Kitchen Notes: Butter Tarts


When I took over the cheffing duties at Roundwood I was entirely new to the game. I didn’t arrive with a bag of tricks, so I had to learn some quickly. After acquiring a few and building the confidence to experiment, I thought it would be fitting to put a Canadian twist on the food we were making here. But an inventory of my childhood culinary experiences left slim pickings for inspiration. Cuisine in Canada in the 70’s and 80’s moved in very questionable directions. This was a time and place that would suspend ham in jello and call it a salad.

Then I remembered the Mennonite Farmer Markets in St. Jacobs. I wish I could say that I was drawn to the fruit and vegetables spilling out of baskets on endless rows of tables, but my love of fresh, hand-picked produce would take a few decades to grow. Little-kid-me made a bee-line for the homemade baked goods, specifically the butter tarts.

What is a butter tart, you ask?  According to Wikipedia, “A butter tart is a type of small pastry tart highly regarded in Canadian cuisine and considered one of Canada’s quintessential treats. The sweet tart consists of butter, sugar, syrup, and egg filled into a flaky pastry and baked until the filling is semi-solid with a crunchy top.” Well described Wikipedia.

Happy that I had come up with a uniquely Canadian offering, I just had to figure out a way of jazzing it up a bit. Delicious as butter tarts are, they certainly don’t qualify as fancy desserts and if I was going to introduce Ireland to one of Canada’s national treasures, I wanted it to be wearing its Sunday best.

So, why not make it into a tart? With a chocolate crust. As far as I can tell, chocolate never made anything worse. Add a few dried cranberries and toasted cashew nuts, and presto. Ireland, I give you fancy chocolate crusted butter tart. Recipe below.

Chocolate Crusted Caramel Tart with Cranberries & Cashew Nuts

plain flour (sifted)        450 g
cocoa powder (sifted)        50 g
icing sugar (sifted)        100 g
salted butter (cold)        250 g
eggs            2

Combine dry ingredients in the food processor. Cut butter into workable cubes, and slowly add to mixture. After all butter is incorporated, add eggs and mix until the dough is formed. This is the finished product, no kneading, resting, or proofing is required. Refrigerate for a couple hours before working.

Roll out dough to ¼” thick. Press into a 2” deep, spring form pan. Dough is somewhat malleable and can be cut and reformed into pie pans if being uncooperative. Blind bake for 15-20 min at 180º C, or until top edges of crust begin to brown. Cool.

brown sugar        1½ cups
melted butter        ¼ cup
eggs (medium)        3
vanilla paste        1 tsp
AP flour            1 tbsp
whiskey            to taste

Sprinkle craisins (dried cranberries or raisins) and toasted cashews (or any nut) into the cooled pie shells. Pour in filling mixture. Should fill shell completely. Bake for 25-30 min at 180º rotating pie half way through the cooking process to ensure even baking. Let cool before serving.

Susan and Aisling’s Wedding

Two beautiful brides, Susan & Aisling, were married here by a Druid last July in a hand fastening ceremony under an ancient oak tree. This is an excerpt from their lovely TripAdvisor review…

“We were lucky to have chosen Roundwood House as the location for our wedding. From a last minute change of location for the ceremony, to jump starting a jeep so it didn’t spoil the photos, to recommending an amazing photographer, to setting up surprise drinks on the lawn, to an amazing, delicious dinner and the most stunning sunny day (they might have had help with that one though!) Hannah and Paddy and their team could not have been more kind, accommodating and professional during our stay. It’s a beautiful location, so welcoming. We didn’t want to leave and look forward to returning.”

Notes from the Kitchen… Time to move on…

The new oven weighs roughly a million pounds. It’s two ovens, actually, one stacked on top of the other and combined they’re nearly fourteen feet tall. Obviously from the warrior cast of some kind of oven people that until recently I never even knew existed. It has a probe on the inside that shows the internal temperature of the meat you’re cooking, on a digital display, as you’re cooking it. It has 14 different heat and fan settings including a pyrolysis function that allows you to heat it up to nearly a thousand degrees, and turn any residual oven grime into ash.

It took three large men (and myself) a couple hours and some very careful manoeuvring to get it into the kitchen, and another 24 hours of experimentation before I got comfortable enough to cook anything in it for guests.

I remember watching an interview with Jack White once. He was sitting in his giant room of guitars, and naturally the interviewer asked him which one was his favourite. He picked up a shitty little banger off the wall and started playing it, explaining how he bought it at Walmart before he was rich and famous, but that he still played it all the time because it kept him honest. Because he really had try to make it sound good.

That’s kind of how I felt about my old oven, even though it was held together with a bungee cord for the last three years. The racks were held in place with mismatched bolts, and the lights no longer worked thanks to a brownie mixture accident that made the kitchen smell like chocolate for months every time I turned it on. It was a disaster, but my disaster, and I knew how to navigate it. It made me feel like the underdog, who everyone is supposed to root for. More than once, guests have come into the kitchen and marveled at the fact that their meal was prepared in. . . that thing.

Getting a new oven was long overdue, and as much as it scared me at first having to learn a bunch of new tricks, it’s now clear to me that if anything in your life is held together with bungee chords and hope, it’s time to move on.