Scottish food: the famous Ecclefechan Butter Tart

You thought I was done with the Scottish food? Guess again! It’s the Ecclefechan Butter Tart!

This is similar to one of the first sweet tarts I ever learned to make, called “Border Tart”. This was a simple pastry shell, filled with dried fruits, cherries and nuts, all in a soft mixture of sugar, eggs and ground almonds. Taking it up a notch, today’s recipe is the slightly fancier Ecclefechan Butter Tart, which originates in the Scottish Borders town of Ecclefechan. The difference between this and the Border Tart is (and from this point, I am probably just making parts of it up) seems to the loss of the almonds, a lot of butter, and a deeper filling in the Ecclefechan Tart. They might also have different fruit…

In fact, I know they have different fruit in them. Mixed dried fruit used to contain sultanas, raisins and – if you were lucky – a few small pieces of bright scarlet glacé cherry. The bag I picked up had two sorts of sultanas (normal! golden!) plus raisins, apricots, peel and dried cranberries. I’m sure granny wouldn’t approve. But no cherry, so I added a goodly amount of them too. It was interesting to see that the ones I found were “natural” and a deep reddish-purple. Probably better for you, but part of me misses the neon red cherries from back in the day.

This recipe came to prominence a couple of years ago, as these tarts were presented as an alternative to mince pies at Christmas. Leaving to one side why anyone would want to replace the mince pie (hey, we only eat them for one month of the year, hardly over-exposed!), I can see why this would be appealing – you have a buttery pastry, a filling of mixed dried fruits and chopped nuts, enrobed in brown sugar, but without any spices. And the texture? Ah, that’s where the magic happens. The best way to describe it is like the filling in similar to a pecan pie, but with lots of fruit instead of just the nuts. Most of the filling becomes a thick, rich, buttery caramel, while the surface becomes slightly puffed-up and lightly browned, contrasting with the dark inside.

As if all this were not enough, there is also one “mystery ingredient” to provoke a no, really? moment – a tablespoon of vinegar. I really have no idea what this does, but it works in this tart, so don’t skip this step. Just be sure to limit yourself to one spoonful, and use a wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar – industrial vinegar is just that little bit too sharp for me, and I don’t think it would work too well here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little gastronomic tour through Scottish cuisine – how often do you make traditional foods?

To make an Ecclefechan Butter Tart:

For the pastry:

• 100g plain flour
• 50g butter, cold, cut into cubes
• 25g caster sugar
• 1 egg yolk

In a bowl, rub the butter into the flour. Once the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, add the sugar and mix well. Add the egg yolk and just enough cold water so the mixture comes together (1-2 tablespoons of water is probably enough). Cover the pastry in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Use to line a 20cm loose-bottomed flan dish, and prick with a fork. Place the tart shell in the fridge while making the filling.

For the filling:

• 125g butter, melted and cooled
• 200g soft brown sugar
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
• 50g walnuts, chopped
• 250g dried mixed fruit
• 50g glacé cherries

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).

In a bowl, combine the sugar, butter and eggs. Stir in the vinegar, walnuts, dried fruit and cherries. Pour into the pastry shell.

Bake the tart for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling is slightly puffy and lightly browned in the centre (turn the tart during baking).

Worth making? Wow. This tart is superb. Lots of dried fruit might make you think of Christmas, the buttery filling is more like a pecan pie. It’s rich and sweet and a great afternoon treat, either as one large tart or individual little pies. I made it to take to afternoon tea with a housebound friend, and like to think that it helped with recuperation!



Filed under Recipe, Scottish Food, Sweet Things

16 responses to “Scottish food: the famous Ecclefechan Butter Tart

  1. this tart revived me from my post-surgery abyss – a crucial factor in getting better!

  2. wow, i haven’t stopped by in a while and had a hard time choosing which post to comment on, so many good updates. i must admit i’m a sucker for tarts and this recipe looks yum! i never would have thought of using dried fruits as a filling…also i have never made anything scottish before, so i may give this recipe a whirl 🙂

    • Hi Mariya – feel free to comment on anything and everything! Dried fruit is quite common in British cakes and tarts – the filling is like pecan pie, so gooey and caramel-like, but with the dried fruit rather than nuts. But do try it! And let me know how it works! Good luck with your first Scottish tart.

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  4. Thank you for sharing this recipe. My mother used to make this for us when we were children. I think she just used currants, as I always knew it as Currant Tart. I will make this for my husband, so I can share tarts like Treacle and Currant from my childhood.

  5. Belinda

    I made this tart to take away on a family weekend holiday this past weekend on the recommendation of my uncle in London. My Scottish husband had never tried it, so at midnight, the evening before our departure, I decided to give it a go. Wow, what a delicious tart!!! I’ll definitely be making it frequently.
    Belinda in Cape Town

    • Hi Belinda – I am so glad to hear you tried this tart and that you like it! Funnily enough, not all Scottish people know about it either – I have a colleague from near Glasgow who had never heard of it, but was a convert on the basis of the vaguely naughty name and how it tasted. Hope it survived the trip too.

  6. Stephanie

    Do you have a recipe for your Border Tart?

  7. Caroline Ross

    Definitely similar to my ‘border’ mother’s Border Tart! North Northumberland recipe anyway; a real Sunday treat!

    • Hi Caroline – I think there are a few recipes that are similar to this. In fact, I think anyone of a certain age would have made Border Tart at school! I think these are also a nice alternative to mince pies at Christmas.

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