I’d been looking forward to this day for weeks. Gathering in one place at Peterborough’s Flavour Festival would be 10 professional bakers of butter tarts competing in the First Annual Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Taste-Off!
Many of these bakers have been on my list to investigate for a long time because they’d been recommended on the famous Chowhound thread that started this whole blog. For a butter tart hound with limited resources and time, being able to taste-test multiple bakeries in one afternoon was too good an opportunity to pass up! It was also great to meet some of the friendly faces behind the butter tarts that have developed their own fan base.
However, even one gal can only taste so many butter tarts in one afternoon. So, I did a visual edit, passing over those butter tarts that did not look appetizing, mostly because their filling was thin and collapsed into the shell. So, I was surprised to see the judges had given Doo Doo’s Bakery two awards (see below), which didn’t even make my tasting cut!
In the end, my trusty butter tart companion, my partner, John, and I tasted butter tarts from six bakeries. We are usually on the same page in choosing our favourites, but this time, not only could we not agree on the best butter tart, but we actually didn’t enjoy each other’s first pick!
The clear winner for me was The Pie Shack from Fenelon Falls. I found
it perfectly runny, with the most beautifully buttery and rich filling, without being too sweet. The pastry was just the kind of soft mouth-feel that I really enjoy, with the right kind of handmade thickness. Compared to my all-time favourites (The Danish Pastry Shop in Toronto and Little Tub Bakery in Tobermory), The Pie Shack tarts are darn close to the best of the best. I’d give them 8.5/10. Sadly, John did not share my opinion. He didn’t enjoy the buttery taste of the filling and gave them a 6/10.
John’s favourite was my second choice, Betty’s from Port Hope, which won best overall in the official competition. He would have given them a 9/10 if the tarts hadn’t been so runny they ran all over our hands. So he docked them a point and scored Betty’s at 8/10.
I tried the Betty’s tart after having a tart that I didn’t enjoy, and at the first bite my immediate thought was, “Now that’s a butter tart!” The Betty’s filling is the kind I grew up on, and that, after all, is what I’m searching for on this now multi-year quest. It hits the right buttery and brown sugar notes, and the pastry is good, although a bit chewy in the thicker parts. I gave Betty’s an 8/10.
John and I totally disagreed on the tarts from the Pastry Peddler from Millbrook. Because they looked yummy, I broke my own rule and chose them for our tasting even though they only offered butter tarts with nuts.
I’m a bit of a purist and only consider those with raisins (and ok, plain, if you hate raisins) to be true butter tarts. When you start adding nuts, cranberries, blueberries, chocolate chips or any other ingredient, then in my opinion, the tarts turn into something else.
When we broke them open, the first step in our taste testing ritual, the Tasty Peddler tarts were solid on top and runny underneath, which I found off-putting. I think the solid mass on top is where the walnuts gathered during baking. For me, the filling had an odd taste, with an unpleasant after taste that I couldn’t identify. The pastry was good, but not as soft as The Pie Shack. I gave them 5/10. John, however, absolutely loved the taste of the filling, found the pastry flakey (I found it brittle and tough) and gave them 7/10.
Sadly, other offerings in the other three that made our tasting cut were quite disappointing.
I’d heard about Dooher’s tarts in the lovely town of Campbellford for a while now, and so I was eager to try them. You can imagine my dismay at the small, machine-crimped (come on, people, you know that’s a dead giveaway to lacklustre pastry) tarts that didn’t have even a hint of runny. Both pastry and filling had an unpleasant taste, reminiscent of vinegar. John was generous at 5/10, I gave Dooher’s a 3/10.
We were also disappointed by the Country Mart’s (no website, see Taste-Off listing for contact info) butter tart offerings, which were dry, without a bit of ooze. To make things worse, the filling had an odd taste — a “fake” buttery note like margarine or oil, and a floury aftertaste. I felt like I’d paid good money for fillers. The pastry was quite chewy and not soft at all. We gave it a 3-4/10.
Our final taste-test was Cravings, which we were surprised to learn won People’s Choice yesterday. The dark-looking filling had a thick, floury taste and was not runny at all. The pastry was dark, thin and on this side of brittle. We gave it a 4-5/10.
Official Winners of the First AnnualKawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Taste-Off:
Best Crust – Country Mart in Buckhorn
Best Filling – Doo Doo’s Bakery in Bailieboro
People’s Choice – Cravings Bakery in Peterborough
Best Specialty Butter Tart – Doo Doo’s in Bailieboro
Best Overall – Betty’s Pies and Tarts in Port Hope