A Holiday Recipe Or Two

Happy Holidays 
from the Frenchtown Historical Foundation

Food traditions are an important part of Christmas in my family. My most recent adventures involved French Canadian Butter tarts (watch the video of Sam and me at the end if you want to see the tasting!). 

Funny thing, though — when I read the French Canadian recipes, I couldn’t help but notice how similar they were to my mom’s “secret” recipe for chess pie, the one we’re not supposed to share with ANYONE because it’s a special family secret. 

If your family version of chess pie (cough, cough, Fannie Farmer) is so sweet it makes your teeth ache, you might try out Malvina Riel’s French Canadian Butter Tarts recipe below. It’s made with a pastry dough that’s more like a sweet biscuit than a traditional pie crust, and the filling is gently sweet without overwhelming the other flavors. It’s the sort of dessert that makes a lovely breakfast, or maybe afternoon tea. If there’s any left, of course.

Or, if you like your sugar straight up with a side of nuts, I’ve included my mom’s “secret” recipe at the end. Promise you won’t tell!

Last call to help! There are just three days left in our 2021 fundraising campaign. Before you whip up a batch of buttered tarts, send Frenchtown some Christmas cheer!

French Canadian Butter Tarts


  • 1 1/2 cups raisins 
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Pastry Dough

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 400º F for tarts, or 350ºF for filled cookies. 

Soak raisins in hot tap water for 30 minutes; drain.

Cream together the soft butter, brown sugar, salt, maple syrup, and cinnamon until sugar is dissolved. Add eggs, raisins, and vanilla and mix well. 

For open tarts, roll dough and cut ~5-1/2 inch circles; fit dough circles into muffin cups and refrigerate until ready to fill. 

Fill the tart shells almost to the brim and bake at 400°F for 15 minutes (gooey filling) to 20-25 minutes (firm filling). Let your tarts cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and then finish on racks.

For filled cookies (like in the second photo), roll dough as thinly as you can and cut in circles. Place half the circles on a cookie sheet and brush with milk to wet the edges (this will make the two sides stick together). Add filling and cover with another circle; press edges together and sprinkle with sugar. 

Bake filled cookies at 350º for 20 minutes.

Source: Adapted from Malvina Riel’s recipe box.

Chess Hand Pies – For those with a Sweet Tooth


  • 1/2 pound walnuts
  • 3/4 lb raisins
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Pastry Shells

  • 1 ½ cup sifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 4-8 Tablespoons ice cold water

Blend flour and salt in mixing bowl. Cut chilled shortening into flour until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with pea-sized pieces remaining. Sprinkle water over flour mixture and mix GENTLY with a fork, add more water if necessary, until dough holds together. Make two balls, flatten slightly, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut circles of dough to fit your baking pan. Use toothpick to poke a few holes in the bottom of each pie shell. Bake at 450 10-12 minutes. 

Pre-heat oven to 450º F. 

  • 1/2 lnuts
  • 3/4 lb raisins
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Cream butter and sugar. Lightly beat 2 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks and mix in. Add raisins and nuts. Cook mixture in a double boiler until it begins to thicken. Fill pastry shells. Cover with meringue (optional: here’s a simple recipe that calls for 3 egg whites) and bake until lightly browned.

Source: Toni’s Recipe Box, Old Family Favorite and Christmastime Must

In case you missed it…

Frenchtown Family Stories vol. 1

In which Sam and Toni share some Pambrun family history and do a little detective work. Click to watch the recording on Youtube!

Sam even says he’ll do more of these… if he finds out that people like them. So let us know what you think!

This newsletter brought to you by…

Sarah Hurlburt, Professor of French, Whitman College, hurlbuse@whitman.edu, 509-540-4398

Toni Jones, Frenchtown Descendant, Pambrun/Dauphin, tmjgr1888@gmail.com, 541-786-3967

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