National Treasure #124: Butter Tarts

A butter tart is a type of small pastry tart highly regarded in Canadian cuisine and considered one of Canada’s quintessential desserts. – Wikipedia

I was in my twenties before I realized that Americans knew nothing of the butter tart. It was quite a moment. I was accustomed to everything being bigger (if not necessarily better) south of our border, and to think that we had a fabulous dessert that they lacked was a confidence builder.

The tart consists of butter, sugar, syrup, and egg filled into a flaky pastry and baked until the filling is semi-solid with a crunchy top. The butter tart should not be confused with butter pie (a savoury pie from the Preston area of Lancashire, England) or with bread and butter pudding. – Wikipedia

How anyone could confuse the butter tart with anything remotely savoury or bread-y is beyond me.

The origins of the butter tart are obscure, but Wiki notes some commonality with the French tarte í la frangipane, and the Scottish Ecclefechan butter tarts. Yet they seem to be distinctively Canadian.

Butter tarts were common in pioneer Canadian cooking, and they remain a characteristic pastry of Canada, considered one of only a few recipes of genuinely Canadian origin. – Wikipedia

Wiki also reports that exotic flavours have been developed for competitions: maple bacon, pumpkin, chili and salted caramel cardamom. Out at Pakenham ON, just an hour or so outside Ottawa, a wonderful bakery sells maple and rhubarb butter tarts (in season), as well as more standard flavours.

Bakery shelf with maple and raisin butter tarts.

Is there a site devoted to butter tarts? Not that I saw, but there are festivals, trails, and tours:

And of course, there are all sorts of recipes to try:


This entry was posted in Appreciating Deeply, Through Canada and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to National Treasure #124: Butter Tarts

  1. Jim Robertson says:

    Excellent choice Isabel!

    My mother made the BEST butter tarts (Dare I say anything else?), never knew they were a Canadian delicacy/invention and now National Treasure.

    Mum’s were made “properly” with raisins or currants which I see one of your noted recipe notes (although not enough raisins).

    I used to make dozens every Christmas until my belt said “no more !!”

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Well, you might say that your wife makes the best ones, but I leave the management of this delicate family matter to you. Feel free to share recipe . . .

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    Joan’s aunt used to make what we considered the best butter tarts in the world, and consistently won first prize in baking competitions for them. Then she learned that excess sugar was not good for us, or anyone else, and started making butter tarts with no butter and no sugar. She couldn’t understand why she never won prizes anymore.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – LOL. As one family member says about the dry, tasteless low-fat products on offer, “Fat was not a legislated requirement.” Indeed. It served a purpose.

Comments are closed.