All the information you need about making butter tart pastry dough from scratch, whether to grease the muffin pan for butter tarts or not, some tips for baking butter tarts to ensure the crust is properly baked, and of course, an all-butter pastry crust + butter tart filling recipe without corn syrup.
Let's talk butter tarts. Like any typical Canadian, I love butter tarts. The filling is great: it's sweet with brown sugar, with a thin dribbly syrup layer tucked under the sugary crust that forms as it bakes. And then, there's the all butter crust. It's so short with butter that it has a flaky, delicate shortbread texture.
Butter tart crust recipe dos and don'ts
The crust should be all butter
I make the all-butter pastry dough by hand, working the butter into the flour mixture by rubbing it between my palms, quickly, until I get an even mixture that resembles sand. You can tell when you're done because the white flour will have a warm golden yellow colour from the butter.
Full disclosure, some people love to make butter tart shells with shortening, but given I'm "team butter," that's just not how I roll.
Some people will add vinegar to the dough. This is to prevent gluten from forming and to make a less tough, more tender pastry shell. I don't think it's necessary but if you are concerned or have found your pie doughs are tough, try adding a splash of vinegar when you add the water.
The thickness of the butter tart pastry crust is key
If you roll the dough too thin (~⅛"), your filling will probably find a tiny crack somewhere at the bottom, gluing down the tart as it bakes. When this happens, you're screwed. The tart is stuck in the pan, and if you're lucky, you may be able to unmould the top and sides, but inevitably a chunk of the bottom will stick to the pan. Game over! Your tart will have a hole at the bottom, the filling is leaking out. I originally was rolling the tart dough this thin, and it was a mistake and a nightmare that caused a lot of hyperventilating and panic when I struggled, mostly unsuccessfully, to unmould them.
If you roll the dough too thick (>¼"), your tart will be mostly crust. There won't be enough room for the filling and the crust probably won't bake properly on the bottom. Raw tart crust is the opposite of delicious.
I now consistently roll the dough to about 3/16". That's almost a quarter inch, but not quite. The crust is still thick enough that the filling doesn't seep through, but it's not so thick that it doesn't cook. At this thickness, I like the ratio of sweet filling to buttery crust.
Do you grease the muffin pan for butter tarts?
For mini tarts in tart pans, you don't have to grease the tart pans. But for butter tarts in muffin tins, the tarts tend to stick.
I've tested baking the tarts in greased and ungreased muffin pans, and also with and without a small parchment round fitted at the bottom of each. And after doing many tests, I now I realize that greasing the muffin pan for butter tarts wasn't the helpful. The parchment didn't make much of a difference, but I feel that the greasing might actually have made the unmoulding more difficult. Crazy, I know, but I think it did.
You don't grease a pie plate, so why grease when you're making tarts with such a butter-rich crust? Don't grease the pan, and if you have the time, cut out little parchment rounds to appease the mind.
How to prevent a soggy bottom
Nobody likes it when pies or tarts are raw on the bottom and getting the bottoms of butter tarts to bake properly can be a challenge. Here are some tips:
- Bake butter tarts on the bottom rack (the rack that you never ever use)! This ensures that your tarts will bake on the bottom, and not just the tops. This has worked really well for me and the bottoms even begin to turn golden brown this way.
- When the tarts are baked, do not unmold them until they are completely cooled.
- I repeat, DO NOT UNMOLD THEM UNTIL THEY ARE COMPLETELY COOLED. Yes, this statement is deserving of all caps and bold lettering. If you try to unmold them when they are warm, you will end up on the floor in a puddle of broken butter tarts, crying. Don't hurry the cooling process. Just walk away, and several hours later, then you can start to unmold. The most I do when they are hot is give them a little twist and if there's any spilling of filling over the sides, I run a toothpick around the edge.
- To get the butter tarts out of the pan when they're cold, use a very thin knife blade.
- I slide the tip of a thin steak knife between the crust and the pan, and use my finger on the other side of the crust to pull upwards (kinda like tweezers where one end is a knife and the other is a finger). Does that make sense?
If you know of a better way of unmoulding them, please share, or if you have any tips to add, I'd love to read them.
Canadians will debate on whether they want a runny, gooey filling, or whether they want a more set filling, and that's a matter of personal preference. And don't get them started on raisin vs no raisin butter tarts, or whether you can add dried currants or coconut to butter tarts.
Regardless of how you like your filling, the crust is key. It has to be short. It is supposed to have a soft, flaky texture. The crust is the reason for my love–hate relationship with these butter tarts. The fragile nature of butter tart shells means unmoulding them out of a muffin pan is a bit of a nightmare.
A note about the butter tart filling
I was going to focus just on the butter tart pastry shell, but there are a few things we need to discuss about the filling too because the recipes vary greatly and may include extra ingredients to prevent the caramel filling from crystallizing:
- Some butter tart filling recipes have corn syrup: this is a method to reduce crystallization in the filling so ensure a silky smooth, gooey butter tart filling. The corn syrup introduces another sugar, other than sucrose, which reduces the crystallization of the filling
- Some butter tart fillings have white vinegar: this is another method to reduce crystallization of the caramel filling. The acidity of the vinegar will break down some of the sugars, leading to a smoother filling. Another acid I've seen in butter tart fillings is lemon juice.
- Incorporating maple syrup in the filling: maple syrup adds a lot of flavour to baked goods and if you'd like to use it to make your butter tart filling, by all means, do! Remember that with maple syrup, the baking substitution is to replace up to 70 grams (⅓ cup) of brown sugar with 83 mL (⅓ cup) of maple syrup. This will lead to a more runny, fluid middle that is less set. You can even do half brown sugar and half maple syrup, but again, the filling may be more runny. It all depends what you want!
- Dark versus light brown sugar: you can use either dark or light brown sugar to make the filling for butter tarts. I prefer the mild flavour of light brown sugar, but either will work.
Butter tarts store well at room temperature for several days. Just let them cool completely before transferring them to a container. For longer storage, you can freeze them. In fact, many Canadians enjoy eating cold butter tarts straight from the freezer!
To store butter tarts in the freezer, let them cool completely on a wire rack then transfer them to a parchment-lined sheet pan to freeze solid. Once frozen, you can throw them in an airtight freezer bag.
Here's a recipe for both the all-butter butter tart crust and the classic filling without corn syrup. This butter tart recipe makes 12 butter tarts.
Butter tart with all-butter crust
All-butter crust recipe for butter tarts
- 310 grams (2½ cups) all-purpose flour
- 15 mL (1 tbsp) granulated sugar
- 5 mL (1 tsp) Diamond Crystal fine kosher salt
- 175 grams (¾ cup) unsalted butter very cold, cut into small cubes
- 100 mL (7 tbsp) cold water
How to make all-butter pastry shells for butter tarts
- Before you begin, have a glass ready with cold water and set your vinegar bottle on the counter with a tablespoon to measure these ingredients later, when your hands are dirty. Also, have a fork on the counter next to your bowl.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and sugar.
- Add the cubed cold butter to the bowl and toss it in the flour to coat it.
- Working with your palms and quickly, rub handfuls of flour and butter together to work the butter into the flour until you get a mixture that has a coarse, sandy texture, without pieces of butter no larger than a chickpea. The mixture will have a golden yellow colour when you are done.
- Sprinkle the mixture with the water. Work the liquid ingredients into the sandy mixture, whisking it in with the fork.
- Clean the fork with your hands and switch to working the dough with your hands, quickly kneading it all together until you get a smooth dough.
- Split the dough into two; roll each into a log, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
- When you are ready to roll the dough, simply divide each log into 6 pieces, rolling each piece into a 4½″ circle roughly, large enough to fit into your muffin pans. Carefully work each disk into the well of a 12 cup muffin pan.
- Chill the tart shells in the fridge for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the filling.
How to make butter tart filling
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
- In a medium bowl, cream together the softened butter and the brown sugar.
- Add the whipping cream, egg, and vanilla. Stir well to combine.
- If you want to make tarts the raisins or nuts, place a few at the bottom of each crust (see notes).
- Divide the filling among the cold tart shells.
- Bake the tarts on the bottom rack for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 375 ºF and continue baking for another 10 to 15 minutes. The edges of the crust should be golden.
- Remove the muffin pans from the oven. Let the tarts cool for about 5 minute until they are firm, then gently twist them to make sure they will unmould when cooled. If any tarts have bubbled over, use a thin pairing knife to gently unstick the edges. Be careful not to break the pastry shell.
- Once cooled, unmold the tarts with the help of an offset spatula.