Food: Bourbon Butter Tarts

Having a sweet tooth can be a blessing and curse.  When you are working with bourbon, it’s a blessing as the combinations are endless.  It’s a curse because, well, because once you start, you can’t stop.  With the arrival of spring, we start seeing Butter Tart festivals pop up (it’s a big deal in Canada) and call it subliminal messaging, but the tart trays in my cupboard start shaking and the bourbon calls my name.

Growing up, we all had fond memories from the kitchen and hopefully you keep some of the traditions alive by following your family recipes!  I recall my mom’s magical ability to whip up pie crust like it was nobody’s business.  Her butter tarts were the bomb and if you recall how much I dislike raisins, this was the only time I ate them and never spit them out.  (don’t get me started on the tedious process of picking the raisins out of Raisin Bran when I was a kid…ugh). 

Mom never really had a butter tart recipe to follow, she just “eyed” the ingredients and somehow they were just that damn good, every time.  These days she follows her late sister’s recipe and while I know this is partly because she can’t remember all the ingredients, part of me likes to think that when she makes them, she keeps her sister’s memory alive.  So I took my Auntie Yvonne’s recipe (she was named after one of the famous Dionne quintuplets – google it for cool Canadian trivia) and I adapted it to give itsome boozy goodness.

The Recipe(makes 18 - 3inch tarts)

Pastry Ingredients:

(use your own if you prefer, this is taken directly from Crisco):

2 cups all purpose flour

¾ tsp salt

1 cup shortening

I egg

1 tbsp vinegar

2 tbsp cold water


1. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. 

2. Add the shortening and cut into the flour until the flour picks up the shortening and forms kidney bean size pieces.  Do not overmix.  You will be tempted.  Don’t do it.

3. Beat together the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl and pour overtop of the flour mixture.  Stir with a fork until the dough is just moistened. 

4. Form the dough into a ball (do not knead it!) and split it into 2 pieces.  Flatten each to make a disc about 4 or 5 inches in diameter.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 15 min.  All told, combining these ingredients should take about 5 minutes.

Tart Filling Ingredients:

¾ cup brown sugar

¼ cup of corn syrup

3 tbsp butter


½ tsp vanilla

½ tsp vinegar

1 egg

Pinch of salt

¼ cup pesky raisins¼ cup chopped walnuts

Bourbon: 1tbsp  +2tbsp + 2 oz


1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Chop the raisins slightly, place in a small bowl and add the 1 tbsp measure of bourbon.  Set aside.

3. Combine the rest of the ingredients except for the walnuts, using only the 2 tbsp measure of bourbon.  The mixture doesn’t need to be smooth, you will see small pieces of butter and that’s ok.  I use a whisk to do this.

4. Now the best part, pour the remaining 2 oz of bourbon in a glass and sit back and relax while the pastry dough chills and think about who you are betting to win on Derby Day.

Speaking of dough…it’s time to roll…

**I DO NOT spray or grease the tart pans.  The only reason your tarts will stick is if you overfill or tear the pastry in the shell and if you have ever tried to clean burnt sugar from a tart pan, you have learned your lesson and will not repeat it.  Some of us however, are a glutton for punishment….

1. Lightly flour your rolling surface and rolling pin.  Using one disc at a time, roll pastry to about ¼ thickness. 

2. Using a round pastry cutter (which you have double checked against the tart pan diameter to make sure it overlaps the diameter by at least a quarter inch).  Cut out the rounds and place in each shell.  Gently push down to form the shape of the shell.  If it tears, rejoin it or you will spring a leak and you will be cursing when the tart will not come out.  (that’s part of the blessing/curse thing…although the stuck tarts are good for sampling – since you do have to ensure your tarts are edible!!!)

3. Sprinkle the walnuts evenly in the shells.  Do the same with the bourbon soaked raisins.

4. Carefully add the filling to about 2/3 of the shell. If you drip some of the filling on the surface of the pan, wipe it off.  Burnt sugar…scraping….not fun...remember?

5. Bake for 11-13 min in the center of the oven – checking on them at the 10 min mark, although I know you will check them sooner. You can’t help yourself.  The shells will be a golden brown.  Remove them from the oven and place on a cooling rack.


6. Allow to cool on the rack for 2 min then, using a butter knife, run it along the edges of the pastry to ensure they loosen from the pan.  They should start to spin.  If you can lift them out and transfer them to a cooling rack, go ahead.  If they are too hot to handle, leave them for another few minutes, but do take them out of the pan while they are warm.

The will keep for up to a week in an air tight container.  You can also freeze them if you like, to resist the temptation of having them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Enjoy and happy Derby Week!


Maureen Linehan