Butter Tart Bars

My mother's recipe for the classic Canadian dessert, Butter Tarts, here in easy-to-make bars. Rich, easy, delicious and perfect for dainty trays.

Butter Tart Bars ♥ KitchenParade.com, the classic Canadian favorite, here in easy-to-make bars, rich, easy, delicious.

"... they were wonderful!" ~ Beverly
"Your mom's recipe looks a lot like one my gran made often for Christmas care packages." ~ Jacqueline

When my mother was young, every little café in Canada served butter tarts, buttery pastry filled with a caramel syrup and, some say "Yes!", some say "No way!" raisins.

Last summer, I pulled into Sprague, the Minnesota-Manitoba border stop that from the road appears more like a dusty gas station than a small town.

The Grey Goose still pulls through Sprague twice a week, not twice a day as it did during the years when Mom pinned a note to my coat to put me on the bus at one end and Nana fetched me at the other.

I knew to sit at the front far from the smelly restroom and smokers. I knew to beg my dad for a quarter for a Macintosh Toffee at the midway coffee stop. I knew to answer strangers politely and to spot one who looked like a mother if I needed help. I knew to stay alert for deer, bear and even timber wolf emerging from the woods along the gravel road.

So last summer, there at the Sprague café were butter tarts fresh from the oven, encased in glass, glistening in the light. I felt suddenly nostalgic for a time when $6 bought a bus ticket and a grown-up sense of freedom. I bought a tart to go and nibbled on it for 100 miles.

A week later, I found my mother’s recipe for butter tart bars and was transported back onto the bus crossing through the piney woods and sunflower fields of southern Manitoba, looking into the future, a mystery still unfurling.

TRADITIONAL BUTTER TARTS I'll say it again: Butter Tart Bars are "bars". They are not traditional butter tarts, the famous Canadian treats, the miniature pies tucked into a traditional pie crust pastry. To my mind, bars may be less traditional but they taste just as good and are easier to make. Frankly, they're just wonderful but yes, they are also (repeat after me ...) bars. Care to chime in this conversation? See the comments, below!

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences.
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Small bites of Canadian nostalgia
Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes plus cooling
Makes 54 small squares
  • 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) salted or unsalted butter
  • 2 cups (400g) brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 cup (118g) toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped (how to toast nuts)
  • 1 cup (114g) currants (or slightly chopped raisins)

Heat oven to 350F/180C. Optional but useful: line the bottom and long sides of a 9x13 pan with parchment paper. The parchment makes it easy to lift out the entire panful of bars for easier and neater cutting.

CRUST Melt butter in saucepan, then stir in powdered sugar and flour. The mixture will be crumbly, so with the flat of your hand, press firmly and evenly into the pan. Bake for 5 minutes.

TOPPING Melt butter in the same saucepan. Add brown sugar, stir til smooth and bubbly. In a separate large bowl, whisk eggs very well. Stir in butter-sugar (just a bit at a time until the two mixtures have the same temperature), then vanilla, pecans and currants. Gently and evenly arrange over crust.

BAKE Bake for 30 minutes, watching carefully near the end to avoid burning. Remove from oven and cool. Cover and refrigerate to chill thoroughly.

SLICE The bars slice best when cold. Lift the parchment out of the pan in one piece and place on a cutting board (see photo below). With a long knife, carefully cut the bars in small pieces, these are rich enough that you want the pieces to be as small as possible. From a 9x13, I cut 10 pieces one way, 7 the other.

STORE Butter tart bars should be refrigerated until ready to serve. They also freeze very well. If freezing, you may want to slice the whole panful into two or three or four large sections, wrap well and freeze. When ready to serve, thaw and then cut into bars.

NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Bar when cut into 70/54 Bars: 70/94 Calories; 4/6g Tot Fat; 2/3g Sat Fat; 17/23mg Cholesterol; 27/36mg Sodium; 8/10g Carb; 0g Fiber; 7/9g Sugar; 1g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS Old Points 2 & Points Plus 2/3.

How to Cut Butter Tart Bars

How to cut Butter Tart Bars ♥ KitchenParade.com, the classic Canadian favorite, here in easy-to-make bars, rich, easy, delicious.

Three tricks here. Butter Tart Bars are easiest to cut if the pan is lined with parchment before baking; if the entire pan is chilled until very cold; if a long knife is used to cut the whole panful into small bars.

More Canadian Recipes

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Anonymous7/17/2007

    Oh, my that grown up sense of freedom, I think it has turned out to be a childhood myth. Love the butter tart bars.


  2. Anonymous7/17/2007

    mmmmmm....Sounds wonderful!!!


  3. Tanna ~ Indeed, indeed.

    Duane ~ Darlin', I'll make these for you if you'll just visit St. Louis some time soon!


  4. Anonymous7/17/2007

    Oh my! I so completely forgot about that yummy dessert my mom used to make. My husband would die if I made it (true blue buttertart lover). Must make it, thanks!


  5. Amy ~ My mother was from Winnipeg.
    When we did a family cookbook a few years ago, she included at least three or four different butter tart recipes! Let me know how your husband likes them! AK


  6. Anonymous12/04/2007

    Can you help with one little ingredient confusion I am having?

    I'm from Canada, there may be a little difference in terms.

    Does powered sugar = icing sugar.

    thanks so much!
    Can't wait to make them!

  7. Hi Beverly ~ Yes indeed, powdered sugar is icing sugar. My mum would be pleased to know that a fellow Canadian is making this recipe. She LOVED butter tarts, I bet I found a dozen or more in her recipe collection.

  8. Hi Alana!! I love Kitchen Parade!
    Thank you so much for the Butter Tart Bar Recipe. I made some for a cookie exchange and they were wonderful!
    I think I'll make them every year...they were so decedent.

  9. Beverley ~ Aha, they DID work for you, so glad to hear! Thanks for taking the moment to let me know. These are a definite yes, decadent! favorite at my house.

  10. I really enjoy reading your columns and your recipes. You have such a gift for storytelling. Glad you're using it in such a lovely way!

  11. Anonymous3/19/2008

    Wow! I love the fact that these are only 2 points on wieght watchers. I am always reading the nutritional information.. Love it!!

  12. Just make sure to pay attention to portion size, too. These are small! (And if I may say so, addictive?)

  13. Anonymous5/22/2008

    I happened to come across your article and found it rather charming but I actually felt compelled to tell you that your butter tarts (no bars in the title), wouldn't be recognized by any Canadian (I do realize they are your mom's recipe and as such are probably some local variant on the idea, but not what most Canadians would call butter tarts).

    First off, butter tarts aren't bars, you have to make them in small pastry containers, think of a lemon tart shell (is that Canadian too?).

    Secondly your recipe sounds very tasty but no good Canadian would put nuts into a butter tart. That said, I have seen people "experiment" with nuts in a butter tart but this is not seen as the proper way to make them, they contain raisins, that's it and the idea of putting currants into it, that's sacrilegious, seriously, people would tell you, "That's not a butter tart!" if they saw currants in it.

    Here is a CBC archived show all about the butter tart. Like I said, I'm sure yours are very delicious, they sound good but they aren't butter tarts.

    Anyhow, here's a recipe most Canadians would call a "butter tart" from The Joy of Baking. I notice that she puts nuts in the tart, that's very rare actually and most people would comment on the fact that nuts were included.

    I notice you wrote this article awhile ago, hope you got a laugh from my message. Just lately I have been on a butter tart rampage myself and that's how I came across your site. I bet other Canadians have written to say "Those aren't buttertarts."


    Vancouver B.C.
    (Originally from Ontario)

  14. Hi Alexander,

    I am so happy to hear from you!! Thank you for caring so much to set me straight. : - )

    I "do know" that my butter tart bars aren't REAL butter tarts -- my mother's recipe box probably contained a dozen different recipes. She really loved them and so had many variations.

    When I decided to write the column, I chose the recipe that I thought more people would be likely to make and that -- currants or not (and really, currants are just not-as-sweet raisins), nuts or not -- is really tasty. Sadly, real pastry and real tart shells are a stretch for many.

    I do make shells for lemon tarts too -- in fact my fridge has lemon curd in it right now, which I served to a whole group of Canadians just last week. But please don't shoot me! I put the curd into shells of bitter chocolate with a bit of cream cheese-mascarpone mixture and topped with a slice of strawberry. : - )

    My whole goal is to get people to feel confident with "scratch cooking" -- and some times that means stretching authenticity a bit.

    BTW the CBC audio clip is quite wonderful, thanks for sharing it.

  15. Anonymous5/22/2008


    When we kids had all left home, my mum began cooking at the roadside restaurant on the TransCanada highway that ran through town. She was known for her pastries and took many orders for pies at Christmas from people all over Manitoba.

    Her butter tarts - the real thing - had both raisins and chopped walnuts so lots of "good" Canadians did and still do include nuts in authentic butter tarts.

    So There!

    : - )

  16. Anonymous7/01/2008

    Growing up in Canada, I've had many a butter tart (with and without nuts), but I absolutely LOVE your mum's idea to put them in bar form - beautiful choice for this post :)

  17. I lived in Sprague and Piney for a few years. I was raised in Manitoba. Your mom's recipe looks a lot like one my gran made often for Christmas care packages. It's nice to see her daughter carrying on this Canadian tradition in any manner. :)

  18. Does anyone have a recipe for Nanaimo Bars, another Canadian treat? I think this one is from British Columbia.

  19. Hi Julie,

    I've not made nanaimo bars but sure remember them VERY fondly! There are a number of recipes for nanaimo bars on Food Blog Search.



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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna