Topline Trends Tuesday: The upward spiral of the butter tart

July 7, 2009

Buttertart guyRegular readers of this blog will know that since last summer, I’ve been on a quest to unlock the secrets of the perfect butter tart. It’s been a winding road.

After presenting my preferred recipe for butter tarts I heard mostly accolades but a rebuff, too. One enraged woman recently wrote me an email claiming that my butter tarts were the very worst she had ever tried. Needless to say, she and I are not destined to be friends.

While butter tarts have always been a Canadian favourite, I’ve noticed them being debated and discussed more often during the last few months. Was it the proximity of Canada Day on the calendar that led food sleuth Marion Kane and CBC personality Jian Ghomeshi to discuss butter tart origins and lore on June 29th?  Regardless, their informative chat  can be enjoyed as a podcast.

Likewise, a new Toronto-based blog called Beer & Butter Tarts recently launched. Although it’s a bit shy on butter tart news so far, I’m holding out hope for full-on butter tart coverage on their cyber pages.

Another result of devoting so much time to the discussion of butter tarts is that many people have reached out to share their butter tart love with me. One of these people is Jules Kay, a retired mathematics teacher and the owner of Aftermath Pies. He visited our test kitchen a couple of weeks ago and brought us his very delicious butter tarts. Unlike my tarts, which have a very rich, flaky, lard-based crust, Jules’ perfectly gooey tarts have a firmer, compact crust that features vegetable shortening.

Jules was kind enough to share his pastry recipe with me so you can try it if you prefer a leaner, less fragile crust.

Jules “The Pieman”‘s Original Dough Recipe

Ingredients – flour, salt, sugar, shortening, vinegar, and water.
Utensils – large mixing bowl, measuring cups for dry and liquid ingredients, measuring spoons, fork, plastic wrap, and a pastry blender (ONLY FOR THE UNADVENTUROUS).

Flour – white, all purpose – 5 1/2 cups
Salt – 1 teaspoon
White Sugar – 1 tablespoon
Shortening – 1 package (454 grams)
Vinegar (plus water) – 1 tablespoon
Cold Tap Water 1 1/3 cups when added to vinegar

• In a large mixing bowl, blend flour, salt, and sugar.
• In a measuring cup, add the vinegar and enough water to make 1 1/3 cups of liquid.
Cut the shortening into the flour mixture with your fingertips until it resembles small peas. For those afraid to get dirty hands, use a pastry blender.
Make a well in the centre of the flour/shortening and add all the water.
Stir (DO NOT MASH) with a fork until the flour has absorbed all the water and the ball of dough sticks together.
• If the dough is still crumbly, keep stirring with the fork.
Gather up the dough in a ball and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, do not add more flour. Let it rest in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours or overnight. You will discover that the amount of water needed varies depending on the temperature and the humidity.
• Your dough is now ready for great tasting pies and tarts. If you intend to use the large (3-pound) tub then multiply the above quantities by 3. You might need a larger bowl.

If you are what you eat, then I’m a butter tart

May 7, 2009

questionmarkIf you were a food, what would you be?

Don’t think too hard about this one, just write what comes to mind in the comment section below.

Me, I’d be a butter tart square.  Like me, they are proudly Canadian, sweet, flaky, occasionally a little nutty and much to my ego’s pain: square.

While you ponder the good and bad aspects of   what kind of food epitomizes your character, try this recipe for butter tart squares from my repertoire of family faves:

Cranberry Butter Tart Squares

1/4 cup (50 mL) butter softened
1/3 cup (75 mL) packed brown sugar
1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt

1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp (1 mL) baking powder
pinch salt
2 tbsp (30 mL) butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) dried cranberries
1 square each bittersweet and white chocolate, melted (optional)

Crust: Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Beat the butter and brown sugar in a medium bowl until creamy. Add the flour and salt and stir until well combined and crumbly. Press the mixture into the bottom of an 8-in (20 cm) square baking pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until pale golden around the edges. Reserve.

Topping: Stir the brown sugar with the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter, eggs and vanilla and stir until well blended and smooth. Stir in the dried cranberries.

Pour the filling over the crust and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden and bubbly around the edges but still slightly jiggly in the centre. Cool the squares completely in the pan on a wire rack. Drizzle with chocolate (if using). Slice into squares. Makes 16 squares.

Tip: Recipe doubles easily to fill a 9-x 13-in (3L) baking pan.

Best buttertart quest: part three

October 28, 2008

I’ve made it to the end, gentle readers. I’ve created what is, for my merry band of tasters at least, the ULTIMATE BUTTER TART!

What makes this tart worthy of such a moniker?
• The pastry is ultra flaky and completely unsweetened so that it’s a perfect foil for the very sweet filling.
• The filling is gooey but softly set so that there is no dripping.
• The filling has a buttery but nuanced flavour with a positive, non-sugary after taste.
• The tarts are bigger than most so they fulfill a craving completely (after all, if you’re going to eat a tart, make it worth your while!).
• They freeze beautifully so that you can always have them ready and waiting for your next craving!

My recipe does have one flaw that I’ve decided to accept since the end results are so delicious: the recipe below makes enough filling to make a baker’s dozen (that’s 13 tarts). I recommend using a ramekin to make that baker’s tart for yourself from the pastry scraps.

Dana’s Best Butter Tart

ice cubes
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) all-purpose flour
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) cold lard or shortening (8 oz/250 g)
1 tsp (5 mL) white vinegar or lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
1 cup (250 mL) each softened unsalted butter, lightly packed dark brown sugar and Lyle’s golden syrup
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tsp (10 mL) pure vanilla extract
11/2 tsp (7 mL) fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
1/16 tsp (pinch) grated nutmeg
1/2 cup (125 mL) soaked, drained dried currants

Place three ice cubes in a measuring cup and add enough water to cover. Set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour and salt. Blend well. Cut the cold lard into cubes and add to the food processor. Use the pulse button to cut in the lard just until the mixture resembles large flake oatmeal.

In a glass measuring cup, whisk the vinegar and the egg. Add enough of the reserved ice water to make ½ cup (125 mL). With the motor of the food processor running, pour in the egg mixture. Blend until the mixture forms a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap. If necessary, knead to make a smooth ball. Press into a disk and wrap tightly. Refrigerate for 45 minutes. Roll out dough to 3/8-inch thickness adding extra flour to prevent sticking. Cut to fit 5 oz (125 mL) muffin tins using a 6-inch (18-cm) cutter. Refrigerate until ready to fill.

Preheat the oven to 450°F (225°C). Beat the butter until light; beat in the brown sugar until fluffy. Add the syrup and beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs, lemon juice, vanilla and nutmeg.

Divide the currants evenly between the pastry cups. Spoon in the filling, adding just enough to each cup that it is filled but a band of pastry still shows around the edges (you should have enough filling left over to fill a 13th tart).

Bake on the lowest oven rack for 10 minutes; reduce the temperature to 350°F (180°C) and bake for 20 to 25 minutes longer or until pastry is golden and the filling in each cup has bubbled and darkened.

Remove pan from oven and use a skewer to remove any overspill that will harden as the tarts cool. Cool tarts in pan for 15 minutes. Gently remove from pans using a palette knife and cool on a rack for at least 2 hours (the pastry needs to fully set). Makes 12 (4.5 to 5 oz) tarts.

Best buttertart quest update

September 25, 2008

I have been busy, busy, busy, gentle readers (you rough ones can read on, too).

In the last three weeks I’ve sampled over a dozen buttertarts made by commercial and independent bakeries, read scores of buttertart recipes and made countless batches of pastry in my home kitchen. (And yes, I know that the people who remember my Perfectionista Annonymous post from a few weeks ago are shaking their heads. I’m sorry. I can’t help it. I’ve become obsessed. I have made some progress: my kitchen is kind of sticky and I’m doing okay with that fact so I’m on the right track, right?). My freezer door is bulging, my ears are ringing from all the sugar and I may have early stage scurvy symptoms but I am still energized and ready to fulfill my sugar gilt destiny.

Above is the latest iteration in my quest for THE PERFECT BUTTERTART recipe. It isn’t quite there yet. I’m happy with the crust: flaky, tender and just savoury enough to offset a sweet filling nicely. The perfect filling continues to elude me. I had a filling several tests ago that had the perfect texture but not the perfect flavour. The current one is a little too runny and a bit too tangy (I added lemon juice to balance sweetness and went a bit far. I chalk the impulse up to scurvy related cravings).

I feel success is imminent so stay tuned! I hope to unveil my quintessential buttertart in the next week or two. Cross your fingers and wish me luck.