A rich dessert with rich roots that has stood the test of time, these Canadian Butter Tarts are a total classic! A maple syrup custard filling in buttery tart shells makes for tasty handheld treat.
Butter tarts are small pastries filled with a caramel-like custard made with butter, sugar, syrup, and egg. This pastry is baked until the filling is semi-solid with a crunchy top. But where did they come from?
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History of Butter Tarts
It is said that the first written recipe for these tarts appeared in 1900 in the Royal Victoria Cookbook with the name, Filling for Tarts. But historians agree that this recipe existed for hundreds of years before, and that this was the first time it was formalized into a cookbook.
This recipe would’ve been passed around through families or passed around at churches.
After that first publication, where the tart recipe was vague (just a list of ingredients and then says mix), it seems to change a little. I used the recipe published in 1979 of the Purity cookbook, which is very different to their recipe published in 1944.
As with any recipe, the ingredients vary from family to family. Some make the filling with brown sugar; others add maple syrup or dark syrup. There is a big group of people who like it with dried fruit and others with nuts, and some with both.
The recipe for today is an adaptation from the Purity cookbook published in 1979. This recipe uses brown sugar and dark syrup, and I substituted it for maple syrup.
Now they are a Canadian tradition and sometimes referred to at Maple Butter Tarts. There is still a great debate about the quintessentials Canadian dessert and that is whether they should container raisins or not.
Butter Tart Crust
These little butter tarts start with a flaky crust. You can use your favorite pie crust or use the one in the recipe below. You can also buy premade tart shells, pastry shells or pie crusts and just cut out the circles you need.
I used a muffin tin, but if you happen to have mini tart pans, those will work too.
- Flour- all-purpose works for this one. Bread flour can also be used. Cake flour does not work. Make sure to measure your flour correctly.
- Sugar– just plain, white sugar.
- Fine sea salt– omit if using salted butter.
- Unsalted butter– to make the pastry, the butter needs to be super cold, keep it in the fridge until you are ready to use it. Cutting it into small chunks helps it to evenly incorporate.
- Cold water- from the tap is fine, just make sure it is as cold as it can get! You can use ice water, but make sure the total volume is correct, don’t add ice to the correct cup of water.
To make this crust, make sure all your ingredients are chilled, and working with a food processor ensures that the dough keeps the right temperature. Alternately, you can use a pastry cutter (pastry blender), but this takes longer and the butter will warm, making it hard to work with.
How to Make Crust
- In the food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, and salt.
- Add the cold butter in chunks to the flour mixture, just pulsing (don’t turn it on full blast).
- Add the cold water and pulse until the dough starts coming together.
- Turn the dough onto 2 plastic wrap pieces, form into a disc and chill well, at least one hour.
- Work in two batches. Lightly flour a work surface and then roll out one dough disc to about 1/8 of an inch. Use a round cookie cutter or lid (4 inches) and cut 15 pieces.
- Grease muffin pans with shortening or cooking spray. Press each dough circle into the muffin cups (or tart tin). If you still need to make the filling, refrigerate the dough in the muffin tins until ready to pour.
Butter Tart Filling
The ingredient list for the sugary filling is fairly simple using kitchen basics, at least basics for my kitchen. Many fillings use corn syrup, but I prefer my sugary concoction being a blend of maple syrup and molassesy brown sugar.
- Unsalted butter- if you use salted, omit the additional salt. Make sure butter is adequately softened, but not melted. Melting the butter will have a negative impact on the filling rising.
- Brown sugar– light or dark brown sugar works.
- Eggs– it’s a custard– it needs eggs!
- Maple syrup- this is probably the most important part, use real maple syrup, not maple flavored sugar water. To get the right texture, a thick syrup is ideal.
- Fine sea salt- if using coarse, double the amount. This balance the sugar and emphasizes natural maple flavors.
- Vanilla Extract- Almond works well too. Vanilla bean paste can be used as well.
How to Make Butter Tart Filling
- Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Most folks shortened this step, it should cream for 2-3 minutes to get air incorporated in and butter will start to pale.
- Add the eggs one at the time, incorporating fully between each addition. Adding them at once will make it hard to fully incorporate and they will just slop around in the bowl and seperate from the butter. This is like tempering the batter.
- Add the maple syrup, salt, and vanilla extract. The filling will be a little chunky and loose, this is normal. If you make this ahead and set aside, you’ll need to whisk before pouring into muffin tins.
- The easiest way to pour the filling is to use a large measuring cup with a pouring spout.
- From here you bake them until they are golden brown and let them cool. Although I like sneaking one while still warm.
As I mentioned before, you can add dried fruit or nuts to the individual butter tarts. If adding any of those ingredients, here is the amount you’ll need:
- 1/2 cup raisins soaked in hot water until they plump and then drain
- 1 and 1/3 cup currants, dates, or figs
- 1/2 cup walnuts (chopped) and 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Make Ahead & Storage
Butter tarts keep well at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to a week. Place them in an airtight container. Or you can freeze for up to 2 months.
With these tarts you get a bunch of flavor and texture. Flaky, buttery crust. Rich and gooey filling with a crunchy crust on top. The recipe is easily adaptable to every palate.
More Easy Desserts
- Easy Fruit Pizza
- Sugar Cookie Cups
- Raspberry Cheesecake Cookie Cups
- Small Batch Vanilla Cupcakes
- Edible Cookie Dough
- Meyer Lemon Brulee Tart
Canadian Butter Tart Recipe
- 2-1/2 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter , cold
- 3/4 cup water , cold
- ¼ cup unsalted butter , at room temperature
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs , at room temperature
- 1 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Using a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the cold butter in chunks, pulse 5 to 8 times, or until butter is in small pieces. Add the cold water and pulse until the dough starts coming together.
- Turn the dough onto 2 plastic wrap pieces lying flat. Cover over and pat into a disc. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Dough will be super sticky, this is normal.
- Sprinkle a small amount of flour on a flat surface and roll out one portion at the time, about 1/8 of an inch thick. Use a round cutter or lid (4 inches) and cut 15 pieces.
- Grease 1 muffin pan completely and 3 muffin cups from a second pan. Press each dough circle into the bottom of a muffin pan cup. Refrigerate while making the filling.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs one at the time. Add the maple syrup, salt, and vanilla extract. The filling is a chunky custard and very loose. If you make this ahead and set aside, you'll need to whisk before pouring into muffin tins.
- Pour the filling into pie crust and bake for 25 minutes. It is easiest to use a glass measuring cup with a pour spout.
- Let the tarts cool for 5 minutes in the pan and remove to a cooling rack.
- If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comment or ratings!
As soon as I saw this recipe I knew I had to make them. Had to order the real maple syrup and some new muffin pans but it was worth it! Wish I had kept them in about 5 minutes longer but they were loved!
I can’t wait to make these. Can I brown the butter for the filling? Also can I use Mrs. Buttersworth maple buttery syrup instead of pure maple syrup?
Hi Karen, You can brown the butter for sure. I would try to use pure maple syrup if at all possible, Mrs. Buttersworth is corn syrup with maple flavoring, it is a lot thinner than maple syrup so it might mess up the consistency of the filling and they won’t set right.
Amazing recipe! I’ve made it 3 times now. Once I subbed corn syrup for sone of the maple syrup. Would not recommend! Worth a trip to the store for more maple syrup. Yummy!
Thank you for the feedback, Rebecca!
Thanks for the clean, uncluttered link straight to the recipe – will definitely follow you for that reason alone!
Thanks 🙂 We try to balance being user friendly, but also support our family with the blog. Unfortunately, ads are a part of that.
Such an easy, great recipe. Perfect every time. Not runny. 🏆
Thank you, Tracy!!!! <3
These are incredibly delicious. I did cheat and used premade tart shells, but it was still wonderful. I love raisins and nuts in mine so I added some. The maple creates the perfect flavour and texture. The way it stays gooey in the middle is magic. Will definitely be using this recipe forever. Thank you!
Thank YOU for coming back to let us know!
Did I miss what temperature you bake these at?
350 degrees- last step of making the crust is to preheat the oven to 350 🙂 happy holidays!
This brought so many memories flooding back to me, Christmas baking with my Mom. It is the recipe she used for her tarts. I am going to make them now. I wish I could show you her old cookbook I have sitting here, all tattered and taped, stained from many years of baking for her family and then mine. I miss her so much. Those years baking with her, probably getting in her way in truth, fueled a passion for baking that has been in me since. It is all about the love and connections. Thank you for triggering such happy thoughts. It has been such a difficult year for our planet. Bless you.
Aww, Sandra, I hope they bring you so much love and joy. I can say 100% that they are delicious and I hope they taste just like you remember. Happy holidays <3
The crust is delicious and easy to make but the filling you can taste the egg.
Hi Rhonda- just curious what kind of syrup you used? It is a custard, so it is egg based and will be slightly eggy, but the maple piece is important. Just trying to troubleshoot for others and if you use a maple flavored syrup opposed to a grade real maple syrup, it makes a world of difference. Thanks for your feedback!
I love the texture of the filling. Thanks for sharing this recipe, will definitely be making this one again.
Very easy recipe. I used bought tart shells. I placed presoaked raisins (10 minutes in boiled water) on bottom of each shell. I found the recipe for 15 tarts actually made 24 (with rainsins). I used corn syrup instead of maple syrup. Very tasty. Will definitely be making again very soon!! Thank you very much for sharing this recipe!
Nice! Thanks for your input Shelley, I bet they tasted great with raisins!
Best butter tart we ever had my whole family loved them and so easy to make you get 5 golden stars on these
Oh my! Made these tonight and they knocked our socks off! I’ve only ever had store bought and this is my first time making my own. Over the top delicious! Thank you for this amazing recipe!
Thank you, Kim! So glad you loved them, we do too!
I have made the filling and cheated with ore made tart shells as it was my dfirst time ever making them! Omgggg so amazing!
So today I am tackling making the dough that’s a bit time consuming to put in the muffin tray but I am so excited for the outcome!
Thanks for taking this Canadian out of her comfort zone and making something my aunt always made!
Yay!!! So glad you loved them. You can totally cheat and use premade pastry cups, I won’t tell.
Made 2 1/2 doz… but no complaints! Amazing delicious butter tarts!! I used this gluten free pastry recipe for a few gluten free ones, but everyone that ate the pastry in the Savory Experiments recipe said it was the best pastry ever, and this from a girl who has never made pastry before. Honestly divine.
This filling is divine.
Made these today and the custard filling is purely addictive. Mine did make closer to two dozen, but I think I used a 3 inch cookie cutter instead of 4 inch.
Thanks, Kim, we love them too!
Can the dough be left in the fridge overnight?
Sure can! Might need a few minutes to get warm enough to be pliable the next day though.
I have never made butter tarts before. I purchased raisins and dates. At what step do I add these. Thank you in advance
Hi! Just add a few to cups before you pour the batter (pour the batter over them). You’ll likely have leftover batter since you are taking up volume with the raisins and dates.
Great way to celebrate Canada Day! I brought them over to my family and everyone enjoyed them! Definitely a go to recipe for a great Canadian classic.
Glad you loved them and so glad they were a hit in Canada!
The tarts to fight for – they look absolutely delicious, and something I would really enjoy over the weekend. Can’t wait to make a big batch of these.
These are absolutely calling to me. How gorgeous and delicious.
That caramel filling is calling my name and the flaky crust looks awesome too! I’ve never had this Canadian treat but look forward to trying it out on my family.
This was the first time baking and eating these tarts. They are utterly delicious. I will be baking these in the future again for sure.
These are so gooey and perfect! Love them!