Got a sweet tooth? You’ll want to plan a road trip through Peterborough & the Kawarthas to discover the region’s best butter tarts.
Get yourself on the 50-stop Butter Tart Tour
I confess. I don’t just have a sweet tooth, but an entire body that embraces all things sweet. The evidence is in my growing belly.
So it didn’t take much arm twisting for me to agree to go on a solo butter tart tour east of Toronto through the tiny hamlets and towns of Peterborough and the Kawartha Lakes. Rolling hills, crystal clear lakes and picturesque towns greet you around every country road.
Since 2011 this region has been home to the Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour with more than 50 sinfully delicious stops. Unfortunately, my schedule allowed only two days to indulge. But ever the fearless sugar addict, I was going to sample as much as I could in the time I had.
Where did the butter tart come from?
The butter tart is quintessentially Canadian, but I must admit I didn’t know the origins of this classic gooey treat.
The first printed butter tart recipe was published in 1900 on page 88 of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cook Book compiled by the Women’s Auxiliary in Barrie, Ontario. The recipe by Mary Macleod included only the filling as it was common at the time to assume most people would know how to make the pastry crust.
This is the original recipe: 1 cup sugar, ½ cup butter, 2 eggs and 1 cup of currants. Mix, fill the tarts and bake.
More than a century later, heated debates between bakers and tart lovers continue–raisins or no raisins, runny or firm filling, flaky or thicker crust, nuts or no nuts. Be warned–don’t you dare put raisins in my precious tart, though pecans or walnuts are a welcome addition.
My personal favourite is a classic butter tart with or without pecans, medium-runny filling and a flakier, lighter crust. Needless to say, there were many stops on this tour that fulfilled my tart palate’s wildest dreams.
Butter tart flavours have evolved over the years and on my tour I found flavours ranging from the classic variety, to cranberry, blueberry, pumpkin pie, chocolate, maple bacon, peanut butter and jam, coconut and many other concoctions. Doo Doo’s Bakery located in Bailieboro south of Peterborough even features a chardonnay butter tart inspired by Rolling Grapes Winery just down the road.
Finding the perfect butter tart
Betty’s Pies & Tarts in Cobourg was my first tart taste test. Modelled after a vintage country store with a sprinkling of modern touches, owner/baker Ali Jiggins took over this popular bakery in 2016. Jiggins’ tarts come with lots of filling–just the way her customers want.
Diane Rogers, owner of the aforementioned Doo Doo’s Bakery, is a multiple tart festival winner and currently celebrating her 21st year in business. Family and the farm pigs were the recipients of her first tart experiments. She explains the perfect tarts, “Have a flaky, melt-in-your-mouth crust with the right amount of filling-to-pastry ratio.” Sitting and chatting with Rogers over a tart with locals nibbling on their tarts and sipping tea nearby, it felt like time stood still and we were in the middle of a Norman Rockwell-type painting.
Feast on arts and culture as you go
Appetite satiated, I decided a temporary diversion was needed and headed to the nearby ZimArt and Rice Lake Gallery where meticulously crafted Zimbabwean stone sculptures were on display over five acres of Kawartha Lakes countryside. A serene setting lovingly showcases each uniquely designed Zimbabwean sculpture. Owner Fran Fearnley’s passion for Zimbabwe, its art and culture and most importantly its people, shines through. Fearnley hosts an artist-in-residence every summer who conducts workshops and answers questions from visitors. Best of all, you can tour the grounds for free. No tarts on this stop, but it certainly was a sumptuous feast for the eyes and mind.
Millbrook, the proud hometown of talented musician Serena Ryder, is also home to the very eclectic and bike-centric Pastry Peddler. Walls are adorned with bikes and bike-themed art created by local artists or that owners Deanna Bell and Colin Hall have collected over the years. Upstairs is a repair and restore shop where vintage bikes are brought back to life. Tart-wise they describe their tarts as, “F—in awesome; a little runny, flaky, sugary and buttery.” No argument here.
Peterborough has more than a dozen tart tour stops, but make sure to visit the Black Honey Dessert & Coffee House. Owner Lisa Dixon has created a combination bakery, coffee house and relaxed outdoor patio making it a perfect spot to indulge your sweet tooth with a coffee.
Where to stay: Beachwood Resort in Lakefield
Who wants to do a butter tart tour in just one day, especially with so many places to visit? Rest your tart-infused body at any one of the numerous inns, B&Bs, hotels or resorts in the region.
For example, Beachwood Resort in Lakefield is an ideal spot for couples and families who want a comfortable resort right on the water. Both inn and lakeside cottage suites are available with all the comforts of home. Four generations of Morgans have owned this popular resort since 1944.
Chewing the fat in the resort’s kitchen with chef Michael Henson and the extended multi-generation Morgan family, it felt like a scene out of the 1970s TV show, The Waltons, except with modern appliances and cellphones.
Bake your own butter tarts
Chef Henson put my incredibly limited baking skills to work, but with his guidance, I made butter tarts from scratch.
The result? No awards for flaky beauty, but they were edible. Unfortunately, one tart decided to go on a one-way flight to the floor, but it was no problem. That’s what the Morgans’ dog was for–clean-up duty.
Day two of the tart tour continued through the cottage country towns of Buckhorn, Bobcaygeon and Fenelon Falls. Bobcaygeon Bakery, Kawartha Coffee Co., The Little Pie Shack and Kawartha Shortbread should all be on your butter tart bucket list. For a break from sweet treats and a sampling of Canadian art, check out the new Colborne Street Art Gallery in Fenelon Falls.
The biggest Butter Tart Tour in Ontario
There are many tart tours and festivals across Ontario, but this is the largest one.
Peterborough and the Kawartha Lakes give you much more than your fill of tarts. Boutique shopping, art galleries, craft markets, wineries, water activities and scenic countryside round out your trip.
After two days of tart touring I needed a break. But the trip was worth every delicious bite (and extra calorie).
Peterborough & the Kawarthas butter tart bucket list
- Doo Doo’s Bakery
- Betty’s Pies & Tarts
- Pastry Peddler
- Black Honey Dessert & Coffee House
- Bobcaygeon Bakery
- Kawartha Coffee Co.
- The Little Pie Shack
- Kawartha Shortbread
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