To celebrate Canada Day, we’re featuring a guest post by Ontario, Canada-based blogger and cookbook author Tara O’Brady of Seven Spoons, who shares a classic Canadian dessert recipe.
For those of you who don’t know, Canada Day is Canada’s birthday. To be precise, this July 1st is Canada’s 148th birthday. The day is the anniversary of the signing of the British North America Act, which unified three colonies within the British Empire into four provinces – Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick – united as the Dominion of Canada. The country grew and was reorganized to 10 provinces and three territories, and with Canada’s patriation in 1982, the act was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867.
As for the celebration of Canada Day, think of the 4th of July, but without the blue in the decorations. There are parades and block parties. People barbecue and paint maple leaves on their faces. It is almost a rite of citizenship to visit Ottawa to experience the day in our capital, up on Parliament Hill. Canada Day is about celebrating where we’re from and where we are going.
There’s no set menu per se; you’ll come across everything from ribs to burgers and hotdogs to pig roasts and crab boils. It’s a time when carnivals spring up, and thus an equal chance you’ll be eating cotton candy and Beaver Tails (fried dough dusted with cinnamon sugar).
This year for dessert, since we’re in the thick of strawberry season, I am tempted to make a simple cheesecake draped in pickled strawberries, but the butter tart pie is also a family favourite, and a Canadian classic.
The difference between a Canadian butter tart and an American pecan pie is elusive but intrinsic. Butter tarts are as common as doughnuts (maybe more so where I live), available not only at the grocery store but at the corner store as well, in factory-made and house-made offerings.
Butter tarts don’t necessarily have nuts. They are usually smaller than their southern relatives, baked in muffin pans with high sides that hold a lot of filling, but my version bumps up the tart to full size, as I prefer this ratio of filling to crust.
Here, the filling of brown sugar, eggs, corn syrup, butter, and vinegar comes, once again, from my husband’s family. Upon baking, the filling gets an almost honeycomb top with a gelled, glossy underneath. This particular recipe started on his mother’s side, but now his father is the tart maker around the holidays.
On my father-in-law’s dessert tray, the tarts are offered in variety: some plain, some with walnut, some with raisins and others with shredded coconut. I’ve combined and continued the themes, with sour cherries standing in for the raisins and oats for the coconut (which is not to say that those swaps are irreversible). With this lineup, there is a nice division of duties: the walnuts have a tannic interest and snap against the tooth; the oats require the molars, chewy and plain in needed abatement of the richness; the cherries’ determined sourness pushes against the thick sugars; and the malt vinegar reinforces that equilibrium.
One more thing: a tart like this benefits from a slick of cold cream, poured or whipped.
Walnut Cherry Oat Butter Tart Pie
Makes a 9-inch (23 cm) pie
1 single-crust pie dough of choice
Flour, for dusting
1 egg white
1/4 cup (60 g) unsalted butter
1 cup (215 g) packed light brown sugar
3 eggs, plus 1 yolk
1/2 cup (120 ml) dark corn syrup or pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons malt vinegar
3/4 teaspoon medium-grain kosher salt
1 1/4 cups (140 g) walnut pieces, toasted
1/2 cup (50 g) old-fashioned rolled oats
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling
2/3 cup (80 g) dried sour cherries
Heavy cream or barely sweetened whipped cream, to serve
Preheat an oven to 400°F (200°C) with a rack in the middle of the oven. Line a standard baking sheet with parchment paper. Grease a 9-inch (23 cm) pie pan and set aside.
To make the tart shell, roll out the dough to a 12-inch (30.5 cm) circle on a lightly floured board. Gently fit in the prepared pan, folding the overhang under itself at the rim to form a nice, high edge. The crust will need to accommodate a generous amount of filling, so keep that in mind. Crimp or decorate as you like, then pop the pastry in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Place the pie shell on the prepared baking sheet, then prick the pastry all over with a fork. Line the pastry with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it, and with the back of a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, carefully press down any swells as they rise (you’ll see the foil bulge). Remove the foil and bake the crust for 10 minutes more, by which time it should be opaque and dry in places. Remove the crust from the oven; brush on a thin coating of the egg white, reserving what remains. Return the crust to the oven to bake for 1 minute more. Set it to one side while you prepare the filling.
Lower the oven temperature to 325°F (165°C).
To make the filling, in a saucepan, melt the butter over medium- low heat. Pull the pan off the heat and stir in the sugar with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula. Briskly beat in the eggs and yolk, then the corn syrup, vanilla, vinegar and salt. Return to the stove and warm over low heat until the mixture has loosened and is not as gritty as it was to start, about 5 minutes. Once again off the heat, fold in the walnuts and oats.
Brush another coat of egg white on the pastry edge, followed by a glittering sprinkle of sugar. Scatter the cherries across the bottom of the crust and then pour in the filling. Bake until gelled, slightly springy at the center and with only the faintest wobble, 55 to 60 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack and cool for at least 3 hours. For it to set properly, the filling must cool completely. Serve at room temperature, rewarmed, or cold, with heavy cream or barely sweetened whipped cream. The pie can be made up to 2 days ahead, kept covered and chilled.
Recipe from Seven Spoons (Ten Speed Press and Appetite by Random House, 2015).