By Peggy Nagle, as told to Jasmine Mangalaseril
When Peggy Nagle first tasted her future mother-in-law’s butter tarts, she didn’t know she would eventually become the keeper of a prized family tradition. These Waterloo County–style butter tarts are sweet and just a little gooey—popular additions to dessert tables and potlucks.
My mother-in-law, Teresa Weadick, was an amazing cook. In her day, the farming community had a lot of events where people would get together and share food: You’d roll back the rug at home for family reunions and get-togethers; all the neighbours gathered together for “presentations,” which were community showers to honour a bride and a groom; and, of course, people would have potluck dinners.
Teresa always received a lot of praise whenever she brought her butter tarts. Sometimes, people would hide one or two away to be certain they’d have one when dessert time came! I don’t know where she got her recipe, but she knew it from memory. She usually made the same type, but occasionally, she’d try something different, like adding a dab of raspberry jam to each tart before she poured the filling.
She was known as the “Queen of Tarts,” and she was really particular about them. If they were the least bit too brown, the least bit too pale or they broke as they came out, they weren’t good enough to go; those stayed home. Not many were culled, but the kids were always ready to help out with the ones that weren’t “good enough.”
The first time I had Teresa’s butter tarts was probably when I was dating her son, Rob. It was summertime. Rob and I were both at the University of Waterloo, but he was home for the summer while I was still in class because I was a co-op student. I remember thinking how amazing his mother’s tarts were. They were divine! I had made butter tarts before, but I knew these were really, really good.
I treasure the memory of Teresa teaching me how to make them. At the time, I felt it was special, but as I was so young—I was probably 21—I didn’t really realize how special. I was focused more on eating the finished product than on the learning process, or appreciating the teaching. But it was a fun activity, and I’m so glad I did it.
I worked on the tarts and served them to my mother-in-law quite a few times—she really liked them. I found the pastry difficult, and I still find the pastry difficult. It’s about balance: work it too much and they’re tough; not enough and they’re too crumbly.
Follow the jump for Peggy’s tutorial on making the perfect butter tart pastry.
What made Teresa’s butter tarts so good? I think it was the texture. They weren’t gelatinous, like store-bought ones, or dry, like some others. When you bit into hers, they had a fabulous viscosity—runny, but not too runny. Maybe the reason is how she baked them: a few minutes in a hot oven, then finished off in a moderate oven.
Our family’s tradition is to “only” eat butter tarts the day they’re made. Day-old butter tarts don’t cut it—they may as well be culls! Of course, there’s nothing wrong with day-olds, but butter tarts are best on that first day, and they’re even better when they’re still warm.
Waterloo County Butter Tarts, courtesy of Peggy Nagle
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 4 hours (includes pastry chilling time)
Yields: 18 tarts
5½ cups (1.375 L) all-purpose flour
2 tsp (10 mL) salt
1 lb (450 g) chilled lard, cut in chunks
1 tbsp (15 mL) vinegar
Butter Tart Filling
½ cup (125 mL) raisins, scalded and plumped
1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
2 tbsp (30 mL) corn syrup
2 tbsp (30 mL) butter or margarine
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1. In large bowl, combine flour and salt.
2. With pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in lard until mixture resembles coarse meal with a few larger pea-size pieces. (I used to do it that way, but now I blend this mixture in my food processor. Much faster and less messy.)
3. In glass measure, using fork, beat egg with vinegar. Add enough very cold water to make 1 cup (250 mL). Drizzle into flour mixture a bit at a time, mixing with fork until dough looks evenly moistened and holds together when gently pressed between fingers. (You might not need all of the liquid.)
4. Divide dough equally into 6 balls. Chill in refrigerator for 3 hours. Prepared dough can be stored for 2 days in the refrigerator or 2 months in the freezer.
5. Roll dough on lightly floured surface. Using jar lid or cookie cutter or large glass, cut circles of the right size for your tart tins. If the dough cracks while rolling, allow it to sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes or until pliable enough to roll without breaking. The secret to flaky pastry is to handle the dough as little as possible. The more you handle it, the tougher it gets. (Tip: Butter tarts are best fresh, even better warm, but they’re messy to make at the last minute. I like to make the dough and fill the tart tins the night before, then just add the raisins and the filling and bake right before serving.
Butter Tart Filling
1. Place raisins in bottom of pastry-filled tart tins.
2. In a bowl, beat together egg, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and vanilla. Spoon about 1 tbsp (15 mL) filling over raisins into each well of tart tins. (You should have enough filling for 18 tarts.)
3. Bake in 400°F (200°C) oven for 5 minutes, then turn down to 350°F (180°C) for 15 more minutes.
4. Remove from oven; let cool. They generally slide out of the tart tins fairly well. However, the rule is that any broken ones cannot be served at a meal or to company. These culls must be given to onlookers in the kitchen who are hinting for a tasty treat (or at least that’s what Rob tells me!).
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