Authenticity is a thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately in the kitchen. It can be a bit of a buzz-word in restaurant reviews and cookbook blurbs – to say that a food is authentic is to say that it has deep roots, that it is grounded in a cultural tradition that goes back further than the person cooking that food, that the people consuming it are participating in something larger than themselves. It’s also often tied up in family, and memories of eating from childhood, which also means that one dish can taste totally authentic to one person, and like a cheap knock-off of noni’s cooking to the person across the table.
Personally I like to throw any aspirations towards authenticity out the window when I’m cooking & baking. As a vegan, most of the foods I ate as a kid are already going to be hard to recreate authentically, since I don’t eat a lot of what I did eat back in the day. Cooking and writing within a Canadian tradition also adds another layer to this, as many classic Canadian foods are heavy on the butter, heavy on the meat, get-these-settlers-through-the-winter style foods. A home made plant-based poutine might taste great, but it’s likely going to be a far cry from the curd-squeakin’ fries you buy in Montreal. An “inauthentic” interpretation of a classic dish doesn’t have to mean it’s gross, or dishonest, or processed beyond recognition, it just means it’s part of a different, emerging tradition, one that holds different values concerning the foods we eat and share.
So, with this in mind: Butter Tarts. Butter-less butter tarts. Vegan butter tarts, with spelt flour. If you’re not from Canada, you might not be familiar with butter tarts, but let me assure you that they’re taken pretty seriously. The butter tarts of my childhood were bought at a general store on a highway in the country, on the way to visit my grandmother. The shop kept a running tally of how many tarts they had sold on a board out front; I believe they had a party once they reached a million. My butter tarts actually come close to the mark, in terms of both texture and flavour, to the ones I remember. Are they authentic? Nah. But they taste good, have wholesome ingredients, and I enjoyed sharing them with a couple people I love.
The filling starts off by making a simple roux to provide body to the classic caramel-meets-custard butter tart filling. Then a bunch of other yummy ingredients are added: coconut milk (for creaminess), coconut sugar (or brown sugar, for sweetness), maple syrup (for Canada, natch), and vanilla (to really send it over the top). Notably (I think) there is no silken tofu, which is a common ingredient in tarts and pies of this type, but which I’m not a fan of for the very simple reason that I never have silken tofu on hand. There is no consensus on what extras should be added; personally, I think the nut and raisin route are both great, but that might be because growing up my brother refused to eat any raisins, so that’s what I ended up with by default. I used chopped dates here for extra caramel goodness, but go with your gut. The final result is pretty close to the butter tarts I remember from my childhood, but substantially lighter and more wholesome.
The crust recipe is based off of this one from the New York Times, and if you’re gluten averse the author gives directions for a gluten-free flour blend that works well in place of the spelt I used here (the original calls for 50/50 whole wheat and all purpose flour, so you have that option, too). If you want to go the gluten-free route, just be sure to save a couple tablespoons of your flour blend for use in the filling. The crust is earthier and not as flaky as one made with vegan shortening and ap flour, so if you want these to taste more decadent you can use your favourite vegan crust recipe, or find my classic vegan buttery crust recipe here (you can freeze the extra dough for your next pie).
This recipe makes six tarts, but can easily be doubled to make a full dozen.
- 1 1/4 c spelt flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp organic cane sugar
- 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 2 1/2 tbsp spelt flour
- 1/4 c full-fat coconut milk
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/4 cup coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 cup raisins, chopped dates, chopped pecans, or chopped walnuts
- Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl, then make a well in the centre. Stir in oil, the mixture will be somewhat crumbly. Add water and lemon juice together and stir until a dough starts to form. Work the dough gently until it comes together in a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.
- Grease a six cups in a muffin tin.
- Once your dough is chill and rested, roll it out on a floured work surface to a 1/4" thickness. Cut out circles of dough larger than the diameter of the muffin tin's cups, you want the crust to overhang slightly. Fit the dough into the greased cups, folding the dough over itself as needed to get it into shape. Place the tin into the fridge or freezer while you prepare the filling.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, melt coconut oil. Once melted, whisk in flour until fully incorporated; this should form a runny paste.
- Whisk in coconut milk, water, coconut sugar, salt, and maple syrup. The mixture should start to get thicker. Keep it simmering for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is noticeably thicker, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Take your pastry cups from the fridge and distribute your dried fruit or nuts evenly in the bottoms of the cups. Begin to pour the filling into each cup, leaving about 1/4" of pastry clear (this is where the pastry overhang comes in handy). The filling won't expand during baking, but it will bubble and might pour a little over the edge of the pastry if it is too short.
- Bake for approximately 30 minutes, until the edges of the crust are golden and the filling is bubbly. Let cool slightly or fully before serving.
- Make sure you stir the filling vigorously before pouring into the pastry shells. If it is left to sit at all the coconut oil may separate slightly, which won't effect the taste or texture, but will make the cooled tarts less shiny.
- If you don't have grapeseed oil, you can use any other oil that is liquid at room temperature and can withstand baking.