A few years ago, we visited our friends the Jay family at their cottage. For dessert at one meal, they graciously provided butter tarts from the Sweet Oven in Barrie, Ontario. We sat around the table, enjoying these wonderful tarts and a great conversation, then Garth said, “Hey, let’s go look at the pictures from our last trip.” We wandered off, but soon realized Garth and Andrew were missing. We crept back into the kitchen to find the two of them shamelessly finishing off the last two tarts.
I believe butter tarts are the ultimate Canadian food. Maple syrup, poutine, and peameal bacon all have their supporters, but I defy any of them to compete with the joy of the first bite of a butter tart. (And, if you’re Garth and Andrew, with the last bite of your second butter tart.)
For anyone who’s never eaten one, I offer my profound sympathies. And an explanation. Picture a miniature pecan pie, slightly runnier, with raisins and (perhaps) walnuts instead of pecans. When I think of butter tarts, I think of my mother’s cookie plate at Christmas, where they’re always the star. I think of dinners in my church basement when I was a kid, where I nibbled them as slowly as I could to make them last longer. I’ve loved butter tarts my whole life.
So why do I rarely eat them?
As you know, I love to bake, so it’s very unusual for me to buy desserts. And butter tarts are a lot of work. I consider it a major task to make a pie shell, so how much more work is it to make twelve (or more) little tart shells? So as much as I loved them, butter tarts weren’t happening in this house.
And then I found this recipe. Instead of using tart shells, a very simple base holds the filling. Don’t tell the purists, but I think I like this even better than butter tarts, because you get as much filling in the last bite as the first. To my Canadian readers, I present this easy version of a true classic. To my international readers, I present the first bite of the rest of your life.
Butter Tart Squares
(adapted from Best Recipes Ever)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional; I used them and loved the result. If you don’t use walnuts, I’d add extra raisins)
In bowl, beat 1/2 cup butter with granulated sugar until smooth. Add flour and mix until just combined. Press into the bottom of a 9 inch square pan that has been covered with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
In bowl, stir melted butter with eggs. Mix in brown sugar, flour, baking powder, vanilla and salt and stir to combine. Stir in raisins and walnuts; pour over base.
Bake at 350 degrees until top springs back when lightly touched, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool before cutting into squares.