Add a new contender for the top spot in your personal “Where Have You Been All My Life, My Lovely Pastry?” list. Last month the NYT highlighted regional Canadian foods, and this one made the follicles on the back of our neck stand up and sing The Lumberjack Song. Their recipe for Canadian Butter Tarts follows below, with an embellishment or two by us at The Pastry Ranch that may not play in purist Winnepeg, but tough, we think ours are better.
We’ve been looking for a distinctive Canadian pastry for some years now. Nanaimo Bars leave us a little cold with what is invariably way too much sugar and sweetness, and Tim Horton’s doughnuts, although outstanding, are in the end just . . . doughnuts (if there could be such a thing as just a donut). Neither one has successfully crossed the border into our recipe collections as yet, although we’re always willing to try.
But these tarts are far more than a dollop of sweetness, and rise to the complexity and artistry of true pastry (fit for a Pastryologist) because of the light, flaky, crisp pastry cup that they start with. They not only taste great, but they SOUND great, given the fortuitous choice of naming them after the relatively minor ingredient of butter. These would better be called Brown Sugar Tarts, or even mini-Sugar Pies given their predominant flavor and ingredient. Sugar Pies were once a staple of every home baker’s repertoire, but are now cruelly forgotten thanks to our generational fear of sugar.
Anyway, call it what you want, but I guarantee that these will become a shining example of your Pastryology genius and repertoire. We first brought them to a birthday party for Chris Hennessy, where they were roundly scarfed by the adults in the room, and now they greet our guests at the Pastry Ranch . . . if we can keep ourselves from eating them all when they’re fresh out of the oven. And that’s a big If.
CANADIAN BUTTER TARTS
(adapted from a recipe in the New York Times)
(This is very similar to the tart pastry we make for Parisian Flan, and very simply done in the food processor. After cooling and resting, it comes back to the rolling board as a very sturdy, golden dough that holds together under the rolling pin and is very easy to work).
1 1/2 C flour (AP is fine)
pinch of sea salt
1/2 C (one stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/4 C ice water
1 egg yolk
1 t white vinegar (optional, but it keeps the dough from turning brown)
Place the flour and salt into your food processor, pulse to combine, add the butter and pulse until fully incorporated. You could also do this by hand in a large bowl, using your fingertips to fully incorporate the butter into the flour. In a separate bowl, combine the ice water, yolk and vinegar, stir it up, and then with the processor running, pour it into the flour mixture just until it clumps up into a mass. (If you do it by hand, make a well in the center of the flour, pour in the mixed-together liquid and use a long-tined fork to gather it together into a mass of dough.) Remove to plastic wrap, shape into a disc, wrap it up tight and let it sit in the fridge for at least a half-hour.
When you’re ready to bake, heat oven to 425 and grease or spray a dozen regular-sized muffin tins. On a floured work surface and with a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to a large rectangle that is about 1/4″ thick. Use a round cutter or a glass to cut 4-inch circles out of the dough, cutting as many as you can before gathering the scraps and re-rolling and cutting until you have a dozen disks of dough. Fit them into the muffin tins, pressing them against the bottoms and sides and crimping the tops; try to fill the muffin cups entirely, with the top of your dough forming a rim at the top of the muffin cup.
1/4 C raisins (note: You could be jeered and reviled in certain parts of Canada for adding raisins to your tart. We like them. Our Ranch, our tart. Go back to Moosejaw if you don’t like them, eh?)
1/4 C rum (dark or light)
1/4 C chopped walnuts (optional; we personally like the crunch they bring; see note on Moosejaw, above)
1 C packed brown sugar (dark or light)
1/2 t sea salt
1/4 C (half a stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temp
1 t Vanilla
1 large egg
Heat up the rum on the stove to near-boiling and drop the raisins into the pan to plump them up. Add hot water to the rum to cover the raisins. Let them soak for a few minutes and then drain and drop 7-8 raisins into each pastry-lined muffin cup. Drop a few pieces of walnut into the cups, too.
In a mixing bowl, mush together the brown sugar, salt, butter, vanilla and egg with your hand. Don’t use a food processor or hand mixer because it will add too much air to the mixture. Just pinch it together with your fingers until everything is combined. Enjoy the sandy sensation of gooey brown sugar, and then for goodness sakes, wash your hands.
Drop a tablespoon of the sugar mixture into each cup, until they’re about half-full. Don’t overfill! This stuff will puff up dramatically. Bake for 13-15 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the filling has puffed up. Remove to a cooling rack and leave the tarts in the muffin tins until completely cool. After a few minutes, use a sharp paring knife to loosen the tarts and cut through any sugar that is sticking them to the tins, and then let cool completely in the tins before removing the tarts.
Thanks, Canada; we owe you one.