Cooking with Alison

The Best Butter Tarts Recipe (Placed 3rd in a Baking Contest!)

In Pies & Tarts on November 14, 2011 at pm

Butter tarts are a wonderful Canadian dessert.  (Speaking of wonderful Canadian things, have you tried ice cider?)  Butter tarts are individually portion sized tarts that have a flaky pastry shell and a sweet and gooey filling.  If desired, the filling can include raisins or pecans.  I made both variations in the photo above.  If you like pecan pie (see my recipe here), you’ll probably like butter pecan tarts.  Personally, I prefer the tarts.  I made these butter tarts for the first time over Thanksgiving, 2011.  We were amazed by how good the pastry was.  This was the best, buttery and flaky pastry I have ever made and these were the best butter tarts we had ever had.  Although they can be a bit messy to eat, this pastry is the perfect compliment for this type and size of tart.  The filling is soft and gooey, you won’t get crystallized sugar, and it doesn’t drip.

I was so happy with this recipe that I made several batches for my sister’s company’s annual charity baking contest on November 14, 2011.  I was too busy to make these the weekend before the competition, so I made them weeks in advance and froze them.  Although they’re better when fresh, these were still good enough to win 3rd place in the baking contest.  There were a total of 14 entries.  (See my dessert that won 1st place in last year’s baking contest here.)

The Best Butter Tart Recipe

makes approx. 18 butter tarts; adapted from Dana McCauley’s food blog

for the best pastry:

ice cubes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes and frozen

1/2 cup vegetable shortening (brand Crisco) or home-rendered lard (recipe here), chilled in the refrigerator

1 tsp white vinegar

1 large egg

for the filling:

1 cup softened unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1 cup Lyle’s golden syrup  (Note:  This is also the secret ingredient to my favourite pecan pie recipe.)

2 large eggs, beaten lightly

2 tsp pure vanilla extract (I like to use Mexican vanilla extract.)

1 1/2 tsp white vinegar

pinch of salt

pinch of grated nutmeg

optional:  raisins or dried currants (4 or 5 per tart, soaked in cool water for 1 hour and then drained well)

optional: pecan halves (2 or 3 per tart, toasted in a 350 F preheated oven for about 8 minutes)

Place three ice cubes in a measuring cup and add enough water so that you have 1 cup.  Place it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.  In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the flour and salt until just combined.  Then add the cold lard or shortening and cubes of frozen butter and pulse until blended.  My dough was surprisingly soft and moist, but it still turned out perfectly.  In a different measuring cup, whisk together the egg and vinegar.  Then add enough of the ice water to make 1/2 cup.  With the motor of the food processor running, gradually pour in the egg mixture in a thin and constant stream and blend until the mixture forms a ball.  (I have made this several times and sometimes I get a batch of dough that turns out much softer and moister than most pastry doughs, but as long as it comes together easily without being too sticky in your hands, it’ll be great.  In fact, I suspect that the moister dough makes for a flakier crust in this recipe.)  Gather all of your dough, form it into a ball, press it into a disc shape, and then wrap it in plastic wrap.  Note that if the dough is very soft and moist, then wrap the dough in plastic wrap before pressing it into a disc shape.  Chill through in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Grease a muffin pan with vegetable cooking spray and set aside.  Roll the dough out to 1/2 inch thickness on a silpat (silicone) mat or a floured surface.  Working with one piece at a time, use a 2 1/2 inch (approx.) diameter circle cookie cutter to cut out a round of the dough.  Then use your fingers and hands to gently and evenly stretch out the dough.  I work my fingers all the way around the edge of the round dough.  Be careful not to tear the dough.  If you do, you can always use scraps to repair it.  Then place the dough into the muffin tin and shape it along the muffin tin so that you have a tart shell of even thickness and height all the way round.  You want the circle of dough to be large enough so that your tart shell reaches all the way up the sides of the muffin cup and you don’t want your crust to be too thick (or too thin or the filling will leak through).  Alternatively, if you prefer a thicker crust and an easier/quicker method, simply use a larger cookie cutter (ie. approx. 6 inches in diameter) and place the cut-out round of dough directly into the muffin tin.  Repeat until all of the muffin cups are filled with your tart shells.  Refrigerate the muffin tin until ready to add the filling.  Gather the dough scraps and refrigerate until chilled through, at least 1 hour.  Then repeat these steps for another set of tart shells using a different muffin pan.  The dough should not be rolled out more than twice, so discard any remaining scraps.

Preheat the oven to 450F.  Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until light on medium high speed.  Then beat in the brown sugar until well combined and the mixture is fluffy.  Add the golden syrup and beat until well combined.  Then over medium speed, beat in the eggs, vinegar, vanilla extract, salt, and nutmeg.  Set aside.

Place 4 or 5 soaked raisins or currents into the bottom of each tart shell (if using).  Use a #40 cookie dough scoop to spoon equal amounts of filling into each tart shell.  Be sure that you do not fill the tart shell completely with filling, or else it will spill over and burn.  There should be a band of pastry all along the edge above the line of filling.  If using, place two or three pecan halves in a single layer on top of the filling.  Bake on the lowest oven rack for 8 to 10 minutes, until the outer sides of the tart shells just start to brown.  Then reduce the temperature to 325F and transfer the muffin pan to the middle rack of the oven.  Then bake for around 20 more minutes until the filling is dark and the pastry is golden.  You should see cracks in the pastry.  Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack.  Once cool enough to comfortably handle, gently remove the butter tarts from the muffin tin.  The pastry is flaky and delicate, so be gentle.  I use a small cake decorating spatula to remove the butter tarts from the muffin pan.  Allow the butter tarts to cool completely on a wire rack before serving.  The filling needs to fully set.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature.  These freeze very well.  Simply defrost at room temperature prior to serving.

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