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Home » Culture

As Canadian as a Butter Tart

Submitted by on October 29, 2010 – 10:33 am8 Comments

Butter tarts, St. Jacobs Farmers Market, OntarioBefore I moved to Canada, I was a pecan pie girl.

But I’ve been traveling around Ontario recently (you can read dispatches from my travels here: A Superior Travel Day and here: Going Where No Roads Go). And on my travels, I’ve discovered a new contender for my pie affections.

The butter tart.

In case you are — like me until recently — a butter tart virgin, the butter tart is a single-serving pastry filled with a gooey mix of brown sugar, butter, and egg. Sometimes the filling is fairly firm, while sometimes it’s so runny it almost pours out of the tart shell.

The other ingredients seem to be a matter of personal preference, or “this is how my mother/grandmother/favorite aunt always made it.” There are vocal pro- and anti-raisin contingents, and most people seem to feel strongly about whether nuts (generally pecans or walnuts) or coconut or any other flavor additions (peanut butter, anyone?) belong in a butter tart.

To my taste, a pecan butter tart is quite similar to a pecan pie. Can anyone enlighten me if there’s a significant difference?

As I traveled across Ontario, I sampled butter tarts at the Little Tub Bakery in Tobermory (on the beautiful Bruce Peninsula), at the Sweet Oven Bakery in Barrie, and at several Ontario Farmers’ Markets. And of course, I made a butter tart pilgrimage to Marty’s World Famous Cafe in Bracebridge, where the owner, Marty Curtis, bills himself as “The Michelangelo of butter tarts.”

I haven’t tasted enough butter tarts yet to have a definitive favorite — do you? — but I did learn a valuable butter tart lesson:

If you buy a butter tart “for later,” it will sit seductively in a little box on the front seat of your car. Before long, it will begin to call out to you, so later becomes sooner, and even if you’re driving, you will eat that ooey, gooey little tart.

And no matter how hard you try to stop the sweet tart filling from oozing out of its shell or how futilely you attempt to cover yourself with napkins, only too late will you remember the warning they issue at Marty’s:

Do not eat butter tarts in your car, or you’ll end up wearing them!

Butter tarts at the St. Jacobs (ON) Farmers Market photo ©Carolyn B. Heller


  • Michael says:

    Does anyone know what American restaurants/bakeries/cafes serve butter tarts?(Boston, New York, Chicago etc??)?

  • Butter tarts are incredible – they remind me a bit of an English treacle tart. I’m strictly no raisins though. As an expat Brit in Quebec I have enjoyed discovering the tarte au sucre or sugar pie. I once committed a faux pas – by sticking one in the oven. Apparently they should be warm not hot. We had pie crust and a warm sugar soup – when it emerged. Oops.

    • Carolyn B. Heller says:

      I have to agree with you about the raisins in butter tarts. So far it’s pecans or plain for me.

      How does the tarte au sucre differ from a butter tart?

  • Zhu says:

    I love this pastry too! It was new to me as a French but I was happy to embrace this part of Canadian culture 🙂

  • Emily says:

    Oh yum! Good thing we ran all those miles before you met up with the butter tarts! Do you think they are similar to Shoo Fly Pie?

    • Carolyn says:

      I can’t remember the last time I had shoo fly pie, but I think the main ingredient in the filling is molasses, which would give it a different flavor than the brown sugar filling in the butter tarts.