date & maple butter tarts

date & maple butter tarts | two red bowls

date & maple butter tarts | two red bowls

date & maple butter tarts | two red bowls

So I think I’m about five years late to this party.  But I am newly, and really, obsessed with dates. They are so good. How are they so good? I don’t know how I was so woefully misinformed, but up until a couple months ago I had this idea that dates were just a vague something to be nibbled on at your grandmother’s house if all the cookies were gone, or maybe used as a convenient vehicle for goat cheese and bacon, or admired from afar as a healthful “substitute-for” things I am generally reluctant to substitute. And then I was gifted a box of really great ones, with fancy things like orange peel and almonds tucked inside, and my world was totally rocked. This is probably news only to me at this point, but it turns out dates are pretty much candy. They have a consistency like caramel and nearly the same buttery taste; they’re sticky and soft and reminiscent of wonderful things like honey, cinnamon and molasses.  B2 was unmoved by my date revolution (although he hasn’t gotten tired of responding to “Want a date?” with “I thought we were already married. Get it?”) but, with or without him, I’m fairly sure I’ve eaten my weight in them since April.

Because their distinct warmth seems perfectly suited for cold weather (well, of course, sticky toffee pudding), I’ve been waiting for holiday season to roll around so that I can tuck dates into every cozy-weather dessert I can think of.  And the first (of many) is these butter tarts!  Butter tarts are a Canadian beauty I’ve been meaning to try ever since I noticed they were kind of like a pecan-less sister to pecan pie. (Because I’m the wicked stepsister who likes eating all the pie filling from underneath the pecans and leaving the nuts. I mean, what?)  Gooey and molten with a brown sugar and, here, maple syrup filling, I couldn’t imagine anything more perfect to introduce to honey-sweet, toffee-like dates.  Lo and behold, their mellow, dulcet flavor and chewy texture fit right in, and the filling was every pecan-less pecan pie dream I’ve ever had fulfilled.

For an extra touch of holiday decadence, the crust here incorporates a few tablespoons of Vermont Creamery crème fraîche.  After seeing sour cream pie crusts here and there, I wondered whether crème fraîche might work the same way in producing a crust that’s a bit easier to roll out but just as tender and flaky, and it turns out that was exactly the case!  I love crème fraîche the more I cook with it, for its ability to step in for both sour cream and heavy cream in so many applications — it’s rich, so not for every day cooking, but every once in awhile, it’s perfect to make food feel a little festive.  I’ll be pairing up with Vermont Creamery again next week to use it a savory recipe, too!

date & maple butter tarts | two red bowls

date & maple butter tarts | two red bowls

date & maple butter tarts | two red bowls

date & maple butter tarts | two red bowls

date & maple butter tarts | two red bowls

date & maple butter tarts | two red bowls

Thank you to Vermont Creamery for sponsoring this post!  All opinions are, as usual, my own.

Date & maple butter tarts

Yield: 10-12 tarts.

In these tarts, chopped Medjool dates, my favorite for their soft, plump texture and sweetness, take the place of the raisins that occasionally make their way into butter tarts. I hear that whether to include raisins in traditional butter tarts can be a source of deep ideological divide, so for those on the no-raisin side, dates might not be much of an improvement. In which case, feel free to omit! Recipe inspired by Crepes of Wrath and Canadian Living.

Ingredients

  • for the crust:
  • 1 1/4 cups (156g) flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick or 113g) unsalted butter, frozen or very cold (Vermont Creamery sea salt & maple butter would work well here)
  • 2 tbsp Vermont Creamery crème fraîche, cold
  • 2-4 tbsp ice water
  • for the filling:
  • 6 tbsp (80g) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (80g) maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp (28g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 egg
  • 1/8 tsp (a three-finger pinch) salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1/3 cup chopped Medjool dates, or more depending on your preference

Instructions

  1. To make the crust: Let the butter thaw briefly at room temperature, about 5-10 minutes. (Alternatively, if all you have is refrigerated butter, pop it in the freezer for 30 minutes prior to making the crust.) In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar, and mix until well-combined. Using the coarsest holes on a box grater, grate the slightly-thawed (or slightly-frozen) butter into the flour, then mix gently with your fingers to incorporate it into the flour, just until the butter forms pea-sized clumps. Whisk the creme fraiche and two tablespoons of the ice water together in a small bowl. Drizzle the mixture over the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together into a pebbly, shaggy dough. If the mixture holds together when squeezed, it has enough moisture. If not, add more of the ice water, a tablespoon at a time, until it does. Gather the dough into a disk, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out the pie crust to about 1/8" in thickness, the thinner the better. Use a 4-inch biscuit cutter to cut circles in the dough, then gently transfer them one-by-one to a standard-size muffin tin and press them into the wells. Re-roll the scraps as needed. You should be able to get about 10 to 12 dough circles. Once all the muffin wells are filled, place the tray in the freezer to chill the shells while you make the filling.
  3. To make the filling: It couldn't be easier -- just whisk together the brown sugar, maple syrup, egg, melted butter, salt, and vanilla (if using) until well-combined. Chop the dates if you haven’t already. Remove the shells from the freezer, place a few date pieces in each muffin well, then drop about two tablespoons of filling into each tart, leaving at least 1/4-inch of the crust visible to prevent overfilling.
  4. Bake for about 15 minutes, until tops are bubbling vigorously and pale golden, and crusts are golden-brown on the edges. Allow to cool slightly, then run a paring knife around the edges to loosen the tarts if the filling has overflowed, remove and enjoy. Tarts freeze very well for at least a few months (and, like Sydney suggests, they're even better out of the freezer).

Notes

These are butter tarts that err on the side of less-gooey -- if you like a runnier tart, increase the maple syrup to 6 tbsp and bake the tarts for less time, about 12-13 minutes.

In rolling out the pie crust, I find it easiest to roll the dough out between two pieces of parchment paper dusted with plenty of flour. Although that runs the slight risk of over-flouring, I think it outweighs the hassle of trying to scrape the dough off a surface when I haven’t floured enough. If you find it’s still sticking, though, just throw the whole thing in the freezer for 15 minutes, and the parchment should peel away more easily. (The freezer is my go-to whenever pie dough gets too stressful -- just cool the dough down, and it should be easier to handle.)

Also, on dates! If you're having trouble finding good ones, Nuts.com offers ridiculous quantities that are consistently delicious -- I really love their Medjool and Khadrawi dates.

http://tworedbowls.com/2015/11/04/date-maple-butter-tarts/

34 comments

  1. says:

    November 4, 2015 at 7:10 am

    These are absolute lovliness and I am totally with you on the date bandwagon. They are like God’s gift to humanity because, like you said, they’re like candy but we can still all consider them healthy. These maple tarts sound divine and what a perfect addition these would be to the Thanksgiving dessert selection. p.s. B2 cracks me upevery time you mention him!

    • tworedbowls says:

      November 10, 2015 at 11:17 am

      YES!! And then I eat about ten at a time … and just tell myself “it’s fruit.” Thanks so much for the kind words, Tori 🙂 and for your PS, which B2 totally loved. Haha!

    • claire says:

      November 5, 2015 at 9:10 am

      Hi Sophie! (from iDreamInCustard 😁) Have you tried an Ecclefechan tart? They’re very similar to a butter tart; kinda the Scottish equivalent. I’ve had and made both -butter tarts tend to be a touch more gooey and less dried fruit inside. Both rather sweet but very damn good! As a nut lover, I’d be tempted to try using a nutty pastry shell on these, though too. The dates and maple here? INSPIRED. 😍

        • claire says:

          November 10, 2015 at 9:59 pm

          Wonderful! Even better if your recipes were all fully in grams so I could try to give them a go more easily and reliably. Although I do think this date&maple take is a close approximation of what I’ve had. Did you find out how Ecclefechan and butter tarts differ? I may have to go ask google…

      • tworedbowls says:

        November 17, 2015 at 11:34 am

        Hi Claire, thank you so much for letting me know! I’ve now updated the recipe to grams where I could and where it is likely to be important — I will definitely pay more attention to providing gram measurements in the future, as well. That is super valuable feedback — thanks so much again 🙂

        PS Nope, I’m not really sure how they differ, other than the extras in the filling! I’d love to hear what you find!

  2. says:

    November 4, 2015 at 8:05 am

    Well better late than never, right? My mother always had them at home, but I always tought them to be too dry and was not a big fan. But then I tried fresh ones and I fell in love. These pies look delicious, but since I am in love with nuts, I will add a sprinkle of chopped nuts on top.

    • tworedbowls says:

      November 10, 2015 at 11:22 am

      I feel like that has to have been what happened to me! I can’t remember having them that much before, but the first time I tried a really fresh, soft and sweet one, it was like it was familiar, and yet so much better. And ooh yes, nuts!! That would be so good. Don’t be like me and irrationally avoid them. 🙂

    • tworedbowls says:

      November 10, 2015 at 11:24 am

      Phew, I’m so glad to hear that from a real Canadian!! I felt a little sacrilegious borrowing this perfect dessert from you guys. 😉 Thanks so much for the sweet words, Katrina!

  3. says:

    November 4, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Oh my this looks so good! I’ve done a sour cream crust before (I pretty much stick to the butter + cold water one), but this crust looks incredible – I’ll have to give it a try. I can just imagine the richness and flavor it can add to crust. I’m so obsessed with VT Creamery’s creme fraiche – I pretty much keep a constant stock of it now in my fridge :). PS – this looks so dreamy and magical.

  4. says:

    November 4, 2015 at 10:32 am

    Oh man! These remind me of a Filipino dessert that I always eat a boatload of whenever I’m in the Philippines. They’re basically the same thing, but with a shortcrust tart shell and date and brown sugar filling, topped with nuts. So good. It never occurred to me that I could make something like them at home until I saw your post, lol! Funny how that sometimes happens.

  5. says:

    November 4, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    Totally obsessed. I’ve never had a butter tart yet?! That needs to change. Yours look so beautiful – love the neutrals in each shot!!!
    Also, B2’s response to your date love – sounds almost exactly like something Andrew would say, which made me smile.

  6. says:

    November 4, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    YES I am newly obsessed with dates too!! It wasn’t until I had some really soft, sticky medjool dates that I was like WOAH these are so molasses-y and amazing. I’m loving chopping them up and stirring them into oatmeal with peanut butter at the moment :))) Maple syrup, dates and pecans sounds like a DREAM combo – definitely something I’m gonna have to make.

  7. says:

    November 4, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Cynthia, these look SO good! I have never cooked or baked with dates much either but I see so many recipes (now including this one) that look so good. I definitely will have to try these! And as always, your photos are so spot on 🙂

  8. says:

    November 6, 2015 at 8:23 am

    oh my gosh, creme fraiche was such a favorite growing up! my mom would mash it into our baked potatoes and it was all sorts of creamy heaven! i can just imagine how lovely it is folded into pie crust though – yum! and yay to dates! i’m still coming around to them in their whole form, but you’re giving me major inspiration! xo’s and happy friday! <3

  9. says:

    November 8, 2015 at 1:02 am

    I’m impressed by how layered the crust looks–I’ve had a hard time achieving that on small tarts for some reason?? I also really want to try creme fraiche, not sure why I haven’t looked for it yet..tsk tsk. And also, dates are the best healthy snacks! And so good when you put coconut butter inside, freeze for 5 minutes and chomp away. So amazing! Kept me energetic and satisfied leading up to my wedding. 😛

  10. says:

    November 9, 2015 at 8:31 am

    I’m a hardened date addict, they’re sooo good! But they have to be those soft, squooshy medjool ones, not the dried up ones you get at your Granny’s house that have been lurking in a box since last Christmas, ha! Love the look of these buttery little tarts 🙂

  11. says:

    November 13, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Just picked up Medjool dates at Costco yesterday. They are from CA and very affordable. Two of them are my “dessert” when I want a little something sweet after a meal. Definitely going to try this recipe. First as written, and then maybe substituting my homemade apple cider syrup, made from our fall community apple pressing party. Can’t image only one batch will do – especially as they are good frozen. Thanks for the post!

  12. Chrissy says:

    November 15, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    Made this yesterday for an afternoon tea get together, they were absolutely outstanding. I used a gluten free pie crust recipe but followed your directions for assembly and baking and they were so lovely. Also, I used 1/2 cup of chopped dates and 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts. Thank you so much for a wonderful recipe, I’ll certainly be making it again!

  13. says:

    April 28, 2017 at 8:54 am

    I made these the other day for a party and they were a huge hit! Dates are super expensive in The Bahamas so I used the cheaper deglet noor variety. I also swapped sour cream for the crème fraîche. People couldn’t get enough of them. Thanks!

    • tworedbowls says:

      April 28, 2017 at 9:15 pm

      I am so thrilled, Gabrielle!! Thank you so much for making the recipe and for letting me know. (And so glad to know that these substitutes worked!) This made my day — thank you.

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