Best buttertart quest: part one

Last winter I had a conversation with Lindy Jurado and Lissa Fraser Kerr, two television producer friends, about what qualities define the best buttertarts. Our chat was long and impassioned and made me realize that a perfect buttertart recipe would be a wonderful thing to author.

(For my non-Canadian readers who are feeling confused right now, butter tarts are a quintessential single serve Canadian pastry. They feature a gooey, sweet, rich filling cradled in flaky pastry. Unlike pecan pie, they are never set with starch or another thickener.)

My own butter tarts have often been praised. I’ve used an adapted version of the butter tart filling recipe in the classic Five Roses Cookbook with the Tenderflake Lard Pastry recipe to make my tarts for over 20 years. There’s no doubt that these butter tarts are good but are they the best? I pondered.

When a review copy of Marty’s World Famous Cookbook (Whitecap 2008 ) arrived on my desk, an idea was born. Marty Curtis is, according to the press materials, the maker of the world’s best buttertarts and the recipe for his buttertart accomplishment is in this new book.

I cooked up a taste test featuring my tarts, Marty’s tarts and the famous tarts from a Newmarket café called the Maid’s Cottage. I assembled the test kitchen crew as well as my two TV friends and a group of lay tasters (actually my dad, my brother and their mates) to come to a blind taste test.

We were 12 tasters and each person filled out a form that divided his or her impression of the tarts into four categories:

1. Most appetizing appearance
2. Best crust
3. Best filling
4. Best overall

• Marty’s tarts were very rich with a filling that bubbled and boiled a lot in the oven (interestingly when I tried them later in a different pastry, the filling didn’t overflow and set much more satisfactorily).
• My tarts were set enough to be gooey but not runny and the pastry was pale golden.
• Maid’s Cottage tarts featured crimped, even textured pastry, a set, caramelized beach of filling and a very fluid, butterscotch textured lake in the middle.

Here’s a summary of the taste test results:

1. Most appetizing appearance: A 6:6 tie between my tarts and the Maid’s Cottage tarts.
2. Best Crust: Maid’s Cottage got 2 votes, I got 6.5 votes and Marty got 3.5 votes. (I’m dying to know who the wishy-washy voter was!).
3. Best Filling: a 6:6 tie between Marty and I (sorry Maid’s Cottage!).
4. Best Overall: I won with 7 votes, Marty was second with 4 votes and the Maid’s Cottage got 1 vote.

Although these results were gratifying, they revealed that there is still work to be done! In fact, more than one person mentioned that although all 3 tarts were good quality, ‘THE BEST TART EVER’ was not among the roster.

So, stay tuned. I’m going to head back into the kitchen in the coming weeks and, once I think I’ve got my tart tackled, I’ll be holding another taste test to evaluate the results.

Once I get approval from my tasters, I’ll post the quintessential buttertart recipe here for you to try at home.

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23 Responses to Best buttertart quest: part one

  1. I might be alone on this one, but the secret to really, really good butter tarts is to keep the filling to crust ration high. Many tarts have way, way, way too much crust — and undercooked at that.

    I like mine small and overflowing. The filling should spill over the crust. This only works on a small scale. Click here for an illustration: http://christie-corner.blogspot.com/2006/06/prize-winning-butter-tarts.html

    I also fall firmly in the no-corn-syrup camp. Butter, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and vinegar (or lemon juice) are all that’s needed. Raisins and nuts are a personal choice.

    Oh my! Who knew a mild-mannered Canadian could get worked up over a spot of dessert?

  2. Cheryl says:

    I’m worked up and I’m not even Canadian! Sadly, I have little to add to this discussion, but I’ll vow to try your recipe once you post it.

  3. Amy says:

    Alright – I am spilling the beans (and under no coersion from Dana) – I voted Dana’s the best…. I am not a fan of the runny, spill down your chin, butter tarts, although I know many who are. I prefer a perfect balance of rich tender crust and sofly set filling… Dana, personally I wouldn’t change a thing with your classic recipe!

  4. danamccauley says:

    Amy you are a sweet little tart to be so kind! I was inspired when I made Marty’s filling in my pastry and I do think I might prove you wrong when we have our next taste test. Wouldn’t that be great to have something you already like made even more delicious?

    • Shelley says:

      Dana,

      I have been trying different butter tart receipes for the past two weeks and i have not been successful in finding the perfect filling yet. Did you ever perfect yours? If you are sharing your “secrets” I would love to know how you make your butter tarts and give them a try.
      I am not a fan of the runny ones and that seems to be all i can make! i cannot figure out how to get the filling to set to a gooey consistancy and have the perfect flavour. I wonder if its something i am doing wrong and not the receipe.
      I would love your help!

      Thanks
      Shelley

  5. danamccauley says:

    Char,

    Thanks for you good tips and opinions. I will take them under advisement.

  6. danamccauley says:

    Buttertart lovers of Gravenhurst – I need your help!

    My friend just sent me this note:
    “Meg and I have found the BEST buttertart EVER ( I read your blog)!!!! They are PERFECT……This lady who sells them out of the back of her car at the Gravenhurst Farmers Market……they are unbelivable……the best I have ever had……I will buy some, freeze them and then get them to you somehow……or if you ever want to take a day trip to Gravenhurst on a Wednesday the market is worth the trip…over 5000 visitors every week!!!!! She has a full time job and makes them for fun?!?! She always sells out and only sells them for $1.”

    Has anyone else tried these tarts and does anyone know this buttertart fairy? I need to get in touch with her!

  7. Carolyn Jung says:

    My gawd, all the times I’ve been to Canada, and I didn’t know about butter tarts? Why didn’t someone tell me before now. Must go book the next flight on Air Canada. ;)

  8. danamccauley says:

    Want to carpool to Gravenhurst together Carolyn?

  9. Cakelaw says:

    I’ve always wanted to try butter tarts, and this quest for the best ever butter tart sounds interesting.

  10. Hélène says:

    I love butter tarts. Since I’m from Quebec this is a staple in the house along the famous sugar pie. I’m glad I have a copy of Five Roses. Everything I made from this cookbook had turned out really good.

    I can’t wait to see if you are going to come up with a better recipe than Five Roses.

  11. danamccauley says:

    Stay tuned…we’ll have to see if I can crack this code!

    My first task is to lose my vacation fat (8 lbs!) and then I’ll get back into baking. ; )

  12. Meline says:

    First timer here and I so lucky that I found you via google. I’ve been hitched for 27 years and hubby just surprised me at the famous Blue Ginger in Cambridge. So to repay the favor, I’m going to add a new recipe to the usuals at Thanksgiving, I am on a research adventure today at work today. Please tell me how to start – I need a primer on this butter tart and would like to start testing and baking on “Sweetest Day” which is Oct. 18th – this Saturday. many thanks in advance! Meline

  13. Lynne says:

    Dana, did you ever fix the filling to crust ratio? Love your recipe (now that I managed to locate Lyle’s golden syrup) but as with others I have tried, I find that the filling falls too much during baking.

  14. mirundap says:

    To post above get your data right

  15. sms says:

    Dana…Marty’s buttertarts didn’t turn up to be the best because that’s not his recipe. The recipe belongs to his former girlfriend who developed and produced them. It took her a while to figure out that he was such a jerk but when she did escape she had to leave behind some prize posessions. Unfortunately, that included some award winning recipes!

  16. A says:

    My tarts always bubble and boil up and over. What is the trick to removing the tarts from the pans without having to chisel them out and wreck my beautiful flaky pastry? (or from them boiling over)

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