Brimming with a buttery bourbon-brown sugar filling, this Canadian Butter Tarts recipe is the perfect dessert for your next holiday gathering.
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If you’re not familiar with butter tarts, they’re an old-fashioned dessert that originated in Canada and are similar to pecan pies of the American south.
Both pecan pie (and these Pecan Pie Bars) and butter tarts are made with tender, flakey pie crust filled with a sweet, sugary filling. However, there are a few key differences worth noting:
5 Star Review
“These little tarts are fantastic!!!”— Amanda —
- Size. Butter tarts are always prepared in miniature, never in a larger pie form. Making them poppable, sharable, and easily transportable.
- Consistency. While pecan pie filling is always thick and fully set, some butter tart fillings are nicely set, while others recipes yield a slightly runny filling.
- Mix-ins. Pecan pie (and Pecan Pie Cobbler) is always pecan pie. Butter tarts, however, can be filled with raisins, walnuts, pecans, currants, or a combination of all of the above.
My recipe aims to satisfy all.
I kept the essentials—miniature size, decadent filling, and an irresistible crackly top (similar to this Buttermilk Pie)—streamlined the ingredients, and left the mix-ins open to interpretation.
Where did these magical little tartlets come from? I did a bit of internet sleuthing and learned that Canadian butter tart history can be traced to 1900 in Barrie, Ontario.
It was here that one of the first known butter tart recipes was published in the Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook. File that away for trivia night.
How to Make Butter Tarts
Whether you’re looking for an extra treat for a Christmas party or a sweet to perk up your week, Canadian butter tarts are a simple, uniquely homey, and satisfying dessert for any occasion.
They’re easy as pie! Er, tarts.
- Pie Crust. Shave off prep time with a store-bought crust or use your favorite homemade pie crust recipe (like this Darn Good Whole Wheat Pie Crust).
- Butter. Since butter is such a key component in this recipe, splurge on some high-quality grass-fed or extra-creamy European-style butter—it’s worth it!
- Brown Sugar. Contributes a lovely crunch by forming a crackly topping as the tarts bake. It’s sweet, rich, and caramely.
- All Purpose Flour. Provides structure and helps bind the filling ingredients together.
- Eggs. A critical component to hold the filing together.
- Maple Syrup. It wouldn’t be a Canadian dessert without at least a little pure maple syrup. (These Maple Brown Sugar Bourbon Bars are another where it shines).
- Vanilla. Enhances the flavor of the butter and brown sugar.
- Salt. Balances the sweetness of the maple syrup and brown sugar.
- Bourbon. An optional add-in that I personally love (Bourbon Balls are proof). You can either warm it with dried fruit (if that’s your selected mix-in) or reduce the maple syrup by one tablespoon and add it at that time.
Try butter tarts with one (or more) of the following mix-ins:
- Shredded Coconut
My Canadian father-in-law says his mother used raisins in her butter tarts. But do your own experimentation to find your perfect combo.
- Roll out your favorite pie crust (you’ll need a double-crust amount).
Leave your second crust in the fridge until you’re ready to roll it out and stamp circles. Chilled pie crust is much easier to work with.
- Use a 4-inch biscuit cutter to stamp out a total of 14 circles (reroll scraps if needed).
- Press the circles into an ungreased, standard muffin pan. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Melt the butter and warm the raisins in the bourbon.
- Add the butter, brown sugar, and flour to a large mixing bowl.
- Whisk until smooth.
- Mix in the remaining filling ingredients. Set aside.
- Sprinkle the raisins on the tart shells.
- Divide the filling between the crusts, about 3/4 of the way to the top.
Use a small ladle or measuring cup with a spout to transfer the filling to the tart shells cleanly and easily.
- Bake until the top is dry, crackly, and set. Remove and let cool completely before removing. ENJOY!
Here are a few tips for baking butter tarts to bubbly, crackly perfection:
- For even baking, rotate the pans 180 degrees and flip-flop the pans between the upper and lower racks halfway through baking.
- You’ll know your butter tarts are fully baked when the filling jiggles only a little in the center when you wiggle the pan, and the crust is golden.
- The easiest way to tell when the tarts are done is with an instant-read thermometer. The filling should register 200 degrees F.
- To Store. Leftover tarts can be stored in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- To Freeze. Freeze tarts in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
Meal Prep Tip
To make butter tarts ahead, line a muffin tin with the crusts and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Combine the filling (except for nuts if using) up to 1 day ahead, cover tightly, and refrigerate. Then, fill the crusts and bake as directed.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Muffin Pan. Perfect for butter tarts, Healthy Banana Muffins, and Egg Muffins.
- Rolling Pin. For rolling out pie crust, pastry dough, and more.
- Mixing Bowls. This set of glass nesting bowls is durable, dishwasher-safe, and a kitchen must-have.
Frequently Asked Questions
Butter tarts that are runny may be underbaked or may not contain enough egg. Eggs help thicken and stabilize butter tart filling while it bakes, which is why I’ve included two whole eggs in my recipe to ensure the filling is thick and fully set once baked. It’s also worth noting that butter tarts are meant to be runnier than pecan pie (and some traditionalists prefer their butter tarts very runny).
Butter tarts most often boil over because they were filled too full before baking. Try to only fill each tart 2/3 full with filling so there’s plenty of room for bubbling and expansion.
Much like the origin, the history of how butter tarts got their name is widely disputed. One theory suggests the name evolved from “border tarts” a name used for a similar dessert invented by settlers that came from Scottish border region in the U.K. Or, as many believe, they’re simply called butter tarts because of how much butter is in the filling AND the crust.
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- 2 9-inch pie crusts whole wheat pie crust, store-bought pie crust (thaw overnight in the refrigerator), or your favorite pie crust recipe
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup raisins* or chopped toasted walnuts or pecans or a mix
- 1 tablespoon bourbon optional
- 2/3 cup brown sugar light or dark
- 1/2 tablespoon all purpose flour
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup do not use imitation or “breakfast” syrup
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Lay the first pie crust out on a lightly floured work surface (leave the second crust in the refrigerator until you are ready for it). Roll it into a 12-inch circle, working from the center out. Grab 2 standard 12-cup muffin pans (no need to grease).
- Flour a 4-inch round cookie cutter or biscuit cutter (if you don’t have one, use a drinking glass). Stamp out 7 rounds from the pie crust (reroll the scraps if needed). Gently place each round into a well of the muffin pan and press the dough up the sides to create a tart shell.
- Repeat with the second pie crust, filling the remaining wells. Place the pans in refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes or cover and chill overnight. (If you only have one muffin pan, you can bake the tarts in batches. Be sure to let the pan cool all the way in between).
- When ready to bake, position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the raisins in a small, microwave-safe bowl and stir together with the bourbon. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Set aside.
- Cut the butter into a few pieces and place in a large microwave-safe mixing bowl. Microwave on medium heat, just until melted. Let cool to room temperature. To the bowl with the butter, add the brown sugar and flour.
- Whisk to combine until smoothly blended (it will be thick).
- Whisk in the eggs, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt until evenly combined.
- Scatter the raisins evenly over the tart shells.
- Divide the filling between the crusts, filling each well 3/4 of the way to the top (use a small ladle or transfer the filling to a measuring cup with a spout, then pour it into the crusts).
- Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the top is dry, crackly, and set. The filling should jiggle only a little in the center when you wiggle the pan, and the crust is turning golden. The easiest way to tell when the tarts are done is with an instant-read thermometer. The filling should register 200 degrees F.
- Place the pan on a wire rack and let the tarts cool completely before unmolding them. The filling will settle and crackle. To unmold, use a dull knife such as a butter knife to loosen the tarts from the muffin wells as needed. Gently lift the tarts onto the rack.
- *If using nuts instead of raisins, skip microwaving with the bourbon. Reduce the maple syrup by 1 tablespoon and add the bourbon with the maple syrup. You also can use nuts (or no mix-ins) and omit the bourbon entirely.
- TO MAKE AHEAD: Line the muffin tin with the crusts and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Combine the filling (except for nuts if using) up to 1 day ahead, cover tightly, and refrigerate. Fill the crusts just before baking.
- TO STORE: Keep leftover butter tarts at room temperature for up to 3 days. Enjoy at room temperature or warmed in the microwave (the crust will become somewhat soft) or oven (best option).
- TO FREEZE: Freeze baked, cooled tarts for up to 3 months, tightly wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature prior to serving.
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