Butter Tarts, Glorious and Free (of Eggs and Dairy)

[How about that red and white background?  Pretty patriotic, eh?]

There’s an annual event in Montreal called The High Lights Festival in which (among other things) La Belle Ville invites chefs from other world-class cities to cook alongside the Quebeçois culinary masters and exchange ideas. This year (2008), the guest city was the very one yours truly calls home: Toronto. 

Toronto?  Some of the French hosts, apparently, almost refused to participate.  After all, every other location in Canada is entirely inferior to well, anywhere in Quebec when it comes to cuisine, non?  I mean, the rest of us are simply les bêtes sans a mote of culinary imagination or refinement, n’est-ce pas?

Well, it may be true that the phrases “Canadian gourmet” or “Canadian cuisine” are, like the iconic “jumbo shrimp,” simply oxymorons.  (And boo hoo, we’ve now lost one of the great comedians of all time along with the originator of that wordplay).  I mean, for most of my life, the mere idea of a uniquely Canadian cuisine was pretty much a joke.  As in so many other areas, our gastronomy is often eclipsed by that of our overseas ancestors.  Pizza?  Nope–that was Italy.  Crêpes Suzette?  France, of course.  Schwarzwald torte?  Germany beat us to it.  Haggis? Scotland claimed that one. Chocolate-covered bacon?  Well, turns out that was the creation of none other than our older and more populous neighbor, the good ole U. S. of A.

And what about us here in Canuck Country? A quick excursion to Wikipedia reveals several “Canadian-made” foodstuffs, many of which are cooked forms of indigenous plants.  There are Saskatoon berries out west, Nanaimo bars way out west, cloudberries (also known as bakeapple) and cod tongues way out east, or fine wines of Ontario (no, seriously. Apparently, the Niagara region shares the same microclimate as parts of California). 

But for truly singular creations that seem to roar “Canada,” like it or not, we’ve routinely turned to Quebec.  No wonder those guys have swelled heads when it comes to food. Quebec–where the language is different (bien sûr!), the aesthetic is different (ah, those couture‘d demoiselles!), the zeitgeist is different (4-hour dinners? de rigeur!), the beer is definitely different (um, 12 per cent?), and the cuisine is nonpareil.  

Tortière?  Quebec.  Poutine?  Quebec.  Sugar pie?  Quebec. Hamburger with truffles and foie gras?  Quebec.  Yep; they may have crazy gas prices, draconian language laws and a love-hate relationship with the rest of the country, but those Québecois sure do know how to cook!

And so, when I read about Jasmine (of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict) and Jennifer’s (of The Domestic Goddess) Mmmm. . . .Canada event  in honor of our July 1st Canada Day celebration, I knew I was in!  The event asks us to prepare something quintessentially “Canadian,” and it was Ontario’s original butter tart that immediately came to mind.  (Take that, cretons!)

According to Bill Casselman in his Canadian Food Words, “butter tart” is “a phrase and a confection that is 100% Canadian.”  He goes on to write,

There is even a proper Canuck way to ingest this northern nectar of the oven. One holds the butter tart in one hand at lip height. One does not bring the flaky-doughed cuplet with its inner pool of sugared gold to the mouth. No. One stoops slightly inward toward the butter tart, not only to take an encompassing chomp but also to do obeisance to the gooey rills of embuttered ambrosia soon to trickle in sweet streamlets down the eater’s gullet . . . .

 Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Just a couple of minor problems: (a) I’ve never even tasted a butter tart, let alone baked one; (b) with a filling made primarily of butter and eggs, they are decidedly not vegan.  What to do?

I consulted my trusty human encylopedia (that would be the HH) as well as my world’s biggest butter tart aficionado (ditto).  From what he tells me, the filling is very much the consistency of that in a pecan pie (probably why I never tasted them)–only about 1,462,873.05 times sweeter. 

I examined various online photos of the things and got a sense of the density required: a filling firm enough to hold its shape, spongy around the edges yet soft and oozing in the middle, all enclosed by a buttery tart crust.  With this exemplar in mind, I went to work in the kitchen.

The first round, with a serviceable shell and not entirely unpleasant taste, were nonetheless a wee bit too gooey and glossy–sort of like heavy, sugared shellac poured over raisins (too much like a stealth weapon in a James Bond movie, I’m afraid). Given the preponderance of eggs in the original recipe, I knew I’d have to reproduce the same airy, slightly bubbly consistency that results when whites are beaten until foamy.  A few extra filling ingredients and a pinch of baking powder later, and–zut alors!–I had it.

The HH tells me that these are extremely close to the real thing.  They’re everything you’d want in a butter tart: flaky pastry crust, with a rich, sticky, firmer-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside filling.  All they’re missing is the cholesterol, animal fat, and refined sugars (quel domage!)

I know what I’ll be baking for the upcoming long weekend, as we sit out back sipping Mojitos (decidedly not Canadian–well, except for the mint), shield the dogs from neighbours’ fireworks, hope the rain takes a hike, and enjoy our all-Ontario meal.  We’ll look up at the stars and be thankful to live in such a diverse, scenic, and placid country (and let’s not forget–“polite.”)  Now, if only the snow were a little less abundant, it would be perfect. . . ..

Bon Fête, Canada!

(“Um, Mum, we beg to differ on the ” world’s biggest butter tart aficionado” point.  You know we’d be the biggest fans. . . except you never let us eat them.  Oh, to taste something with sugar. . .   And what was that about fireworks?“)



 [This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog.  For more information, check the “Cookbook” button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]

[Disclaimer: this post may contain affiliate links. If you buy using these links, at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission from the sale.]



  1. Sounds like a great event!! Wow, those tarts look beyond incredible – who needs eggs and dairy when you can have a tart like that??

  2. Chocolate-covered bacon… *shakes head in disgust*

    Quite a few searchers have found my blog by googling “chocolate covered bacon”

    Your butter tarts look amazing. I’d never heard of them before– wow, what have I been missing?!

  3. Oh my. Ricki, you can’t do this to me. It is nowhere near meal time and my mouth is already watering! The gooey photo of the tart? Just. Not. Fair. 😉

    I can’t wait to make this with some GF adaptations.

  4. I was feeling full five seconds ago. until I caught sight of this amazingness, and now I feel like I could eat ten of these, and more.
    bad Ricki! bad!

  5. VeggieGirl,
    My feelings exactly–these were pretty darned decadent enough! 🙂

    These are a uniquely Canadian invention–just get ready for a true sugar high (or in this case, agave high!)

    I’d think this would be easy to adapt–if you have a pastry recipe you like, the rest is already gluten free!

    Sorry. (Hangs head). But believe me, they’re too sweet to eat 10–even I couldn’t do that! 😉

  6. The ooze looks amazing and I would happily sample these despite not really going for this sort of thing normally! The only dish I can think of when I think canadian is maple syrup over bacon but I saw this event and felt otherwise blank! Not that different to Australia where so much of our cuisine has migrated from elsewhere (like most of the population)

  7. Oh my gawd… that looks incredible. You need to enter it to Mmm Canada – it’s fantastic. I’m glad I didn’t make it – I’d be eating it…nudge nudge wink wink.

    I love the way you capture the Quebec impression of the rest of Canada. In the west they tell me we in Ontario..specifically Toronto think we’re the centre of the universe.

  8. Well.

    And it’s vegan.

    I’m floored. Tres delish. Tres, tres. (excuse lack of correct accent – damn computer…)

  9. I am the author of Canadian Food Words.
    Thanks for quoting my book.
    However, Canadian Food Words is sold out at Indigo and Chapters website.

    You can still buy one of the best surveys of the history of Canadian food from the author and get a sample of the book by visiting my website:


    Just click on BOOKS TO SAMPLE. Then click for Canadian Food Words for a good taste of the book.

    I think I’ll try the vegan tart, having been bored silly by having to go to dinner with several of them over the years.


    Bill C.

  10. Just gorgeous. I’ve only made my Mom’s classic recipe, but I want to try these, even though I not vegan. Again, just gorgeous!

  11. We’ve spent quite a bit of vacation time in Canada and, it was the first and only place I’ve ever had fries sprinkled with vinegar! Hope you’re having some of those with your gorgeous butter tarts! Great post.

  12. Wow…these look delicious! I can’t believe there are no eggs in that. I think I’m going to have to try this recipe out myself for a friend with an egg allergy. Thanks! And thanks for joining in on Mmm…Canada!

  13. I am so excited about trying these, Ricki! I used to love butter tarts when I was a little kid, but haven’t had any in so far long! I’d never thought of trying to veganize that one- so glad you did!

  14. Wow these look amazing!!! I’m so impressed with how you veganized them and how well they turned out. I want to try and make recipes vegan and with healthier ingredients so seeing you make this is very inspiring.

  15. Oh la la! It just looks amazing!
    Reminds me of Tarte au Sucre! Mmmmm!

  16. wonderwoman! you! rock!

  17. your butter tarts are a true work of art! They sound and look positively gorgeous – and even more scrumptious than any butter-laden version!

  18. Oh my Ricki, they are just awesome, once I have done my post holiday diet I shall make some.

  19. Johanna,
    I agree about the cuisine–especially here in Toronto! Though I’d never really tried butter tarts, I have to say they caught my fancy and I’d be happy to have them again (though the HH made quick work of the batch I baked!).

    I’ve heard the same thing about Toronto. Maybe it’s my born-in-Quebec perspective. . . and yes, I DID enter these in Mmmm. . . . Canada!

    Oui, et merci beaucoup! 😉

    Thanks so much for your comment, and for visiting! And thanks for the additional information about the book–much appreciated. (Oh, and I think you’d like these vegan tarts. . .never boring!) 😉

    Thanks so much! My “expert” seemed to like them, so I’ll assume the taste was close enough to the original!

    Would love to know where you vacationed! I’ve tasted fries w/ vinegar but have to admit they’re not my favorite (I’m a ketchup gal, all the way). 😉

    Thanks so much for your comment! Glad you like the look of these, and do let me know how they turn out if you try them for your friend. (Oh, and please let her know that EVERYTHING on this blog is egg free–also dairy free, refined-sugar free, and wheat free). 🙂

    Glad to help supply an old childhood favorite! Let me know how you like them if you do try them out. (Now I’ve got to get to work on a vegan/wheat free version of poutine. . .).

    Thanks so much! It’s actually kind of fun to convert recipes to healthier versions, I find. . . and really not that hard once you’ve done a few!

    Thanks so much for your comment! Now, tarte au sucre. . . THAT spells “Canada” for me!

    happy herbivore,
    Aww, thanks so much! (Now if I could somehow reproduce the WW physique, I’d be in heaven. . . ). 😉

    Astra Libris,
    Thanks so much! Any time I can eat a rich dessert with less guilt, I’m happy. Glad you like the look of this one!

    Thanks so much! Do let me know how you like them if you try them out. (And the holiday? Hope it was/is a good one). 🙂

  20. I’m drooling over the ambrosia! 😀

    Stop by Confessions of an Apron Queen for a piece of Maple Walnut Fudge: http://anapronaday.blogspot.com/2008/06/maple-walnut-fudge-old-fashioned-way.html

  21. veganhomemade says

    Your posts are so entertaining to read! I can feel your Canadian pride oozing through the screen, much like that delicious looking butter tart filling.

  22. madcapCupcake says

    This looks gorgeously delicious – way to veganize it so nicely 🙂

  23. These sound and look HEAVENLY, to be exact.

  24. Butter tarts are the one thing I miss horribly since going vegan….you are my hero!

  25. Anonymous says

    What!? I’ve been looking for a vegan butter tart recipe all year and they all had so much brown sugar and earth balance. Plus they didn’t look like a traditional buttertart…must not have been Canadian! So can I use coconut oil instead of the butter (are they the same?) And is the Salba a must, because that stuff is pricy?

    Thank you!

  26. Hi Anonymous,
    Hope you read this–you didn’t leave an email address, so I’m answering here and hoping that you see it.

    Yes, coconut oil and coconut butter are the same thing. In a cool room (above 76F), it should be solid. This will help keep the tart’s filling semi-firm after it’s baked. As to the Salba, I’d say a qualified “yes” that it’s necessary. You COULD try using 1/4 cup finely ground flax seeds instead, but I haven’t tested with flax so I couldn’t guarantee that it would work. Also, flax is darker and so it will show up in the filling–if you don’t mind a darker filling, then there’s no problem with flax! Let me know how they turn out if you do try them. 🙂

  27. These look great! Many times I’ve thought of vegan “butter tarts”, yet to have experienced them though. You can turn any nasty food into a delicious vegan alternative. I’m especially pleased to see the whole spelt flour and sugar alternatives- too many great tasting vegan recipes are just loaded with refined crapola! Bill, what a flaky comment.


  28. oh by the way- coconut oil and coconut butter are different. Coconut butter is the whole young coconut blended while the oil is just the fat (no meat).

  29. Oh my…that looks so super delicious! I can’t take my eyes off the last shot with the luscious looking goo working its way out of the tart for the sole purpose of taunting me into attacking it! 🙂

  30. Oh man, these look so good in your photos. I’m sitting here trying to figure out where I went wrong, because my batch is currently in the oven, the filling bubbling and pouring over the edges of my tart pans. Hopefully they still taste good and come out of the pans. I’m wondering if it’s the coconut oil vs. butter discrepancy? I have both on hand, and assumed refined coconut oil was to be used for both the crust and filling. Was this incorrect? Darn, I’ve had this recipe in my bookmarks for a year, looking forward to trying it. Back to the drawing board!

  31. Hey
    I am just wondering if anyone has tried freezing these??? Does it work? Wonderful recipe!

    • Amanda, it’s been a while since I made them, but I do recall freezing them once and they were still pretty good! Not quite like fresh, but good all the same. Freeze on a plate or cookie sheet, uncovered, until solid. Then wrap individually in plastic an store in a container or plastic bag. Thanks so much for the kind comment! 🙂

  32. I just made these today; a few modifications to meet our dietary requirements, but they are soooo good. It has been a long time since I could have a butter tart. I have to ask my mom tomorrow what her secret was to not letting butter tarts overflow. I know she had problems because of our high elevation, and I know she solved it after a couple of years living here.

    Of course it wasn’t a hardship eating the filling that had overflowed onto the pan . . .

    • Yay! I’m so glad you were able to enjoy them. Butter tarts are a fabulous treat. 🙂 (And I’d love to know that secret, too, once you find out. . .) 😉

  33. I don’t use agave can I substitute extra rice syrup or what else would u consider using ?

    • Hi Tina,
      You could certainly try more rice syrup, but I think it might be too thick. Coconut nectar or maple syrup might do as well, too. When I first created the recipe all those years ago, I know I tried other liquids but nothing achieved the correct texture in quite the same way. Worth a try if you’re feeling adventurous, though! 🙂


  1. […] the recipe, see my other blog, Diet, Dessert and Dogs . Posted by Ricki Filed in dairy free, egg free, fancy desserts, indulgent, pareve, pies and […]

  2. […] didn’t know it was possible to make an egg-free pecan-style tart until I saw (and made) Ricki’s butter tarts.  So I must dedicate these delightful pecan squares to Ricki.  I learned a lot from Ricki in […]

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