Everything you need to know about making butter tart pastry dough from scratch, whether to grease the muffin pan or not, some tips for baking butter tarts to ensure the crust is properly baked, why the filling may crystallize and how to avoid it, and of course, recipes for the all-butter pastry crust and butter tart filling without corn syrup.
Like any typical Canadian, I love butter tarts. The filling is great: it's sweet with brown sugar, with a thin dribbly syrup layer tucked under the sugary crust that forms as it bakes. And then, there's the all butter crust. It's flaky like a good pie crust should be.
The downside to baking butter tarts from scratch is they can be a little tricky to get right though they are such a popular dessert. The problems that you may face include:
- Difficulty getting the bottom of the tarts baked through properly.
- The filling can overflow, rising and falling so it looks like they are empty almost.
- The tarts stick to the pan and break when you try to unmould them.
Butter tart recipe dos and don'ts
I've made hundreds of butter tarts and had a fair number of disasters (and tears), and now I can share with you all my tips and tricks so that your next batch of butter tarts made from scratch will be perfect!
The crust should be all butter
Some people love to make butter tart shells with shortening, but given I'm "team butter," that's just not how I roll.
I make the all-butter pastry dough by hand, working the butter into the flour mixture by rubbing it between my palms, quickly, until I get an even mixture that resembles coarse sand. You can tell when you're done because the white flour will have a warm golden yellow colour from the butter and you start to smell the creamy dairy notes of the butter.
Some people will add vinegar to the dough. This is to prevent gluten from forming and to make a less tough, more tender pastry shell. I don't think it's necessary but if you are concerned or have found your pie doughs are tough, try adding a teaspoon of vinegar when you add the water.
The thickness of the butter tart pastry crust is key
If you roll the dough too thin, your filling may find a tiny crack somewhere at the bottom, gluing down the tart as it bakes. When this happens, you are screwed. The tart is stuck in the pan.
If you roll the dough too thick (>¼"), your tart will be mostly crust. There won't be enough room for the filling and the crust probably won't bake properly on the bottom, especially if you don't blind bake it. Raw tart crust is the opposite of delicious.
I now consistently roll the dough to about 3/16". That's almost a quarter inch, but not quite. The crust is still thick enough that the filling doesn't seep through, but it's not so thick that it doesn't cook. At this thickness, I like the ratio of sweet filling to buttery crust.
Do you grease the muffin pan for butter tarts?
For tarts in tart pans, you don't have to grease the tart pans and the tarts will unmould just fine. But for butter tarts in muffin tins, the tarts tend to stick because of the sugary filling.
I've tested baking the tarts in greased and ungreased muffin pans, and also with and without a small parchment round fitted at the bottom of each. And after doing many tests, I now realize that greasing the muffin pan for butter tarts wasn't helpful. The parchment didn't make much of a difference, but I feel that the greasing might actually have made the unmoulding more difficult.
You don't grease a pie plate, so why grease when you're making tarts with such a butter-rich crust? Don't grease the pan.
How to prevent a soggy bottom
Nobody likes it when pies or tarts are raw on the bottom and getting the bottoms of butter tarts to bake properly can be a challenge. Here are some tips:
- Bake butter tarts on the bottom rack (the rack that you never ever use)! This ensures that your tarts will bake on the bottom, and not just the tops. This has worked really well for me and the bottoms even begin to turn golden brown this way.
- Blind bake the tart shells with the help of silicone muffin liners and pie weights (or dried beans) to ensure that the crust is properly baked. I tried to avoid this extra step but, I don't think we can. If you blind bake the pastry first, then you can bake the filling perfectly without it boiling over.
How to unmould them without breaking them
When the tarts are baked, do not unmould them until they are completely cooled. I repeat, DO NOT UNMOLD THEM UNTIL THEY ARE COMPLETELY COOLED. Yes, this statement is deserving of all caps and bold lettering.
If you try to unmould butter tarts when they are warm, or worse, straight out of the oven, you will likely break them. Don't hurry the cooling process. Just walk away, let them cool, and then you can start to unmould.
The most I do when they are hot is give them a little twist to loosen the edges, but when they are hot, the crust is too soft to get the tarts out of the pan.
To get the butter tarts out of the pan when they're cold, use a very thin knife blade or a tiny offset.
- Give the tarts a twist again to make sure that the edges aren't stuck to the pan and the tarts can move freely.
- Slide the tip of a thin palette or pairing knife between the crust and the pan, and use your finger on the other side of the crust to pull upwards (kinda like tweezers where one end is a knife and the other is a finger).
If you know of a better way of unmoulding them, please share, or if you have any tips to add, I'd love to read them.
Getting the butter tart filling just right
Canadians will debate on whether they want a runny, gooey filling, or whether they want a more set filling, and that's a matter of personal preference. And don't get them started on raisin versus no raisin butter tarts, or whether you can add dried currants or coconut to them.
Filling recipes vary greatly and may include extra ingredients to prevent the caramel filling from crystallizing:
- Some butter tart filling recipes have corn syrup: this is a method to reduce crystallization in the filling so ensure a silky smooth, gooey butter tart filling. The corn syrup introduces another sugar, other than sucrose, which reduces the likelihood that the filling will crystallize.
- Some have white vinegar: this is another method to reduce crystallization of the caramel filling. The acidity of the vinegar will break down some of the sucrose, leading to a smoother filling. Another acid I've seen in butter tart fillings is lemon juice.
- Some have maple syrup: maple syrup will not prevent crystallization but it adds a lot of flavour. If you'd like to use it to make your butter tart filling, by all means, do! Remember that with maple syrup, the baking substitution is to replace up to 70 grams (⅓ cup) of brown sugar with 83 mL (⅓ cup) of maple syrup. This will lead to a more runny, fluid middle that is less set. You can even do half brown sugar and half maple syrup, but again, the filling may be more runny. It all depends what you want!
- Dark versus light brown sugar: you can use either dark or light brown sugar to make the filling for butter tarts. I prefer the mild flavour of light brown sugar, but either will work.
Frequently asked questions
The filling for butter tarts contains a lot of sugar and sugar is sucrose, which wants to crystallize. If you find your filling is too crystallized, try adding in a little corn syrup (just a tablespoon even) or add a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice. The acidity will help break down some of the sucrose into glucose and fructose, and these invert sugars will help keep the filling more fluid.
Another suggestion: don't over-bake the filling. I prefer to pre-bake the crusts empty, then fill and briefly bake the final tarts to avoid the filling boiling, which helps keep the filling runny.
Getting butter tarts out of the pan is the most stressful part of making them at home.
First, when they come out of the oven, let them cool for about 5 minutes to firm up a little. Then you can use your fingertips to gently twist them in the pan to loosen the sides.
Once completely cooled, then you can pull them out of the muffin pan one by one using your fingertips. You can also use a pairing knife or an offset spatula to help you lift them out.
When I make a batch of 12 butter tarts, I usually store half at room temperature to be enjoyed in the next few days and half in the freezer, for future cravings. I don't store them in the fridge. I don't store pie in the fridge either.
Butter tarts store well at room temperature for several days. Just let them cool completely before transferring them to a container. For longer storage, you can freeze them and they freeze very well. In fact, many Canadians enjoy eating cold butter tarts straight from the freezer!
To store butter tarts in the freezer, let them cool completely on a wire rack then transfer them to a parchment-lined sheet pan to freeze solid. Once frozen, you can throw them in an airtight freezer bag.
I defrost frozen butter tarts on a large plate (or on a sheet pan), set in a cool, dry place. It takes an hour or two if you defrost them at room temperature.
Here's a recipe for both the all-butter butter tart crust and the classic filling without corn syrup. This butter tart recipe makes 12 butter tarts in muffin pans.
Butter tart with all-butter crust
All-butter crust recipe for butter tarts
- 280 grams (2¼ cups) bleached all-purpose flour
- 10 mL (2 teaspoon) granulated sugar
- 5 mL (1 teaspoon) Diamond Crystal fine kosher salt
- 155 grams (⅔ cup) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small cubes
- 85 mL (⅓ cup) cold water
Butter tart filling recipe
- 80 grams (⅓ cup) unsalted butter, melted
- 200 grams (1 cup) light brown sugar
- 30 mL (2 tablespoon) whipping cream (35 % fat)
- 5 mL (1 teaspoon) pure vanilla extract
- 1.25 mL (¼) Diamond Crystal fine kosher salt
- 1 large egg(s)
How to make all-butter pastry shells for butter tarts
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar.
- Add the cubed cold butter to the bowl and toss it in the flour to coat it.
- Working quickly with your palms and fingertips, rub handfuls of flour and butter together to work the butter into the flour until you get a mixture that has a coarse, sandy texture, with pieces of butter no larger than a chickpea. The mixture will have a golden yellow colour when you are done.
- Sprinkle the mixture with the water. Work the liquid ingredients into the sandy mixture, whisking it in with the fork.
- Clean the fork with your hands and switch to working the dough with your hands, quickly kneading it all together until you get a smooth dough.
- Split the dough into two; roll each into a log, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
- When you are ready to roll the dough, simply divide each log into 6 pieces, rolling each piece into a 4 inch circle roughly, using a rolling pini. Carefully work each disk into the well of a 12 cup muffin pan.
- Chill the tart shells in the fridge for at least 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 400 ºF.
- When the tart shells are very cold and firm and the oven is preheated, line each tart shell with a silicone muffin cup and fill with dried beans or pie weights.
- Place the muffin pans on the bottom rack of the oven and bake them for 20 minutes, the edges will begin to dry out and turn golden when they have baked sufficiently.
- Take them out of the oven when they are blind-baked, and let them cool slightly so that you can remove the silicone liners and pie weights.
How to make butter tart filling
- Drop the oven to 375 ºF.
- In a medium bowl, stir together the melted butter, the brown sugar, the cream, the vanilla, the salt, and the egg,. Stir well.
- If you want to make tarts with raisins or nuts, scatter a few at the bottom of each crust (see notes).
- Divide the filling among the blind-baked tart shells. You'll place roughly 30 grams of filling per tart.
- Bake the tarts on the middle rack of the oven for another 15 minutes. The edges of the crust should be golden and the filling will be puffed and golden, but will not be boiling yet. If it's boiling, the filling will be overcooked and sink.
- Remove the muffin pans from the oven. Let the tarts cool for about 5 minute until they are firm, then gently twist them to make sure they will unmould when cooled.
- Once cooled, unmold the tarts with the help of an offset spatula.
La Table De Nana says
I have that same love/hate relationship:)
I cringe when unmolding..I appreciate your patience with the tiny parchments..
Walnuts or no walnuts also is a debate..here:)
Thanks for all the tips:)
Janice Lawandi says
So true! There's the nut debate, and also raisins! I'm a purist, so I keep the filling simple 😉
Unmolding tarts made easy by using 1/2inch parchment strips aprox 5.5 inches long. Place parchment strips in the pan prior to the pastry then after its baked and cooled, lift the parchment tabs up and out of pan. It works great for me 😉 You can fold the parchment so it looks like this
That crust always seems like the most difficult part..so I still haven't tried making them 😀
Janice Lawandi says
A lot of people use pre-rolled mini tart shells. I can't say that I would recommend that route, but it is an option 😉
I am a Canadian and I too enjoy butter tarts. For me my tarts must have raisins but to each his own. I now use paper cupcake liners in my muffin tins. I place my pastry round inside each liner and then pour in the filling. When they are baked and cooled it is easy to lift out the liner and then separate it from the tart. Each tart will come out and there is no problem with sticking. Give it a try.
Margaret Whitlock says
I recently saw a tip on one of the cooking channels to refrigerate the tart dough after putting it in the pan for 20 minutes before filling and baking. They said this would up your winning percentage significantly. Makes sense to me since keeping the butter cold is key. Note: this chilling is in addition to the chilling after mixing and before putting into the muffin tin.
Janice Lawandi says
Thanks for the tip Margaret! I actually do chill the rolled out dough while I make the filling, without even thinking, but you're right, I think it does help get them out of the pan later!
I specifically read this post because I was at the stage of unmolding several hours of hard work. Trying my mother in laws recipe for the very first time on my own and never making pastry I was panicking! Your words of wisdom made me laugh and helped me thru. I did come up with a little twist…….I used gravity to do hard work. I did not use parchment. Like you said I slipped a knife down the side ever so gently but I rested the pan up the side of my kitchen wall and when the knife went in all of the tarts just slid out beautifully into my hand and then onto the cooling rack. Saved. Now that I can make these as well (or better than the last cook) I will be sure to try your recipe. I like the idea of using butter. Thank you so much for all your help and I hope my little trick helps out others with racing hearts and a full pan of tarts to get out.
Thanks for sharing, Heather! I'm definitely going to try your trick next time 🙂
Emily O. says
Is it ok to use salted butter and add less salt or should I only use unsalted butter? Thanks
Sorry for the delay! Honestly, sometimes I only have salted butter on hand, and I make all sorts of pie crusts with it, reducing, if not omitting, the salt from the recipe. It works out just fine. I find a little saltiness to a crust is a nice touch, especially with a sweet filling like this one.
Joanne B says
Thanks. I'll be making these tarts this weekend for my father. (I'm in Montreal too!)
My mother-in-law swears by banging the tin a few times on the counter when you take them out of the oven.... and then let them cool. I don't know if that causes them to 'jump' in the tin so they unstick... but she said she never has problems taking them out having done this.
Janice Nicholson says
How about a silicone muffin tin or muffin cups?
To help unfold the tarts, pure a narrow (1/2 to 1 inch wide) strip of parchment paper slightly longer than the width of the tart shell into the tin before you put in the pastry. The two ends should peek out on the sides of the tart shell. Once baked the strip gives you little handles to lift out the tart. I got this tip from watching the Great British Bake Off.
The iPad worked on my previous comment. It should be "unmold" and "put", not "unfold" and "pure".
Gale Martha says
Oh dear God, thank you for telling us to let the damned things cool completely first. The all butter crust is to die for in these tarts - but it comes at a price because they are so tender and breakable when warm.
Ed Wise says
I am a novice baker and the one thing I don't see is at what temperature and for how long do you cook the tarts.
I assume you add the filling before you cook.
SARAH MARTIN says
Wondering why egg yolks are needed in the curd, pls?
Ed Wise says
I used your recipe for the first time an it was an absolute success. I used two types of tart pans and one they fell out of and the other was very difficult. The next time I used little pieces of parchment paper and this seemed to work.
I have a recipe for short bread that comes from my mother and England and it is without a doubt the best short bread anyone will ever make. It is not to different that the one here for pastry.
Incidentally I am a male of 75 and I love to cook and only get heck from my wife because everything I make is fattening, however at my age I want to enjoy myself lol
Wait! You can't casually mention a shortbread that is the best ever and not share the recipe! 🙂
My grandparents were Canadian and my father is now 82. My Grandmother always made these tarts for every big family gathering. I want to surprise him with butter tarts, but I have always had such a hard time getting them out of the tin. All of these suggestions are so helpful.
Is funny that you say to cool the tarts. When I first tried making my moms recipe for butter tarts I was devasted because I cooled them then tried ro remove them and they all were ruined. I called my mom and she said I must remove them from the tart tray as soon as they come out of the oven and since doing that I never have had an issue since.
Clearly, I have a lot to learn! I have trouble removing them when they are hot. I can't win, hah!
Ann F. says
One article I read about to remove the tarts easier is to cut 1 inch x 5 inch strips of parchment paper and lining the tart pans with them. Just lift up on the strips when the tarts are cooled, and they come out easier. Tip: Parchment in sheets rather than a roll is much easier to cut.
Even with the parchment strips, it would be smart to loosen the sticky, boiled over areas first with a knife inserted (if it happens for a couple/few) before you lift them out of the pans.
My problem is getting the bottom of the crust brown enough before the tops are over-cooked. To the person who gave the tip to place the pan in the bottom rack of the oven, thanks, I'm going to try that next time. 🙂
For taking the tarts out, letting them cool is a must. I use a thin strip of parchment paper (maybe 1in x 6in). I roll out the dough and place the stip of parchment in the tin followed by the rolled out dough. I prebake and let cool. Then use a slight twist-n-pull movement on the parchment tabs to loosen the tart. I then fill the tarts and bake...let cool completely again...then twist-n-pull again. Unless my dough cracked, I never have issues getting the tarts out.
Leo Bouchard says
My wife makes very good tasting butter tart, But there is one major problem,The filling spills over from the dough when cooking.What is she doing wrong?? This is a major problem. Help.!
Thank you so much....I was trying to remove warm....and feeling like I failed....googled and found you ...cool tarts are out.
Hi. simple trick. with parchment paper - cut about 1/2" strips about 4-6" long. as you squish the pastry into the tin, put this strip of parchment paper along the bottom. When they are done - you should have two parchment paper "handles" which will help you lift them out 🙂
Silicone muffin pans....you will never have a butter tart stick to the pan...ever!!! Even if the bottom is cracked or boils over the edge, they pop out like a charm. Game changer 😊
My filling rose up past the edges of the pastry. As soon as I removed the pan from the oven I used a small offset spatula to separate the filling from the muffin pan and turned each butter tart. No problems removing later.
Tanya Reed says
Okay I blew it! Tried a warm tart, couldn’t wait and it completely crumbled. While I was eating my disaster I reread the recipe and comments. Let the rest cool and had no trouble getting them out. Absolutely delicious Canadian classic! Mmmmm. Perfect recipe! Exactly what I was looking for! Thank you!