Butter Tarts for Boxing Day (Gluten-Free)

I have always thought of the butter tart as the finest example of Canadian cuisine.  You can get butter tarts everywhere in Canada from the gas station convenience store to a fancy bakery.  I have never encountered a butter tart anywhere outside of Canada, not even on the border states.  Not even in Maine, which feels almost Canadian to me and where, fine food of all kinds can be found.  I always think of this recipe as being the sweet treat that resourceful farm wives would whip up at the point in the year when they were snowed in and there really weren’t very many ingredients left in the larder.  This recipe makes something special  out of almost nothing.  Canadians are historically good at making something sweet and bountiful out of ingredients (and places) that are austere (beautiful and grand yes, but warm and welcoming no).  Butter tarts make me think of my Grandma Orr.

For those of you who have never had a butter tart, it is a tiny buttery pie crust filled with something that resembles pecan pie filling, but without the nuts.  The filling does not have any cornstarch, so it is has a more elegant (in my opinion) texture.  Some people add raisins (I do not).  I know that it does not sound that exciting, but trust me, it is.

I have two recipes for butter tarts.  One was given to me by a college friend who was also Canadian.  Really, we weren’t even friends. We bonded over our mutual love of butter tarts and wondering why they could not be found in New York.  She gave me her family’s recipe, written on an index card.  The other recipe is from The Five Roses Cookbook, which my Aunty Mona was kind enough to give me when it was reprinted in 2001.  The original Five Roses Cookbook was published in 1915 and it sold 650,000 copies.  That was one copy for every two households in Canada at the time.  So basically everyone had this cookbook.  Every recipe calls for Five Roses Brand flour.

For this,  I didn’t follow either of the recipes really, because I was trying to make a gluten-free version and also, I had neither corn syrup (my college chum’s recipe) or brown sugar (the five roses recipe) in my house.  I did have half a tin of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is a kind of British treacle.  It is, hands down, my favourite form of sugar.  I go on about it at length in my sticky toffee pudding post. Use whatever sugar you have on hand, but if you have some Lyle’s you are in for a real treat.  I looked it up, and there is a British cousin to the butter tart called treacle pie.  So,  maybe my butter tarts are part British treacle pie.  I am okay with that because, as I’ve said before I love British food (strawberry rhubarb trifle, sticky toffee pudding, coronation chicken ect).  I  even photographed my butter tart on the saucer of my Queen Elizabeth tea cup.

Side note…my Grandma Orr had a tea cup that commemorated the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.  My Aunty Betty knew that I wanted it, so she mailed it to me and it arrived in many, many pieces.  I still have the pieces which I intend to incorporate into some piece of art in my Grandma Orr’s memory some day.  This is a Queen Elizabeth Silver Jubilee saucer from the 70s which I bought myself in Texas(?!!?) to console myself about the state of my grandmother’s cup and saucer. 

I would like to encourage you to make butter tarts for Boxing Day.  Boxing Day is the day after Christmas and it is celebrated in Commonwealth Countries.  No one is really sure exactly why it was first called boxing day, but it was traditionally a day to box up things that you didn’t need and give them to the poor.  It was also the day to  box up left overs to send home with the servants, who would have to celebrate Christmas with their own families the day after because they were busy serving their masters’ their Christmas dinner on the day of.  During my lifetime, I have only ever seen boxing day celebrated with huge sales and shopping frenzies (like the Friday after Thanksgiving in the USA).  When my mum and I moved to Hawaii, we started throwing a boxing day tea, to which we invited friends.  We were used to having a lot of family around at Christmas time back home in Canada, and having all of our friends come over the day after Christmas helped us to not feel alone and blue.

***If you are not gluten-free you can make the tart crust using the old fashioned pie crust recipe that can be found by clicking here***


Most of the time, butter tarts have a more tidy looking crust that is not so deep.  My favourite butter tarts are from a pie seller on Granville Island in Vancouver that makes them in this high, sloppy style.  I made crusts in this style for my  guava and cream cheese tarts  last week and they made me think of my favourite butter tarts right away, and then Silvi mentioned that those crusts reminded HER of  butter tarts…and that is why I am making these butter tarts now!  You can use any flakey, buttery pie crust recipe and shape the crusts however you like…but this recipe is very good.  I adapted it from the pie crust recipe in Gluten-Free Baking Classics by Annalise Roberts.

Gluten Free Flour Mix for the Tart Shells
  • 2 cups brown rice flour
  • 2/3 cups potato starch (NOT POTATO FLOUR)
  • 1/3 cup tapioca flour

This will make a little more flour than you will need for a 12 tiny sloppy tart crusts.  You can use the extra for flouring your rolling surface.

Tiny Sloppy Gluten-Free Tart Shells
  • 2 cups plus 4 Tablespoons gluten-free flour mix (see above)
  • 4 Tablespoons sweet rice flour (also known as mochi or glutinous rice flour)
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 12 Tablespoons cold butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 teaspoons lemon or orange juice
Erin’s Butter Tart Filling
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup Lyle’s golden syrup (or some other sugar)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Generously butter 12 shallow muffin tins and dust them with gluten-free flour mix.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients together.
  4. Cut the butter in to the dry ingredients and use your fingers to combine until it has the consistency of course cornmeal with a few pea sized lumps left.
  5. Whisk the eggs and citrus juice together.
  6. Add the liquid to the flour and butter and combine into a ball.  Divide the ball into quarters and then each quarter into thirds.  You should have 12 equal lumps.  Roll each lump into a ball place them back in the mixing bowl.  Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let refrigerate for about 10 minutes.
  7. When the dough has cooled, roll each ball  into a 3 or 4 inch circle. The dough should be a bit thicker than you would roll it for a pie crust   You can do this on a gluten-free floured surface or between two sheets of wax paper.  It does not matter at all if the circle is irregular or broken around the edges.  In fact a sort of flower shaped circle makes the next step easier!
  8. As you finish rolling, lift each sloppy circle into a buttered muffin tin.  The irregular shape should allow the crust to crumple around the edges and collapse into the tin.
  9. When the 12 muffin tins are lines with crust, refrigerate them for another 10 minutes. While you are waiting, you can prepare the filling.
  10. Melt 3 Tablespoons of butter and combine it with 3/4 cup of Lyle’s golden syrup (or some other sugar).
  11. Whisk the eggs and vinegar together and then whisk them into the butter and syrup mixture.
  12. When the crusts are cold, pre-bake the crusts for 10 minutes.  Some of them will wilt or collapse.  This is not a big deal just use a fork to gently open them up enough to fill them.  Remember that their imperfection is a part of their charm.
  13. Fill each tart with about 2 tablespoons of the tart filling
  14. Bake the tarts until the crusts are quite golden and the filling is totally set.  I had to rotate my pan after 10 minutes because it appears my oven is very uneven.  I think that  I baked mine for about 20 minutes, but this will vary from oven to oven.
  15. Let the tarts cool completely before lifting them out of their tins.
  16. Serve with strong tea or coffee.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Silvi says:

    Yea, I actually figured out only this year that Americans don’t celebrate Boxing Day. I was clued in by the blank stares I received when mentioning the holiday. Go figure! This Christmas, I also realized the slightly corny coincidence that my brother who is born on Christmas day was named Nicholas. One would think I would have figured this out earlier, but my whole life I have called him Niko. I asked my mom about it and she said that it was his fault: he was two weeks late. I guess it’s just a year for vaguely inconsequential revelations.

    Your picture of that butter tart on that saucer is PERFECT. Thanks for posting this timely recipe! As far as Boxing Day lore goes, I was also told that it came from those times when rich families had servants (that lifestyle seems so foreign to me it’s nuts). The rich families would give their house people all the pretty boxes from their Christmas presents. That those boxes would be filled with leftovers is a much more generous image. It’s true that these days it’s mostly about big sales where retailers offload any excess Christmas stock. I bought some things on sale today and I’m not even IN CANADA right now!


  2. Mona Banek says:

    I remember making butter tarts with you late in the night, while we waited for your bus back to Vancouver. They stuck in the pan so you took them with you, pan and all. What an odd thing to remember about that time. Isn’t memorie strange.

    1. Those butter tarts were from the five roses cookbook that you had just given me! I remember that too…taking the entire tin on the bus!


  3. Jennifer says:

    I love these! I just made them using our recipe but used pamela’s baking mix instead. They turned out great but the crusts were a bit poofy. Thank you for sharing your recipe! I had lost my grandmother’s walnut butter tart recipe years ago and this is very close–I used walnuts, no raisins.

    1. I am so happy that the recipe worked for you. It is so heartbreaking to loose those old recipes. Also, good to know that the Bob’s mix can be used in a pinch!

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