I will be sharing a few Canadian dishes with you in the next few weeks...but what really says Canada to me and transends all provinces and territories to become our national dish? There has always been controversy about whether Canada has a cuisine of its own, or even a national dish. If it comes down to recipes, yes, we do have recipes people recognize as truly Canadian. Apple pie, for example - but the US and Great Britian enjoy it too. There's chowder - in the Maritimes - and in France. Canadians love tea biscuits, but so do the Scots who call them scones. In fact, many of our dishes right up to the latest Vietnamese pho or Tamil fish curry are shared. That is, all except the butter tart....
Butter tarts were a staple of pioneer Canadian cooking, and they remain a characteristic pastry of Canada. They are one of just a handful of genuinely Canadian recipes. The tart's history has been traced back to the arrival of the filles de marier in the mid-1600s. To fill their tartes, these imported brides from France had to make do with what they found in their new larders... maple syrup or sugar, farm-fresh butter and dried fruit (read raisins).
Butter Tarts with their sweet, gooey filling cradled in rustic home-made pastry manages to seduce everyone who bites into their scrumptious shell. In my opinion they should still be a little bit runny with a little crunch on the top. I'll debate that the ideal tart has a fairly thick, shortbread-like shell. It tastes rich, but not greasy. It's crumbly, but doesn't fall apart at first bite. The filling has a buttery essence and a hint of maple for that Canadian flair. It's soft but not sloppy, sweet but not cloying. It's covered by a slight crust that gives way as your teeth invade. If there's a classic Canadian dessert, the butter tart is it!!!!!
The great divide amongst Canadian butter tart fans is what makes the perfect butter tart? Friendly debates arise over everything from pastry texture and whether you should use butter or lard; to whether you should use white of brown sugar; to whether their should there be vinegar or a splash of lemon or none at all; to whether the filling should be runny or not (and if so, how runny?). Purists will also tell you that they contain only raisins and if you add nuts then it can no longer be classed as a butter tart. I say let your imagination be your guide and try them all different ways. I don't think the butter tart police will arrive at your door. I would drive hundreds of miles for this sweet confection in search of what I consider perfection or in any form at all. Sir John A. MacDonald, our first Prime Minister, is said to have eaten them by the handful so I am in good company!!!
But no matter what recipe you prefer, get ready to indulge!!! In Canada we believe that biting into a butter tart is nothing short of a patriotic act so what better treat to share with you for the BloggerAid-CFF Culinary Olympics. This particular recipe is based on one from culinary activist Anita Stewart from her cookbook, Anita Stewart’s Canada (HarperCollins Canada) which celebrates Canada from coast to coast through food, recipes and stories. One of the most celebrated foods in Canada has to be butter tarts!!!! According to Stewart, “Since the turn of the last century, recipes abound for it in almost every Canadian cookbook, but you won’t find a reference for this noble tart in the Oxford Companion to Food or in the American reference book Food Lover’s Companion. Friend and historian Mary Williamson is an expert on butter tarts. She notes the earliest reference was in a cookbook compiled by The Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie in 1900 and it’s merely named ‘A filling for tarts.’ For farm women, two essential ingredients, eggs and butter, were in abundance. And Canada, when these tarts were invented, was a farming country.”
These butter tarts were hands-down, one of the best butter tarts I've ever eaten. I must admit to never meeting a butter tart I didn't like though!!!! The original recipe is from Peggy Morris who grew up in Peel Township in Southwestern Ontario but I tweaked on perfection just a little. The filling is obviously tasty, as is pretty much every butter tart filling that I've ever tried. But what truly makes these tarts AMAZING is the crust. The shells baked up incredibly light and flaky (comparable to a croissant), and the addition of sugar made them much tastier than other butter tarts that I've tried. Not to mention that they were easy to make. Still, as with any pastry, make sure that you don't over handle the dough, and that your water and butter are COLD. This really does make all the difference in the world.
Eat a butter tart today. It’s the Canadian thing to do!!!!!
Also a reminder that the highly successful BloggerAid Cookbook is now on sale. All proceeds go directly to the School Meals Program a division of the World Food Programme and the United Nations. Purchase your copy today and help kids around the world have access to an education and nutritious meals every day.
**Amazing Butter Tarts**
1/3 cup (75 mL) corn syrup or maple syrup
1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons (45 mL) melted butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped walnuts
18 Sweet Tart Pastry shells
In a small bowl, cover raisins with boiling water. Let soak for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, corn syrup or maple syrup, brown sugar, butter and nuts. Stir in raisins. Pour evenly into prepared tart shells. Bake in preheated 450°F (220°C) oven 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F (180°C) and open door slightly for 15 to 20 seconds to bring temperature down rapidly. Bake for 15 minutes or until bubbling and deep golden brown. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before removing from the pan.
NOTE: If you want them gooey bake them for only 15 minutes total.
Sweet Tart Pastry
2½ cups (625 ml) sifted cake-and-pastry flour
¼ cup (60 ml) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon (2 ml) salt
1 cup (250 ml) chilled unsalted butter
¾ cup (175 ml) ice water
In a bowl, sift together flour, sugar and salt. With a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. With a fork, stir in ice water, ¼ cup (60 mL) at a time, until the dough can be gathered up into a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Flour a rolling pin and the top of the dough. Divide dough in half.
Roll out one piece of dough, dusting with flour as needed, to about 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut into approximately 4-inch (10 cm) circles and press gently into muffin or large tart pans. Repeat with remaining dough.
Makes 18 tarts
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