadians about what exactly a butter tart is, anyway.
A small pastry with a gooey filling of butter, sugar and, traditionally, currants or chopped pecans, butter tarts are similar to the French-Canadian sugar pie and the US’s pecan pie. The earliest published Canadian recipe is from Barrie, Ontario, from The Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook, circa 1900. They seem to be bigger in Ontario than out west; my Grandma Madelon in Windsor made the very best butter tarts, and would make dozens and dozens at Christmastime, storing them in a big metal tin in her old walk-in fridge (yes, she had one). They are now a staple of our holiday table – and definitely worth sharing.
Grandma Woodall’s Butter Tarts
Pastry for a single crust pie
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup or maple syrup
2 Tbsp. butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
a handful of currants, raisins, and/or chopped pecans (she always used currants)
Preheat oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out 1/4″ thick. Cut out circles using a 4″ cookie cutter or empty can, and press into ungreased muffin cups.
In a medium bowl, stir together the brown sugar, corn syrup, egg, butter and vanilla. Stir in the currants and pecans, if you’re using them. Fill the tart shells about 2/3 full and bake for 20 minutes, until bubbly and golden. Take them out of the pan using a thin knife to coax them out while they are still warm, otherwise any goo that has bubbled over will stick to the pan as it cools. If it does, pop them back in the oven for a minute to soften it again. Cool on a wire rack.
Makes about 18 butter tarts.
Grandma Woodall’s “Never-fail” Pastry
This will give you enough pastry to line a 9” pie plate; double it to make enough for two pies or a double crust. Some pie bakers swear by a teaspoon of vinegar added to their water to discourage the formation of gluten and make a tender crust, but it’s not necessary. Using all shortening instead of a combination of shortening and butter is OK too.
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1/4 cup shortening, chilled and cut into pieces
1/4 cup ice-cold water
In a large bowl or the bowl of a food processor, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and shortening and use a fork, pastry blender, wire whisk or the “pulse” motion of the food processor to blend the mixture until it resembles coarse meal, with lumps of fat no bigger than a pea. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.
Drizzle the water over the mixture and stir until the dough comes together, adding a little more a bit at a time if you need it. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disc, wrap it in plastic and let rest for half an hour before using.