One Sunday last fall I went into the kitchen with the sole purpose of perfecting Canada's icon of pastry - the butter tart. I studied a number of acclaimed recipes and established what I thought was the winning ingredients and their appropriate proportions.
Recently, I received an unexpected correspondence from out of the country. A Canadian ex-pat had tried the recipe and brought the tarts into work to indoctrinate this foreign colleagues in the ways of Canadiana. He said they were instantly won over. Hence, my now 'world famous' status.
Why do I tell you this story? Today my oldest brother ('family obituary librarian') told me that Oliver Rohrer died on May 13th. He was 90. What Oliver knew about butter tarts I am not too sure. But his brother's wife, Doris, sure did.
As a very young girl, I often went to visit Doris at the farm next door, knowing she was an avid and active baker. She was also very giving of her wares to young, adoring fans. I never disappointed her and always accepted her offerings. The most frequent treat seemed to be butter tarts. I had never had them before and I thought they were pure heaven.
She really was the impetus of my life long search for butter tart perfection. I might think I now own the recipe to most 'world famous', but in my heart I know neighbour Doris reigns supreme.
THE FOUR-BITER WORLD FAMOUS BUTTER TARTS
pastry adapted from The Joy of Cooking, filling inspired by many
Yields 12 muffin sized tarts
2 cups all-purpose flour (I use 5 Roses)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Tenderflake lard
1/4 cup water
Sift flour and salt together in a bowl.
Remove 1/3 cup of this mixture and place it in a small bowl or cup.
Stir water into it to form a smooth paste. (I usually add the water to this small bowl of flour after I have cut in the lard, in order to keep it moist.)
Cut lard into the flour mixture in the first bowl with a pastry blender until the grain is the size of small peas. It works best when the lard is still chilled and not fully at room temperature.
Stir the flour paste into the dough. Work it with your hand until well incorporated and the dough forms a ball. It is important not to over work the dough or it will become tough.
Wrap the ball in saran wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out 1/2 the pastry dough between two sheets of wax paper that have been very lightly floured.
Cut circles using a yogurt container. This is a little over 4" wide but works well for a standard 2 3/4" muffin tin. You should be able to get 4 circles from this first dough.
Once in the pan, prick the bottom and sides of the shell with a fork. Repeat with the other 1/2 of the dough. Collect up the scraps of dough from the first two rolls and there should be enough for 4 more shells. 12 in total.
1/3 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons cream
1 large egg, room temperature
6 tablespoons of chopped walnuts
Do not combine the filling until all the pie shells are in the tart pans and prepared. Add 8 raisins and 1/2 tablespoon of chopped walnuts to each shell.
Combine butter, sugar and salt together. Add maple syrup, vanilla and cream. Beat. Add the egg and beat well.
Move quickly to divide the filling evenly among the 12 tarts. Approximately 2 big spoonfuls in each tart, filling 3/4 of the way.
Put in a 450ºF preheated oven on center rack for 9 minutes. Then reduce the oven to 350ºF and continue to bake for just 4 more minutes. Watch them very closely as not to over bake. Let them cool in the pan for 10 minutes to set before removing them from the pan. Let them cool completely on a cooling rack.
Some tarts may be deemed 'structurally unstable' if the crust for that tart is just too flaky. They must be eaten right away! With a small fork or spoon, of course. You will marvel at the number of 'civil engineers' that come crawling out of the woodwork to make this declaration!
The tarts freeze well. If they last that long.
Neighbour Doris made mini butter tarts. I make a four-biter.
CHEF'S TIP: When I bake mini tarts, I put 5 raisins per tart (usually no nuts) and I bake them on pure convection at 425ºF for 10 minutes.