Butter Tarts are a quintessential Canadian treat that are a decadent, delicious, and surprisingly easy addition to anyone’s holiday dessert tray. Learn how to make this classic decadent tart.
Butter tarts are always a staple on our holiday dessert trays, probably because I’m Canadian and they are a quintessential Canadian treat. Despite my general lack of a sweet tooth, I just plain love them. I am Canadian, after all!
I only decided to make them myself for the first time last year though. They’re so gooey and decadent that I thought they were probably going to be a pain. I was wrong! I made them that one time last year and I’ve already made two batches this year.
Video: How To Make Butter Tarts
Canadian Butter Tarts Origins
The basic recipe we use in from my Baba’s old Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League cookbook. My mom, and now I, know exactly which page number to go to: 91.
I was pretty surprised when I found out that the recipe only has 6 ingredients (not including the pastry). You don’t pre-cook the filling or anything either. So simple. You just mix together an egg, brown sugar, cream or milk, vanilla, melted butter, a pinch of salt, and raisins. Then you spoon that into your tart shells and bake it for 25 minutes. So easy. Note that the full recipe that I’ve tested is below, and there are some substitutions given below as well.
So, while that is the recipe that I have always used, it turns out that the original is probably from the Five Roses Cookbook circa 1915, which was a very very popular cookery book in those times. That recipe lists only the following ingredients: 1 egg, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup currants, butter the size of a walnut (yes, really!), and flavor to taste. So I think currants are probably more traditional.
What Kind Of Pastry Should I Use?
My mom always makes a homemade lard-based pastry crust for her tart shells. If you’re handy with pastry, go for it. There’s a basic lard pastry recipe here that is similar to my mom’s.
I’m lazier though, and my homemade pastry doesn’t typically turn out well. I blame it on having warm hands and living in ever-humid Florida (but I wasn’t great at making pastry when I lived in Toronto either so you know I’m just making excuses).
What I do is to buy pre-rolled refrigerated pie crusts. They’re sold near the refrigerated crescent rolls in a long, flat cardboard box. I’ve used the branded version and the store-brand and both turn out the same. You get two big circles of rolled-out dough in each box. Each circle can be cut into eleven 3-inch diameter rounds so you need the whole box for today’s recipe, which makes 22 tarts.
Ingredients and Substitions
Here is a list of the filling ingredients with some possible substitutions:
- Unsalted butter: You can use salted butter but then omit the salt later in the recipe. You can use margarine instead of butter, but it’s not as good here.
- Golden Raisins: You can omit the raisins entirely, in which case you’ll double the filling so that there’s a enough to fill the pastry cups. You can use currants or dried cranberries instead of raisins. You will still plump them as directed. Or, you can use the same amount of chopped nuts, with pecans and walnuts being traditional choices for this alternative.
- Brown Sugar
- Heavy Cream: You can instead use half and half or whole milk. Many people use corn syrup or maple syrup in place of the cream.
How To Make Canadian Butter Tarts
What you’re going to do is preheat the oven to 350°F. Plump up the raisins or currants by pouring some boiling water over them and letting them sit in it for 10 minutes. Then drain them. While they’re plumping, mix together the filling ingredients.
Line the cups of a muffin tin with foil-lined cupcake liners and then line those with 3-inch diameter your pastry rounds. Spoon in the filling to halfway in each cup and bake them. As the filling heats it will bubble up and fill the pastry to the top, don’t worry about that. Let them cool in the pan and in the foil liners, and then remove the foil. Done!
Gooey Maple Butter Tarts (New Recipe!)
So, after years of making these tarts like the recipe at the bottom, which really is quite similar to the traditional one from the early 1900s, I have started making them differently. You see, I posted my Butter Tarts video on social media and got a lot of feedback and ideas.
I therefore tested a lot of people’s suggestions and came up with a new and improved version. I’m leaving the original recipe down below for those of you who already use it and love it. I would hate to change that on you! But this version here is actually better, so I urge you to consider giving it a try!
Maple Butter Tarts Recipe
- 16 (3 in.) unbaked tart shells in foil liners
- 1 cup raisins
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup maple syrup*
- 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
- 2 tsp. cider vinegar
- Scant 1/8 tsp. salt
- Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Place tart shells on a baking sheet. Sprinkle raisins evenly into the bottom of tart shells.
- Beat brown sugar and butter together in a bowl until smooth. Whisk in eggs, maple syrup, vanilla, vinegar, and salt. Fill each tart shell 3/4 full with maple syrup mixture (about 1 Tbsp.).
- Bake in the preheated oven until filling is set and shell are golden, about 25-30 minutes. Turn the baking sheet halfway through for even baking.
*You can substitute corn syrup for the maple syrup. Heavy cream also works as an alternative, but they’ll be less sweet.
For the tart shells, you can use store-bought tart shells. I either make my own pastry or buy sheets of refrigerated pastry (Pillsbury makes some).
I then use a 3.25 inch diameter cooking cutter to cut the pastry sheets into individual tart sized rounds. I like to put the pastry into these foil baking cups which are 4 ounces. The foil cups are taller than the tarts will be, but that’s great to keep that delicious sugary syrup contained.
I put them on a regular baking sheet to bake. The foil baking cups are important because the filling is really sugary and will fuse onto your muffin tin making it impossible to get the tarts out otherwise. Once they cool, you can remove them from the baking cups.
More Dessert Recipes
Love these butter tarts and craving something else sweet? Browse through my entire collection of easy dessert recipes, or try one of these favorites:
Podcast Episode About Making Butter Tarts
Listen to me explain briefly about how to make these butter tarts, along with some other great tips, by clicking the play button below:
Butter Tarts are a quintessential Canadian treat that are a decadent, delicious and surprisingly easy addition to anyone’s holiday dessert tray. They’re so easy that I’ve made two batches already this year. Learn how to make this classic decadent tart.
Note: I have recently tested a bunch of different butter tart recipes and tweaked them to get the best possible version. The new version is above for you under the title “Gooey Maple Butter Tarts (New Recipe!). I urge you to give a try. But I’m leaving the original recipe below for those of you who already make it and love it. I would hate to take it away from you!
- 5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1 egg
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. heavy cream, half and half, or milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- Pinch of salt
- Pastry dough for two pie crusts, rolled out to 1/4-in. thick
- Cut the butter into pieces, put it into a microwave-safe dish, and heat it for 20 seconds at a time until melted. Set aside.
- In a small bowl combine the raisins and boiling water. Set aside.
- Crack the egg into a medium bowl and whisk it a bit. Add the brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and salt. Stir.
- Drain the raisins, discarding the water. Add the raisins and the melted butter to the brown sugar mixture. Stir until incorporated. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Use a 3 to 3 and 1/2 inch diameter round cookie cutter or glass to cut the pastry dough into 22-24 circles. You will likely need to gather up some scraps of dough and roll them out again to get enough rounds. Push the rounds of dough gently into foil baking cups or foil-lined paper cupcake cups. Insert them into the cups of 2 standard-size 12 cup muffin tins.
- Fill each cup about halfway full of filling.
- Bake until pastry is beginning to turn golden, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for at least 15 minutes.
- Gently remove liners and tarts from muffin tins and then remove the liners. These can be served immediately or put into an airtight container and refrigerated for 4 days or into an airtight container and frozen for 2 months.
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Adapted from the Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League Cookbook: Ukrainian Traditional and Favorite Recipes, 1970. Printed in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, recipe by Isabel Lys. I have changed the ingredients somewhat and the method quite a bit but the general amounts are the same as her version.
This post originally appeared in December 2016 and has been revised and republished in November 2023.