The True North Strong and Free (more like The True North Hot, Humid and Sweltering Like a Sauna at this time of year) turns 142 years old today.
I’m celebrating with one of the few desserts that Canadians can claim as completely our own: butter tarts. Frankly, I cannot believe that butter tarts don’t exist outside Canada’s borders, because they are outrageously delectable morsels of deliciousness that should be shared with the world. A pastry case with a squidgy filling of butter, brown sugar and eggs, they are a bit like individual pecan pies, but with a gooier centre and filled with raisins instead of nuts (apparently you can put nuts in the filling instead of raisins, but I think that’s treason – especially on a national holiday).
Butter tarts also exist in bar form, which is how we always had them growing up – it is far easier to make a tray of squares than to play around with fiddly dough. But for a 142nd birthday party, I had to go all out. Unfortunately I forgot two ingredients in the filling so they weren’t the most flavourful tarts I’ve ever had, but they still got eaten:
In addition to scarfing butter tarts, I’ll be partying today at Trafalgar Square’s annual Canada Day bash. This event started four years ago in rather regimented and government-organized Canadian fashion, after London’s Metropolitan Police shut down the Maple Leaf Pub’s unofficial street party in Covent Garden. However, the celebration has slowly gotten into its groove. This year there will be Sleeman Ale, bison burgers, a hockey tournament and Gasoline Alley, billed as ‘the UK’s top Canadian covers act'.
I know what you’re thinking. ‘Oh, it will be a night of Bryan Adams and Celine Dion’. Think again! All those famous people you think are American? Lots of them are Canadian. So I’m going to educate you with the Famous Canadians List. This esteemed list started about four years ago in a flat in South London. Sick of me constantly pointing out the Canadian-ness of every single famous Canadian we ever encountered in conversation, my friends finally told me to put it down in writing. The criteria for 'famousness' was that they had to have heard of the person (the arguments that rule caused!) or at least be able to identify them (’You know Eric McCormack. Will from Will & Grace!').
The list stuck to our fridge (the Famous Brits List was on the other side of the page) until we moved out of that flat. I don’t know where it went but it lives on in memory. And here it is, partially recreated for your reading pleasure. Now, unless you are a complete philistine like me, I admit you may not know who many of these vapid and inane people are (the list tends towards the lowbrow – it’s so much more fun that way). But I guarantee you will find at least one name that makes you go, ‘I didn’t know s/he was Canadian!’
The (Partial) Famous Canadians List
Half the cast of the Jon Stewart show – Samantha Bee, Jason Jones
Michael J. Fox
Nickelback (I’m not proud of this one)
Owen Hargreaves (my second favourite footballer)
Conrad Black (though only when convenient)
And the most famous Canadian of all…
Happy birthday, Canada!
Makes 12 tarts
1 1/4 cups (175 g) all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup (125 g) unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small cubes
3 to 5 Tbsp ice water
1/3 cup (70 g) butter
1 cup (215 g) brown sugar
1/4 cup light cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp vinegar
1/2 cup raisins
To make the pastry: Place the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and process for a few seconds until combined. Add the butter; with a few short pulses, process just until the mixture resembles coarse meal or breadcrumbs. Again with the machine running, pour the water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube just until the dough holds together when pinched. You may not need all the water, but if necessary, add a bit more. Don’t overprocess the dough.
Turn the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and flatten it into a disk. Cover it well with the wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to four days. The dough can also be frozen at this point for future use.
When ready to use, allow the dough to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to warm up before rolling out on a floured surface. Cut the dough into 12 – 4 inch (10 cm) rounds and gently place the rounds into a 12 cup muffin tin. Cover and place in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to firm up the dough.
To make the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract, salt, vinegar and cream. Beat until the mixture looks smooth and silky.
Place a spoonful of raisins in the bottom of each tart shell and then spoon the filling on top, filling them to just under the rim – if you fill the cups too full, the mixture will bubble out and over the tops during baking.
Bake at 375 F / C for about 20 minutes, until the pastry has nicely browned and the filling is set. Cool the muffin tin on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before gently removing the tarts. This can be tricky but I find it easiest to gently lift each tart directly out of its cup by a pastry edge once the tarts have sufficiently cooled and firmed up – they will come right out of the cups.