Friday, March 19, 2010

Canadian Butter Tarts

My team is having a competition next Thursday to see who can make the best Canadian food. Apparently everyone is looking to me to win...I think largely (or really entirely) because I'm the only girl on the team. This apparently gives me a huge inherent advantage. It's surprisingly difficult to find traditional canadian food that looks the slightest bit appetizing, but I have found these butter tarts, which look like they should taste good, mostly because I think they're all fat. I'm going to make them this week and will let you know how they go!

Butter Tarts

butter tart, bitten

A butter tart is a Canadian specialty that, unless you have friends or family living up North, you may never have experienced. I’ve certainly never seen them sold in any bakery around here. The pastries are made with a tart shell that is filled with a mixture of sugar and butter, held together with eggs. Often, the tart filling includes raisins or chopped nuts, but a plain tart is pretty standard - and pretty darn tasty, too.

The closest way I can think of to describe the overall texture of the tart is to say that it is a little bit like a pecan pie without the pecans. But that really only emcompasses a small part (the sweetness) of the tart. The filling is gooey and buttery, almost slick with a melt-in-your-mouth texture and just the right amount of caramely sweetness from the sugar. It is held together with a hint of flaky crispness from the pastry crust. The tarts are light, but rich, and it seems prudent to make them small so that you can enjoy a few bites at a time. I baked mine in a standard muffin pan, which worked out perfectly and didn’t require me to pull out a set of miniature tart pans.

This recipe turns out a very tasty butter tart. Many recipes call for the filling to be made with corn syrup (sometimes lots of corn syrup), but mine starts with brown sugar. I added a little bit of maple syrup for an extra hint of flavor, and made sure to include a pinch of salt to take the edge off the sweetness of the filling. Since I made two dozen, I made half with raisins and half without. The amount of raisins given below is approximate; just sprinkle a few raisins into each tart shell to suit your tastes. Since the raisins take up some of the filling space in the shells, you might get two or three fewer tarts if you omit them entirely, so keep that in mind. I used my pate brisee recipe to make the crust. One recipe makes enough dough for two dozen small tarts.

butter tarts with raisins

Butter Tarts
1 recipe for pate brisee, chilled (enough for a double crust pie)
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350F.
Roll out chilled pate brisee base on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Use a 3.5- or 4-inch round cookie cutter (a fluted cookie cutter will give you a nice edge, if you have it) to cut out 24 rounds from the dough. Place each round into a muffin cup on a standard muffin tin and press down lightly to make sure the crust goes into the corners.
In a large bowl, cream together brown sugar and butter. When light and fluffy, beat in eggs, vinegar, maple syrup, vanilla extract and salt until smooth.
Divide raisins into tart shells and top each with a generous spoonful of filling to cover the raisins and reach the top of the crust.
Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until filling is golden and the edges of the crust are lightly browned.
Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold (if you have completely cooled them before storing in the fridge).

Makes 2 dozen.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Vegetarian Cassoulet

This would be pretty decent, without the garlicy homemade bread crumbs. With them, it is incredibly delicious. For some reason the blogger lady recommends Great Northern or another big white bean, but cassoulet is traditionally made with flageolet beans. These are totally endemic to France though, so they can be a bit hard to find (!!). I think she's probably right that adding sausage would make it even more amazing...SIGH...

Original site:

Adapted from Gourmet, March 2008

For cassoulet
3 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only)
4 medium carrots, halved
lengthwise and cut into 1-inch-wide pieces
3 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch-wide pieces
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
4 thyme sprigs
2 parsley sprigs
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
3 (19-ounce) cans cannellini or Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained or 4 1/2 cups cooked dried beans (dried beans cooking instructions here)
1 19-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 quart stock

For garlic crumbs
4 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs from a baguette
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Make cassoulet:
Halve leeks lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces, then wash well and pat dry.

Cook leeks, carrots, celery, and garlic in oil with herb sprigs, bay leaf, cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, then stock, and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender but not falling apart, about 30 minutes.

Make garlic crumbs while cassoulet simmers:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Toss bread crumbs with oil, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a bowl until well coated. Spread in a baking pan and toast in oven, stirring once halfway through, until crisp and golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool crumbs in pan, then return to bowl and stir in parsley.

Finish cassoulet:
Discard herb sprigs and bay leaf. Mash some of beans in pot with a potato masher or back of a spoon to thicken broth. Season with salt and pepper. Just before serving, sprinkle with garlic crumbs.

How about some sausage with that! Slice one pound of cooked sausage into discs and mix with the bean and vegetable stew before adding the breadcrumbs. From here, you can either heat them through for another 15 minutes on the stove, then finish with the breadcrumbs, or add an additional cup of water/broth, scatter that breadcrumbs on top and bake it in a 350°F oven for 20 minutes until the sausage is heated through.