Baking a successful pie makes me feel accomplished like nothing else can. By that logic, baking ten little successful tarts ought to multiply my sense of accomplishment ten fold, right? Last weekend, I had the pleasure of experiencing both. I don’t know if I really felt ten times prouder of my effort. What I know for sure, sharing homemade pies and tarts certainly made many of my friends and family happy!
Let’s face it, Canadian cuisine does not have a strong identity. The few dishes that we can say are uniquely Canadian, we are fiercely proud and protective about them. If you want to start a lively argument at any Canadian parties, I suggest you declare loudly “a real butter tart ought to be…” and watch the feathers fly. As a avid baker, I am amused that I had not try baking butter tarts at home until last weekend. And it was only an afterthought to use up some leftover pie dough from making a wild blueberry pie.
Before I get to the butter tarts, let me first tell you about the wild blueberry pie. At my house, summer is not complete without one juicy and deeply flavourful wild blueberry pie. It is one of the few treats I bake that rarely leaves the house for a couple of reasons. First, it is a family favourite that Little Brother and I cannot get enough of. Secondly, it is so expensive to make that I just don’t feel generous enough to share except with close family and friends. This year, the shopping deity smiled upon me and I scored a tremendous deal at $30 for 3L basket. I was ecstatic. Two wild blueberry pies for one summer? That was almost too good to be true!
I used America’s Test Kitchen’s famous vodka Foolproof Pie Dough (recipe here) developed by J. Kenji López-Alt. After years of dabbling with various pie dough recipes, this is my absolute favourite with the most reliably tender flakey result. If you haven’t try it, don’t delay. It will change your pie game forever. Instead of making a fussy lattice top crust, I stamped out many holes using a pretty little sakura cookie cutter. This gave the juicy filling plenty of room to evaporate excess moisture during baking. The filling was a simple mixture of 5.5 cups wild blueberries, 1/2 cup sugar, zest and juice from half a lemon, 3 tablespoons of cornstarch, and a few shakes of cinnamon. It was all about showcasing the delectable wild blueberries like little violet caviars. Ah Summer 2014 now feels complete.
I always end up with lots of leftover pie dough after trimming the pie. The vodka pie dough recipe is forgiving because even rerolled scrapes do not turn tough. In fact, I had enough leftover to fit 10 muffin-pan size tartlets. I had my first taste of butter tart shortly after I immigrated to Canada 26 years ago. Even with my voracious sweet tooth, memory of the supermarket butter tarts from my youth still makes me shudder. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I gave this iconic Canadian dessert another chance. My friend brought me one from her favourite bakery. The flakey crust encasing a runny caramel-y filling was a revelation. One bite and I finally realized what I had been missing all these years.
Based on the glowing reviews, I used the filling recipe from Canadian Living’s Best Maple Butter Tart. I loved that it included significant amount of medium grade maple syrup. Because maple syrup. The recipe yield was spot on for a dozen butter tarts. I wasn’t particular about whether the filling would turn out runny or set like a custard. As it turned out, it set like a delicate jelly that could be cut neatly in half. Oh but it was the depth of maple flavour that truly set it apart. That hint of smokiness paired nicely with the buttery crust. Neither overwhelmed the taste buds.
Now that I discovered the greatness of the uniquely Canadian butter tart, I cannot wait to share them with the world. If you ever only had butter tart fossils from supermarkets, I beg you to seek out a homemade version. Trust me, they’re worth seeking out.