When the trays of sweets are passed around this Christmas there will no doubt be a sampling of butter tarts. It’s impossible to talk traditional treats without paying homage to the quintessentially Canadian tart. However humble the beginnings of these delicious little morsels, said to be traced back to the cookbooks of our pioneers, they can also be the topic of rich modern debate with great contemplations of the sweetness of the pastry, the structural integrity of the filling and the most contentious contemplations of them all; raisins or no raisins and nuts or no nuts.

So when I went to look for the best recipes to share for this little food story, I thought I would go straight to the top of the butter tart food chain and visit Angela Frotten, co-owner and chief baker at the Tipperary Bakery in Tatamagouche. Her butter tarts have a reputation that span farther than our north shore and a legacy that followed her from the west coast to the east coast when the Frotten family moved home to Tatamagouche ten years ago.

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Being proprietors of a bakery was something that might have seemed a little off course for the Frotten family. Angela’s husband Richard is a Presbyterian Church Minister and Angela had a career as a nurse but when they moved back home they felt they had another purpose in their little community and something from their own family story resonated with the answer.

When Richard’s grandfather, Clarence Lockerby returned to Tatamagouche after the First World World he opened the Tipperary Café and Ice Cream Shoppe with his friend Freeman McLennan. Richard remembers hearing the stories about their days overseas and in the moments when they were longing for home they played on the words to the war time song,” It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” to sing “It’s a Long Way to Tatamagouche.”

“That’s where the name Tipperary came from,” says Richard after finding an old photo of his grandfather’s Café in a coil bound book of the history of Tatamagouche.

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Clarence Walkerby, proprietor of the Tipperary Café and Ice Cream Parlour, with customers Edna Bonnyman and Hazel McLellan (circa 1919). Photo reproduced from Tatamagouche Main Street by Ellen Giles Millard.

For a while Richard and Angela tried their hand at a small pub called the Sterling Room but they soon found out that the business and the lifestyle was not for them; however they still felt the need to be part of the new energy that was rejuvenating their downtown.

“There was so much happening here and lots of young people with new ideas. We wanted to continue to be part of this and create a place where the community could come together,” says Angela.

“Mum was always a great baker,” says Richard Frotten, referring to his wife Angela. “We would always say her baking was better than anyone’s. Why not try a bakery and bring back the name of my grandfather’s business that was once along this very street.”

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At first the Frotten’s hired a few bakers but before long Angela herself was in the kitchen and baking her now renowned butter tarts among lots of other specialties.

I was really hoping that Angela would share the recipe for her blue ribbon tarts but she explained that when the recipe was entrusted to her by a member of her husband’s church congregation, she promised to keep it a secret until she was ready to pass it on to another worthy successor. (I guess I didn’t qualify).

As Angela keeps the subtleties of her recipe secret she did share that she has tweaked the recipe a little to make it her own. The original was prepared with a traditional flaky pastry recipe but decided to develop her own recipe for a pâte sablée crust that has a crisper and sweeter quality. She also believes that butter from the Tatamagouche Creamery sets her baking apart. Angela says the real secret is in her filling. It has just the right viscosity so when you take a bite or break a piece off with a fork the filling does not run. And when it comes to raisins or no raisins she says that she does it both ways and she has a few customers that will order tarts with pecans.

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“It all comes down to individual taste,” says Angela when asked what she thinks makes the best tart.

Chances are that Angela will some day pass along all of her recipes to her daughter Kathleen who also works in the bakery and has her own business Meeting Waters Coffee Roastery, by the way the perfect pairing with butter tart fresh out of the oven, but for now Angela Frotten will no doubt remain the North Shore’s “Queen of Tarts.”

Angela’s recipe remains a secret however this is another old one but a good one that I pulled from the recipe book of my Grandmother Ella Whooten.


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BUTTER TARTS

Pastry

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour blend
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (if using salted butter eliminate the 1 teaspoon of salt)
  • ¼ cup cool water
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

Filling

  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup raisins (optional)

1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt together. Add the oil and blend in using a pastry cutter until the flour looks evenly crumbly in texture.

2. Add the butter and cut in until rough and crumbly but small pieces of butter are still visible. Stir the water and lemon juice together and add all at once to the flour mixture, mixing just until the dough comes together. Shape the dough into 2 balls, wrap and chill until firm, at least an hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 200°C and lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Pull the chilled dough from the fridge 20 minutes before rolling.

4. Cut each of the logs of chilled pie dough into 6 pieces. Roll each piece out on a lightly floured work surface to about 5 mm thick and use a 12 cm round cookie cutter to cut each into a circle. Line each muffin cup with the pastry so that it comes about 1 cm higher than the muffin tin, and chill the lined tin while preparing the filling.

5. Whisk sugar, maple syrup and butter in a bowl by hand until combined. Whisk in eggs, then vinegar and vanilla. Sprinkle a few raisins into each cup and then pour the filling into the shells and bake the tarts for 5 minutes, then reduce oven to 375°F and continue baking until butter tart filling starts to dome, about 20 more minutes. Cool and chill the tarts in the tin before removing.

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Crystal Murray
Crystal likes to think about her forays in journalism like interval training. " I have had a wonderful freedom to be home when I needed to be and work when the spirit moved me. In the spaces between I have learned things about myself, my family and my community that I hope will find a rightful place in the new and refreshed pages of At Home on the North Shore. "