These famous Canadian butter tarts consist of a flaky pastry shell filled with a rich buttery caramel centre. They are a perfect sweet indulgence whether you’re Canadian or not.

Butter tarts on a cooling rack with one broken in half to show the gooey center.

What is a butter tart?

A butter tart is a small pastry tart filled with a deliciously gooey semi-solid syrup made up of butter, sugar, and eggs. Often dried fruit or nuts are added to the filling. These sweet little gems are said to have originated in Quebec back in the 1600s. Though, the first printed recipe for butter tarts was published in The Womens Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook in 1900, out of Barrie, Ontario.

The original version of Canadian butter tarts was made with maple sugar, freshly churned butter, and dried fruit such as raisins or currents. Butter tarts became all the rage in the 1920s and 1930s. It’s one of the few authentically Canadian recipes that exist on paper. (source: Food Network Canada and Food Blogger of Canada) Whether a true butter tart has a runny or firm filling, plain or with raisins, is a matter of passionate national debate. For me, it’s a matter of personal preference with no right or wrong.

Why this recipe is so great:

  • Super flaky AND buttery tart shell – By using both butter and lard in this recipe, you achieve that flakiness you only get from using lard and that lovely buttery flavour you only get from using butter. It’s the best of both worlds.
  • Rich and intensely flavourful filling – The filling is made with brown sugar and butter, so there is a deep molasses flavour from the sugar and smoothness from the butter. There is a splash of cream and vanilla added for more flavour and richness. An egg is added to help thicken the filling while it bakes. There is no fussing with corn syrup or maple syrup in this recipe.
  • Easily adaptable – I love adding chopped pecans to the filling for some crunch and a nutty flavour. However, if pecans are not your thing, you can add raisins, dried currants, walnuts, chocolate chips, bacon (not a typo) or just leave them plain.
Butter tarts on a round cooling rack with a bowl of whipped cream.

Ingredients you’ll need and why:

  • All-purpose flour – Provides structure for the pastry by forming gluten when mixed with water, giving the dough its necessary elasticity and strength to hold its shape during baking.
  • Baking powder – Acts as a leavening agent, creating a lighter and flakier texture by releasing carbon dioxide during baking, which helps the pastry rise.
  • Salt – Enhances the overall flavour of the pastry by balancing the sweetness of the filling and also strengthens the gluten network for better dough stability.
  • Lard – Contributes to a flaky texture because of its unique fat composition and higher melting point, which creates distinct layers in the pastry.
  • Unsalted butter – Adds a rich flavour and helps in creating flaky layers; the water content in butter turns to steam during baking, which separates the dough layers. Butter also provides a smooth, creamy texture and adds richness to the filling, contributing significantly to the mouthfeel and flavour.
  • Eggs – Add richness and moisture to the dough. They also act as a binding agent that helps set the filling, giving it structure and preventing it from being too runny while adding a smooth, custard-like consistency.
  • White vinegar – Slightly inhibits gluten formation, resulting in a more tender and flaky pastry.
  • Cold water – Hydrates the flour, allowing gluten to form, and keeps the fats (butter and lard) solid until baking, which is essential for achieving a flaky texture.
  • Brown sugar – Sweetens the filling and adds a deep, caramel-like flavour due to the molasses content, enhancing the richness of the tart.
  • Table or whipping cream – Adds creaminess and richness to the filling, giving it a smooth texture.
  • Vanilla extract – Enhances the overall flavour of the filling with its warm, sweet notes.
  • Chopped pecans, walnuts, raisins, or chocolate chips – Adds texture and additional flavours; nuts provide crunch and a nutty flavour, raisins add chewiness and sweetness, and chocolate chips introduce a rich, chocolaty element.

How to make butter tarts:

(the ingredient amounts are listed in the printable recipe card further below)

how to make butter tarts, steps 1-6 photos
  1. You start by tossing together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Then cut in the butter and lard until it resembles coarse oatmeal.
  2. In a measuring cup, whisk together an egg and some vinegar. Add enough water to make one cup.
  3. Gradually stir in the liquid, adding just enough water to make the dough cling together.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gather into a ball and divide into two equal portions. Tightly saran wrap both portions. Place one in the freezer for later use. Place the other in the fridge to chill for one hour.
  5. Roll the dough to about 1/8″ thick. Cut as many 4″ circles as you can. Re-roll the scraps and cut out more circles to make 12.
  6. Fit the pastry circles into a muffin pan and place back in the fridge until ready to fill.
  7. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and brown sugar until combined. Whisk in a splash of cream and vanilla extract. Let cool for 5 minutes and whisk in an egg.
  8. Divide any add-ins like pecans or raisins if using among the pastry.
  9. Pour in the butter tart filling just until half full.
  10. Bake at 375F for 13-15 minutes or until crust is lightly golden and filling is bubbling.
how to make butter tarts, steps 7-8 photos

Expert tips:

  • Use softened butter and lard – I know this goes against all pie crust rules, but I find it much easier and faster to cut softened butter and lard than cold. And since you’re going to be placing back in the fridge to chill for an hour and again when you are preparing the filling, the fats will re-solidify, creating that layer upon layer of flaky crust.
  • Bake in the lower third of oven – This will help the bottom of the tarts turn golden at the same time the edges are done.
  • Best way to remove tarts from the pan – Let the tarts cool in the pan, place a cooling rack (upside down) on top and flip the pan over. Then flip each butter tart right-side up. If any of the butter tarts are stuck to the pan, use a fork to gently loosen and remove.

FAQ:

Can you use puff pastry for butter tarts?

This is a matter of personal preference. I much prefer a traditional flaky pie crust. To me, it’s not a butter tart if it’s made with any other type of pastry. However, if you prefer a lighter tart shell or you’re press for time, then yes, you can use puff pastry.

Do butter tarts need to be refrigerated?

Butter tarts do not need to be refrigerated if they will be consumed within a day or two and can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container. For longer storage, it’s best to store them in the fridge to keep them fresh.

Can you freeze butter tarts?

Yes, butter tarts freeze really well. Place completely cooled tarts in an airtight freezer-friendly container or ziplock bag. Label with the date and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. For best results, freeze the day they were baked. Thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat in the oven at 350F for about 10 minutes.

How to store butter tarts:

Butter tarts can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days at room temperature or up to 5 days in the fridge. If storing in the fridge, you can eat them cold or bring them to room temperature before serving. After 3 days, it’s best to freshen up the tarts in the oven at 350F for 5-10 minutes to re-crisp the pastry.

Four butter tarts on a plate with one partially eaten.

You might also like:

The texture of these butter tarts is flaky and crumbly with a sticky-gooey centre. The taste is buttery with a warm caramel flavour. These butter tarts are a simple treat with a decadent flair.

Did you make this recipe? Please kindly leave a comment with your star rating below.

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BEST Canadian Butter Tarts

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 4.9 from 55 reviews
  • Author: Lily Ernst
  • Prep Time: 30 min
  • Cook Time: 15 min
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 12 butter tarts
  • Category: dessert
  • Method: bake
  • Cuisine: Canadian

Description

This famous Canadian dessert consists of a flaky pastry shell filled with a rich buttery caramel centre.


Ingredients

Makes 12 butter tarts

Pastry

  • 3 cups (375g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5ml) baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5ml) salt
  • 1/2 cup (114g) lard
  • 1/2 cup (114g) unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp (5ml) white vinegar
  • about 1 cup (250ml) cold water

Filling

  • 3/4 cup (165g) packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup (75g) unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp (15ml) table or whipping cream
  • 1 tsp (5ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg

Optional

  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, walnuts, raisins or chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, toss together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. Cut in the lard and butter using a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse oatmeal.
  3. In a measuring cup, combine the egg and vinegar. Add enough cold water to make one cup.
  4. Gradually stir in the liquid, adding just enough to make the dough cling together.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gather into a ball and divide into two equal portions. Tightly saran wrap both portions. Place one in the freezer for later use. Place the other in the fridge to chill for one hour.
  6. Roll the dough on a floured surface to about 1/8″ thick. Cut as many 4″ circles as you can. Re-roll the scraps and cut out more circles to make 12.
  7. Fit the pastry circles into a muffin pan and place back in the fridge until ready to fill.
  8. Preheat oven to 375F and position a rack in lower third of oven.
  9. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar. Remove from heat and stir in the cream and vanilla. Let cool to touch (about 5 minutes) before whisking in the egg.
  10. Divide the pecans (if using) among the pastry shells and pour in the filling until half full.
  11. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until crust is lightly golden around the edges and filling is bubbling.
  12. Let cool completely in the pan. Best way to remove the tarts from the pan is to place a cooling rack (upside down) on top and flip the pan over. Then individually flip each butter tart right side up.

Notes

I normally only make a dozen butter tarts at a time, but if you are serving a large crowd and want to make 2 dozen tarts, simply double the filling ingredients and use all the pastry dough.

To prepare the freezer dough for use: Thaw overnight in the fridge and leave out for 15 minutes at room temperature before rolling.

Butter tarts can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days at room temperature or up to 5 days in the fridge. If storing in the fridge, you can eat them cold or bring them to room temperature before serving. After 3 days, it’s best to freshen up the tarts in the oven at 350F for 5-10 minutes to re-crisp the pastry.

To freeze butter tarts: Place completely cooled tarts in an airtight freezer-friendly container or ziplock bag. Label with the date and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. For best results, freeze the day they were baked. Thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat in the oven at 350F for about 10 minutes.

This post was originally published on June 15th, 2017 and has been recently updated with new photos.

Perfectly flaky homemade pastry shells filled with a buttery caramel center.

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