Butter tart

A butter tart (French: tarte au beurre) is a type of small pastry tart highly regarded in Canadian cuisine. The sweet tart consists of a filling of butter, sugar, syrup, and egg, baked in a pastry shell until the filling is semi-solid with a crunchy top.[1] The butter tart should not be confused with butter pie (a savoury pie from the Preston area of Lancashire, England) or with bread and butter pudding.

Butter tart
A pecan butter tart
CourseSnack or Dessert
Place of originCanada
Main ingredientsPastry shell, butter, sugar, syrup, eggs
VariationsAddition of raisins, walnuts or pecans or other flavourings
Food energy
(per serving)
580 kcal (2428 kJ)

Recipes for the butter tart vary according to the families baking them. Because of this, the appearance and physical characteristics of the butter tart – the firmness of its pastry, or the consistency of its filling – also vary.[2][3]

Traditionally, the English Canadian tart consists of butter, sugar, and eggs in a pastry shell, similar to the French-Canadian sugar pie, or the base of the U.S. pecan pie without the nut topping. The butter tart is different from the sugar pie given the lack of flour in the filling.[4] The butter tart is different from pecan pie in that it has a "runnier" filling due to the omission of corn starch. Often raisins, walnuts, or pecans are added to the traditional butter tart, although the acceptability of such additions is a matter of national debate.[5][6] As an iconic Canadian food and one of the most popular desserts in the country, the raisin-or-no-raisin question can provoke polarizing debate.[7]

More exotic flavours are also produced by some bakers. Examples such as maple, bacon, pumpkin, chili, and salted caramel cardamom flavours have been made for competitions.[8]


Butter tarts were common in pioneer Canadian cooking, and they remain a characteristic pastry of Canada, considered a recipe of genuinely Canadian origin. It is primarily eaten in and associated with the English-speaking provinces of Canada.

The butter tart is a derivative of one or more of the following:[1]

The earliest published Canadian recipe is from Barrie, Ontario, dating back to 1900 and can be found in The Women's Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook,[10] to which a Mrs. Mary Ethel MacLeod submitted the recipe for a butter tart filling.[11] The original cookbook and recipe is housed at the Simcoe County Archives.[12] Another early publication of a butter tart recipe was found in a 1915 pie cookbook.[1] The food was an integral part of early Canadian cuisine and often viewed as a source of pride.[10]

Similar tarts are made in Scotland, where they are often referred to as Ecclefechan butter tarts from the town of Ecclefechan. In France, they are related to the much more common tarte à la frangipane, that differs from the basic Canadian recipe only by the addition of ground almonds.

Cultural identity

Butter tarts are an integral part of Central Canadian cuisine and are objects of cultural pride of many communities across Ontario and other provinces in central Canada.[13] This cultural and community connection with the tart has spawned butter tart themed tourism such as the Butter Tart festival at Muskoka Lakes, Ontario,[14] the trademarked "Butter Tart Trail" at Wellington North, Ontario, and the "Butter Tart Tour" in Kawarthas Northumberland, Ontario.[15] The two competing associations have since resolved their dispute, called "The Butter Tart Wars" by Canadian Living,[16] through the mutual agreement to modify "The Butter Tart Tour" to "Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour".[17] The first Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour Taste-Off was launched at the Flavour Festival in Peterborough on Sunday, April 28, 2013, where four bakeries were crowned winners by a panel of celebrity judges.

Ontario's Best Butter Tart Festival and Contest is an annual event held in Midland, Ontario.[18] The contest portion of the festival attracts bakers from across Ontario, and is Canada's largest butter tart–themed celebration, with over 50,000 tarts sold in the festival market in 2014.[19]

National Geographic recognized the significance of the butter tart in an article on Georgian Bay, Ontario. In October 2013, referring to a stand in Wasaga Beach, they stated that "It's the homemade Canadian butter tarts – flaky crust with gooey pecan filling – that set this place apart from other lakeside ice cream stands."[20]

The production of butter tarts in Canada slowed after a flood in Quebec, in April 2019, striking a major production centre. Global News reported the Vachon bakery in Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce had to be evacuated after a long-term flood. In July, Global News reported the bakery was slowly getting back to speed.[21]

The butter tart was celebrated by the issue of a commemorative postage stamp by Canada Post in April 2019, as part of the "Sweet Canada" series.[22]

The Canadian alternative rock band Len referenced butter tarts on their 1999 international hit Steal My Sunshine, which confused some non Canadian listeners.[23]

See also


  1. Presenter:Peter Gzowski Guests:Max Burns, Marion Kane, Charles Pachter (December 5, 1991). "What makes a great butter tart?". Morningside. Moose Jaw. CBC Radio. CBC Radio One.
  2. Sampson, Susan (May 9, 2007), "The art of the tart", thestar.com, Toronto Star, archived from the original on October 24, 2012, retrieved August 25, 2017
  3. "Better butter tarts", The Ottawa Citizen, October 26, 2006, archived from the original on November 10, 2012
  4. "Butter tarts". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  5. Bonisteel, Sara (January 12, 2018). "Butter Tarts, Canada's Humble Favorite, Have Much to Love". The New York Times.
  6. Jackson, Lisa (January 2018). "The sticky sweet history of the butter tart". Food Network.
  7. Grief, Amy (April 24, 2019). "Step Down, Nanaimo Bars. Butter Tarts Are The Ultimate Canadian Dessert". Chatelaine.
  8. "Ontario's best butter tart bakers gather in Midland for a contest and festival", Jennifer Bain, Toronto Star, June 25, 2015
  9. "On the butter tart trail". Toronto Sun. June 16, 2010. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  10. Jacobs, Hersch (2009), "Structural Elements in Canadian Cuisine", Cuizine: The Journal of Canadian Food Cultures, 2 (1)
  11. Mrs. Malcolm MacLeod and her recipe for butter tart filling https://www.simcoe.ca/Archives/Pages/Mrs-MacLeods-Butter-Tarts.aspx
  12. "The Canadian history of the butter tart (video)", Breakfast TV Video, City TV, January 17, 2018
  13. Baird, Elizabeth (June 30, 2009), "Does Canada Have a National Dish?", Canadian Living
  14. Finney, Laura; Sandstrom, Alison (July 11, 2013), "Buttertart festival a big success", Bracebridge Examiner, archived from the original on September 28, 2013, retrieved July 12, 2013
  15. "Misunderstanding over butter tarts could turn into sweet success for City bakeries", Kawartha Lakes This Week, July 10, 2013
  16. Johnson, Tim (June 18, 2014). "The Canadian butter tart wars". Canadian Living. Retrieved September 6, 2019.
  17. Dickson, Kirk (August 14, 2013). "Wellington North In Butter Tart Taste Off". Blackburn Radio Inc. Archived from the original on September 17, 2013.
  18. Million-Cole, Nikki (June 17, 2013), "Butter Tart Fans Flock to Midland", The Midland Mirror
  19. Campbell, Jackie (March 26, 2015). "50 fun things to do in cottage country this spring". Cottage Life. Retrieved September 6, 2019.
  20. "Georgian Bay". Travel. September 30, 2013.
  21. Laframboise, Kalina (June 4, 2019). "Jos Louis pastry bakery slowly resumes production after severe flooding in Quebec - Montreal". globalnews.ca. Retrieved September 6, 2019.
  22. "Butter Tart". Postage Stamp Guide. Retrieved September 15, 2021.
  23. Weiss, Dan (July 23, 2019). "A Million Miles of Fun: Listening To Len's "Steal My Sunshine" 20 Years L-A-T-E-R". Grammy. Retrieved August 10, 2022. Len, definitively, in the public eye, came from nowhere, to whence they returned, but not before offering history some butter tarts. (If you've been wondering for 20 years, the Canadian treat resembles mini pecan pies sans pecans. They're better than you think.)
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