Monday, July 2, 2012


Happy Canada Day!! July is my favourite month of the year. It starts off with Canada Day (a stat holiday) and then has the Tour de France (21 days of well-toned men in lycra), and we don't even need a coat!!

So for this Canada Day weekend, I thought I'd try making some Canadiana dish, in between writing the novel that no one will ever see and the blog that no one reads (not this one but this one). So I set out on the quest to make the most grandma of desserts, the humble butter tart.

Butter tarts (or tarte au sucre if you're from Quebec - Happy Belated St. Jean-Baptiste by the way) are a pure Canadian concoction. Well they appear to originate from Quebec, who are conveniently Canadian to the rest of us when they do something good (butter tarts, poutine, depanneurs, GSP, Schwartz's) and then are those friggin French whenever they do something the rest of the country finds off-putting (hockey riots, student riots, FLQ riots). Personally, my politics are for a Canada that includes Quebec just as it is, with its distinct society and its obscene taxes on gasoline (where you can also buy beer, unlike anywhere else in the country except for Alberta. In fact, Quebec and Alberta have a lot in common, but whatever you do, don't tell them that!).

And so, my Canada includes the humble butter tart. Some people like to put things into butter tarts, like nuts (nuts are not indigenous to Canada, so why?) or raisins (raisins are rabbit droppings from hell, so again, why?). I like my tarte au sucre as nature intended - plain, just a little runny, and sweet.

When I looked at the components of the butter tart, it's really just a pate sucree with a runny filling. Though really, the crust should be made with le Tenderflake (and I found out why in the process) instead of butter.

Pate Sucree
(from La Varenne)

1 2/3 cups (200g) soft flour (all-purpose will do in a pinch)
6 1/2 Tbsp (100g) cold, unsalted butter (does not have to be cubed) or Tenderflake lard (yes lard)
1/2 cup  (100g) caster or confectioners sugar (if caster - pate sucree; if confectioners - pate sablee)
4 egg yolks (cold)
1/2 tsp salt (I used 1/4 because I had sea salt)
1/2 tsp real (please) vanilla extract

Sift flour, sugar, and salt together onto a clean, smooth work surface. Make a well in the centre. Using your knuckles, pound the butter to soften it (a good stress reliever). Add the butter into the flour until it looks like cornmeal. Make another well and add the yolks and vanilla, bringing the whole thing together.

Using a pastry scraper, spatula, or knife, work the crumbs until you have large pieces that stick together. Press crumbs into a ball and knead with the heel of your hand until it comes together as one smooth piece of pastry. This will take a few minutes. Work out that stress. Once its smooth, form it into a ball and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 min to overnight, remembering that it is butter/lard in there, so if you leave it for too long, you'll have to let it warm up a bit before rolling it.

When you're ready to make tarts, roll out the dough as you would for a large pie, until it's about 1/3-1/2 inch thick. Yes make them this thick! Then cut large circles, about an inch larger than your tart tin or muffin tin. If you're using muffin tins, for the love of God grease them, even if they're no stick. Because in the world of the butter tart, there is no such thing as "non-stick". They're butter tarts!!

Take your cut circle and form it around the muffin tin/tart tin, making sure that no holes form. If you tear the pastry, make sure you fix it, so that there is no way in hell your tart will leak from the bottom. (Trust me!) Once you've lined your tins, put them back in the fridge while you make your filling.

So while I was watching Stage 1 of the Tour de France today (now yesterday as I'm finishing this entry during Stage 2), I put together a pate sucree and chilled it, then rolled it out and thought, why am I going to make these in muffin tins? Why not be fancy about it and use my tart tins that I never use (again I found out why in the process)? So, I rolled my pate sucree tart thin, and lined my tart tins.

To make the filling, I used maple syrup instead of corn syrup. Why? Because it's Canada Day, that's why! And what the hell, corn syrup? Did you know that shit can power your car? Corn syrup scares me. Even more than raisins.

Maple Butter Tart Filling
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 whole egg
1/2 cup maple syrup

(yes that's it. I couldn't believe it, either.)

First, set your oven to 375F. Whatever Celsius. In Canada, we use metric for everything but cooking. Deal with it, Europeans!

The best way to mix this is by hand. I know...nobody has hand-creamed butter and sugar since 1972. But you have to for this. Or else it's a waste of electricity and it's just not right, eh? So, using a wooden spoon, cream butter and sugar together until it's smooth. Then add egg and vanilla and whisk until fluffy and even. Then stir (not whisk) in maple syrup until blended. Bits of butter will float to the top. That's ok. That's your tart cap.

Take your shells out of the fridge. Pour in the filling to about halfway up the tart. Don't go all the way up. Why? Because it's sugar, damnit. What does sugar do at high heat? It bubbles! So fill it 1/2 maybe 2/3 if you like to live dangerously. Fill as many as your mix allows (mine did 7). Then put them in the oven for about 12 minutes. Check. If they are leaking and flowing all over, cry. If they're not bubbling, leave them for another 4 - 7 minutes. When they bubble, give them a minute and then take them out. Pray to God they haven't leaked. If you are worried about leakage, make sure your tins are on a cookie sheet.

So here's how the good ones turned out, because, well, nobody ever posts pics of the disasters, do they?

That is, until now:

What happened? Well, they're butter tarts. The crust was made with butter. Butter melts in the heat. Butter also melts through butter. Ergo, leaks all over the place. Leaks which might have been contained had I used the muffin tins for the tarts as every self-respecting Canadian grandma will tell you.

But hell, they tasted amazing! So good they can only be described with bad grammar...

So enjoy the rest of your Canada Day weekend. Have a butter tart! And since all the stores are closed Monday, go for it and make your own. Spoon any leaked filling on top of chantilly cream or Canadiana ice cream by Chapman's. :)

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