Obviously (this is the 21st century, after all), a lot of the choice of what to bake for a given country starts with Google. For Canada, the result really wasn’t in doubt: everything on the Internet seems to point at the butter tart as the iconic Canadian baked food.
There are lots of variations on the butter tart, but here are some givens that apply to the majority of the recipes:
They are small single-portion tartlets
The tart shell is fairly standard shortcrust, perhaps sweetened but not excessively so
The basic filling is made of butter, eggs and sugar
Although tastes vary as to how runny the filling should be, you never bake the filling such that it’s completely set: you want to end up somewhere on the scale between runny and squidgy.
The basic filling, therefore, ends up not a million miles away from an English treacle tart. However, lots of people add various extras, as you can see from foodnetwork.ca: I’ve gone for walnut and maple syrup, starting from their maple pecan version. Clearly, Canadians have a serious sweet tooth, because all the recipes I’ve found have been big sugar hits. I’ve gone for slightly more nuts and slightly less sugar.
The quantities here make 12 small tarts: you’ll probably be using a 12 slot muffin tin.
300g plain flour (OO grade if you can)
15ml lemon juice (around half a lemon)
Put the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer.
Take the butter out of your fridge and cut into small cubes (perhaps 1cm).
Add the butter to the flour mix and mix with the standard beater on the lowest setting until the largest lumps of butter are gone.
Add the water and lemon juice and beat until well combined.
Form the dough into two approximately equal portions, shape into discs, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour (I did 90 minutes).
Grease your muffin tin.
Roll out your pastry thinly and cut out a circle around 12cm in diameter – you’ll be trying to get six tartlets out of each of your two balls of dough. Use the cutting tool of your choice: mine was an inverted fluted tartlet tin which happened to be the right size.
Press your circle of pastry into one of the muffin shapes, allowing the edges to sit above the level of the tin. The key here is to press the pastry down into the tin so that there isn’t any air trapped, and to try to stop the filling from leaking out over the sides.
Repeat for the other eleven tarts.
Put the tarts into the fridge until you’ve made the filling.
Filling and assembling the tarts
100g walnuts or pecans
170g maple syrup
15ml lemon juice (around half a lemon)
Vanilla essence to taste
Preheat oven to 200℃ fan.
Place walnuts in a roasting tray and toast until fragrant but not burnt, around 5-10 minutes. Leave to cool.
Put eggs, maple syrup, lemon juice, salt and vanilla into the bowl of your stand mixer and whisk briefly with a balloon whisk at top speed.
Put butter and sugar into a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the two elements have completely combined and the mixture has started frothing.
Turn the mixer back up to full speed, and gradually drizzle the hot filling into the mixture, whisking continuously.
Divide the chopped walnuts into your twelve tartlets.
Pour the filling into the twelve tartlets.
Bake for 10 minutes, the reduce the temperature to 175℃ fan, then bake for another 15 minutes, then leave to cool.
For Americans, the phrase “Apple Pie and Motherhood” (or possibly “Apple Pie and Mom”) means “a thing in life that everyone agrees to be unarguably good”. But even Americans would accept that Apple Pie comes from the Netherlands. In fact, there are two variants of Dutch Apple Pie: appeltaart, the lattice-topped version that I’ve made here, and appelkruimeltaart, a crumble-topped version whose American equivalent is Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Pie.
Most Dutch recipes (I’ve started with this one) go for a shortcrust pastry with a fairly high butter to flour ratio (this recipe uses 2:3, but I’ve seen higher), sweetened with brown sugar. As often, I’ve cut down the amount of sugar – the original recipe goes for 50% more than I’ve used. The Dutch use self-raising flour, which moves the end result somewhere in the direction of a cake compared to a typical French apple tart or English pie. A neat trick is to cover your base with a layer of breadcrumbs: this soaks up the juices in the early part of the bake and helps to prevent the dreaded soggy bottom.
The filling is usually fairly heavily spiced and often has other fruit or nuts in addition to the apple. I’ve chosen cinnamon and raisins, but there are plenty of alternatives: cloves, ginger, walnuts or almonds to name just a few. At least once recipe recommends soaking your raisins in rum.
If you’re not in the Netherlands with access to Goudreinet (Golden Rennet) or Belle de Boskoop apples, you’ll have to improvise. You’re going to want an apple which is crisp enough not to disintegrate while baking, and which has plenty of flavour and a level of tartness. Lockdown London isn’t offering my usual levels of choice, so I went for 50/50 Granny Smith and Cox’s Orange Pippin, which worked pretty well. The Granny Smiths are there for tartness, but I’d worry that using them exclusively would be both too sour and too watery.
300 g self raising flour, plus flour for rolling
100 g soft brown sugar
a pinch of salt
200 g cold butter
1 egg, beaten
Combine the flour, sugar and salt.
Cut the butter into small cubes and mix into the flour mixture with your fingertips until you’ve got rid of the lumps of unblended butter.
Keep aside a small amount of egg for brushing, pour the rest into your mixture and blend until you have a smooth dough which no longer sticks to the side of your bowl.
Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.
1 kg apples (see above)
Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
6g ground cinnamon
50 g sugar
50 g raisins
Peel, core and chop the apples into quarters, then chop each quarter into 4-5 slices. As you go, put the pieces into a bowl with the lemon juice and mix them around: the lemon will stop the apples going brown as you work.
Add the raisins.
Combine the sugar and cinnamon, add them to the apples and raisins and mix everything until even.
Breadcrumbs (probably around 30g – sorry, I didn’t measure)
I used the fan setting on my oven and I wish I hadn’t – baking for longer without the fan would have resulted in a somewhat softer filling. If you like the apples crunchier, go with the fan option.
Preheat oven to 180℃ conventional.
Grease a 22-23cm springform tin with butter.
Divide the dough into 3 portions, roughly 40%, 40%, 20%.
Roll out the first portion into a circle and use this to line the base of your tin. Trim off any excess and keep it.
Roll the next portion into a long rectangle (you may need more than one) and use it to line the sides of your tin. Again, trim off and keep any excess.
Add all the excess dough to your third piece, roll it out and cut into strips, around 1cm wide.
Spread the breadcrumbs evenly to cover the base of your tart.
Fill the tart with the apple mixture, trying to get rid of the air gaps so the apples are packed well down (but don’t press too hard). The filling will probably form a slight dome over the top: that’s fine.
With your strips of dough, form a lattice over the tart. The Dutch tend to do a kind of overlapping W-shaped pattern – my attempt at this was comically clumsy, as you’ll see from the photos, but this didn’t really matter. You can also do a standard criss-cross version (and if you’re feeling particularly competent, weave it).
Brush the top of the pastry lattice with the remaining egg.
Bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown, which should take around 50 minutes (conventional) or 40 minutes (fan) – depending, as ever, on your oven.
Leave to cool. After 10 minutes or so, extract the pie from the tin.
Enjoy. It’s the perfect treat for a damp, autumnal day.
Where home-coming Argentinians make a beeline for Alfajores, Paraguayans head for Pasta Frola: a lattice-topped jam tart filled with either guava or quince paste. Childhood summers in Portugal have made me particularly partial to quince paste, and in any case, guavas are hard to get hold of here in England, so the quince version was the obvious choice.
Time for a couple of short linguistic digressions. The Spanish for quince is “membrillo”, and quince paste (sometimes called “quince cheese” for reasons I can’t fathom) is “dulce de membrillo”. In Portuguese, however, a quince is a “marmelo” and the paste is called “marmelada”. The English word “marmalade” confuses both Portuguese (where orange jam is just called “doce de laranja”) and Italians, for whom the word “marmellata” means jam of any sort, and “marmellare” means “to make jam”. In Italian, “pasta frolla” simply means shortcrust pastry, and this dessert would be called a “crostata”.
You can buy dulce de membrillo ready made in the UK, but it tends to be fairly expensive at around £25 or £30 for a kilo. Anyway, our local shops don’t stock it and our local fruit shop had quinces, so I had a go at making my own. Peeling quinces is a bit of faff – the skin is very tough – but other than that, the process isn’t too difficult.
This is metricised and modified slightly from the recipe from simplyrecipes.com. I overbought quinces and made around double this recipe, which was way too much: the quantities here will make well over 1kg of paste, which is a lot more than you need for the Pasta Frola.
Around 1 kg of quinces (typically 4 fruit)
Grated zest and juice of one lemon
Vanilla essence to taste
Around 800g jam sugar (to be adjusted)
Peel and core the quinces, being sure to remove the fibrous bit of stalk that’s inside the quince. Chop coarsely (maybe 8-12 pieces per fruit).
Put them in a saucepan, add the grated lemon zest cover them with cold water and bring to the boil.
Simmer for around 30-40 minutes until you can cut them with a wooden spoon
Drain the quince pieces and transfer to the bowl of a food processor: blitz until extremely smooth (this can take several minutes).
Return the puree to a saucepan, add the sugar, vanilla essence and lemon juice.
Bring to the boil, uncovered, and simmer gently for 60-90 minutes, stirring often enough to ensure that you don’t caramelise the paste on the bottom of the pan.
Preheat oven to 125℃
When the mixture is a dark pink/orange, remove from the heat. Line a shallow rectangular oven dish with baking parchment and spread the mixture evenly into the dish.
Leave the dish in the oven for around 90 minutes for the paste to dry out. The Spanish and Portuguese cook theirs to the consistency of thick jelly, so that you can cut slices of it. It’s quite difficult to get to this stage without burning it somewhere, and in any case, you don’t need to for Pasta Frola: a soft paste is just fine and you’re going to be baking it some more anyway.
By the way, quince paste is a really wonderful accompaniment to cheese, particularly sharply flavoured cheese.
The Pasta Frola
Thanks for this to my daughter’s South American colleague Daniel (who was the person who insisted that it should be included in this blog in the first place). His recipe was for about double this amount as a 40cm x 30cm traybake: I used a square tin with a removable base of around 23cm x 23cm, which left a small amount of pastry left over.
250g plain flour (use OO if possible)
15g baking powder
90g cup of sugar
125g butter, plus some for greasing
3 egg yolks (around 50g)
700g quince paste (see above)
50ml madeira, port or similar fortified wine
Preheat oven to 150℃
If your butter isn’t soft, cut it into squares and leave it a few minutes to soften
In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine flour, sugar and baking powder and mix well
Add the butter and mix until you reach the breadcrumb stage
Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the mixture, together with the milk
Mix until you have a smooth dough
Knead it for a couple of minutes until somewhat elastic, then cover and leave for 15 minutes
Meanwhile, grease the tin, and mix the quince paste and madeira in a bowl
Once the dough has finished resting, separate out one third of it and set aside. On a generously floured board, roll it out to the size of your tin with around 2cm overlap all the way round
Line your tin with the dough. If, like me, your dough always breaks at this point, don’t worry – just press it into the bottom and sides with your fingers as best you can. The recipe is very forgiving
Pour your quince mixture into the tin and spread it to the edges
If necessary, trim the pastry down to the height of the filling
Roll out the remaining amount of pastry and cut it into strips approximately 1cm wide. Use these to form a lattice over the tart. At this point, you might like to think about how many pieces you’re going to cut the tart into and make sure that you have a gap, not a strip of pastry, at the point at which you’re going to do this (clue: I didn’t do this and learned the hard way).
Brush the pastry on the top with some of the egg white.
This recipe is dedicated to Conceiçao, who looked after me during many happy childhood summers in Portugal. There was only one option for the Portuguese bake: the little puff-pastry custard tartlets called Pastéis de nata – or Pastéis de Belém, in their most famous incarnation in the bakery in the Lisbon suburb of Belém, around the corner from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and opposite the monument to Henry the Navigator.
A Pastel de nata has two components: a puff-pastry case and its custard filling. There’s nothing particularly unusual about Portuguese puff pastry recipes, so you can use whatever recipe you like. Since puff pastry is fundamentally difficult, the alternative is to simply buy the stuff ready made, but if you do this, try to get an all-butter version or the flavour balance will be seriously off.
What is slightly unusual is the mechanics of the tartlet: the trick is to roll the whole sheet of pastry up tightly, Swiss roll style, then cut it into rounds. You flatten each round and press into the depression of a shallow cupcake or muffin tin to form the characteristic snail shell pattern in the flakes of the cooked pastry.
The custard is also unusual: it starts with a simple flour and water mixture; you then add hot syrup, then you cool the whole lot and add egg yolks; the custard is then baked in the tartlets.
I’ve started from two Portuguese recipes: one for the pastry and one for the pastéis themselves. If you haven’t made puff pastry before, the recipe contains a handy video showing you the technique far better than I can describe it.
The puff pastry
300g plain flour (OO grade if you can get it)
250g butter (if you can, use a high melting point butter like Président)
Your key objective throughout this process is to avoid the butter melting and leaking out through the sides of your pastry. If it’s a very hot day, which it was when I made these, you will need to put things back into the fridge frequently to keep them down to well below the melting point of the butter. You can tell from the cover photo that I wasn’t entirely successful.
Take the butter out of the fridge. Time this so that when you get to step 3, the butter will be soft enough to roll but still cold enough to be in no danger of melting.
Put the flour, water and salt into a bowl and mix thoroughly until you have a smooth dough. Form the dough into a ball, cut a cross in top (I have no idea why), cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Cut out two large sheets of baking parchment (perhaps 40cm long). Roll the butter between the two sheets to form as neat a square as you can manage: you want a constant thickness. Put the assembly back into the fridge.
On a floured board, roll the dough until it’s slightly over twice the size of your square of butter.
Removing the paper, place the square of butter onto one end of the dough, fold the dough over and seal the edges. Roll the dough out slightly more to make sure that it’s properly laminated.
Fold the dough into three by taking one end to the middle and then the other end on top. Turn it by 90°, roll it out, fold into three again, then wrap with cling film and refrigerate.
Repeat this process twice (if you want to follow the Portuguese recipe strictly, do a 4-way book fold as your second stage). Refrigerate for 20 minutes or more again.
Have a set of muffin or cupcake tins ready. Grease them with a bit of butter.
Roll the pastry flat, then roll the flattened pastry tightly into a cylinder. Cut the cylinder into slices: the recipe says 12, but my pastry came out a bit thick and I reckon that I should have tried to get a few more, perhaps 15 or 18.
Flatten each slice into a circle with the flat of your hand and/or a rolling pin, then press each circle into a muffin tin so that it lines the bottom and sides.
Refrigerate all of this while you make your custard.
250 ml milk
Peel of one lemon
75 g water
4 egg yolks
Ground cinnamon to taste
The tricky part of this recipe is to get as many of the lumps out as you can. Use a wire whisk and be ruthless with it!
Preheat oven to 230℃
Peel the lemon, keeping the peel whole in as few pieces as you can manage. Count the pieces. Keep the rest of the lemon for juice later.
In a bowl, mix 100ml of the milk with the flour. Get as many of the lumps out as you can manage.
In a saucepan, bring the remaining 150ml of the milk to the boil with the lemon peel.
Pour in the flour/milk mixture and whisk vigorously, on the heat, for another couple of minutes until you have a thick paste. Remove from the heat and discard the lemon peel (that’s why you needed to count the pieces). You now have another opportunity to have a go with the whisk to get more of the lumps out.
In another pan, mix the sugar and water. Bring to the boil and cook until you have a thick syrup. Mine got as far as 111℃ on a sugar thermometer, which is the top end of the “thread” stage, before it gets to “soft ball”.
Take your pastry out of the fridge around now.
A little at a time, dribble the syrup into your flour mix, whisking all the time. You can speed up towards the end: make sure the syrup and flour mix is as smooth as possible.
Yes, you got it. It’s time to get the lumps out again. I did this by more frantic whisking: I suspect that passing it through a sieve might have been less work, at the cost of a bit of wastage and more washing up.
Add the egg yolks and whisk until smooth
Pour the custard into the tartlets
Bake for around 15 minutes. The custard should have blobs that are dark brown, on the verge of burning but not quite there; the pastry around the edges should look golden and flaky.
Dust with a little cinnamon.
Leave to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Pastéis de nata are fabulous straight out of the oven, but you don’t want to burn your tongue. Of course, you can have them cold later.
The Portuguese would never pass up a chance to have these with a bica (short espresso).