Sugar, sugar

Just last week, Emma’s Nanna and Grandad returned from a 3-week trip abroad.  She was very excited about them coming home and when we told her they were coming for dinner, she knew exactly what she wanted as a treat for their visit: butter tarts. Warm, buttery, brown sugary goodness.

Emma’s first exposure to butter tarts was with our friend D. I say “our” friend because D and I became fast friends years ago through work, and when Emma arrived, it was like she claimed D to be her own. Perhaps it was the many Starbucks lattes and loads of laughter she experienced while in the womb, but the moment Emma met D, they were hooked. D’s mother is a fantastic baker and knowing I have a weakness for sweets (and D doesn’t!), she has on occasion sent some scrumptious offerings my way, including homemade butter tarts. So sweet – so gooey – so incredible. Clearly, my reaction impressed Emma because as soon as she saw my face, she was there immediately requesting a taste. Only later did she find out that they were a favourite of her grandad’s too — and since then there’s been no turning back!

There are a lot of alternatives out there for butter tarts – ones with nuts or raisins or chocolate chips, runny or firm, tall or short. As we played around with what we now use as our go-to recipe, I hoped to find something that was worth exerting effort on: delectable, fast, easy, no lard in the crust (it’s just a me-thing, I don’t love using lard), not too runny (Emma and her Grandad do not like to have sticky/dirty fingers) and with no nuts. I also wanted something that would look impressive on the plate and be easy for me to clean up after baking.

This combination hit the mark for us – delicious, nut-free, soft, but not gooey, and had a slight twist: a shortbread-like crust. You won’t be disappointed.

Great Big Butter Tart
(serves 8-10)

Great Big Butter Tart


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour


  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Lightly grease an 8-inch round cake pan. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Rub together the butter, brown sugar and flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Press into the bottom of your prepared pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly golden. Remove from oven.

While the crust bakes, beat eggs and sugar together until light and thickened. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until just combined. Pour over the crust and bake for an additional 18-23 minutes. The centre will look slightly wobbly and just about firm. Cool for 5 minutes and run a knife around the edge of the tart in the pan to help loosen it from the sides of the pan.  Serve warm, cool or cold, whatever your preference.

Tips and suggestions:

  • The longer the filling stays in the oven, the more firm and chewy it will become. If you’re looking for a softer filling, keep it in closer to the low end of the time range.
  • Although we don’t put nuts in the filling due to Emma’s allergies, there’s no reason why you couldn’t put a handful of chopped pecans or walnuts in. Traditionally, from what I’ve read, Canadian butter tarts would normally have nuts or raisins in them.
  • Try using whole wheat flour in the crust for a darker, slightly nutty flavour to the shortbread crust. Not to mention it’s slightly “healthier” (if you can say that about a butter tart!)
  • You can just as easily make these into butter tart squares. Just use an 8-inch square pan lined with parchment paper. Follow the rest of the instructions as described above. When the square has cooled, remove it from the pan using the parchment paper to lift it out and cut it into squares.

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