One of the sweetest gigs to come by in this big, beautiful province of ours is being a judge at Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival in Midland. We were lucky enough to be asked to return again this year by the event’s passionate organizer Barb Rowlandson (thanks Barb!) and we jumped at the chance. It also helps that we had 364 days to come down from last year’s intense sugar high.
Much like last year, the crowds formed early along Midland’s main street with many festival-goers looking to satisfy their sweet tooths and earn the envy of their friends by snagging tarts from last year’s winning bakeries. For that, you’d have to move fast – Diane Rogers of Doo Doo’s Bakery (find her on the Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour), which took home first prize in the professional category in 2014, sold the last of her 200 dozen tarts before the second hour of the festival was even underway.
Happily for the non-early birds, over 70,000 other butter tarts were on offer by close to 140 vendors from across the province. We loved spotting some of our favourite bakers, including Lindsay from Kenilworth Country Kitchen (part of the Butter Tart Trail?) who was serving her famous tarts along with prepared food from their Butter Tart Express chip truck; and the pastry wizards at Feast ON designee Ciboulette et Cie. Seriously – try to make it out of their cafe and retail shop without succumbing to a sweet treat from their line up of desserts.
Tarts aside, the diversity of entertainment provided was a compelling draw as well. Buskers, musicians and the Queen of Tarts herself, Jodie James, who sashayed along King Street to the delight of her fans (ourselves included!). And for those looking to immediately burn off their tarts, Barb and her team had them covered with the option of joining the 5km Buttertart Trot.
Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games – there were tarts to be judged. For this year’s installment, Barb shook things up by letting both the Professional and Homemade contestants choose their own butter tart adventure. Whereas in years’ past, entrants were judged on how close they were to achieving a quintessential take on the tart, this year it was “any flavour goes”. And from the eclectic line-up of offerings (including a banana split tart, a maple cheddar bacon number, and a hot pepper tart), it was clear that the contestants relished the chance to stretch their baking imaginations.
While not every flavour combination was a home run, the freestylin’ nature of the competition ensured that no two bites were the same – something we and the other judges certainly appreciated when we started into hour two of the deliberations. Yes, crowning a winner was difficult…but oh so delicious.
Here’s who took home the honours this year:
1st Place – Hisako Niimi – Peanut Butter Banana Bacon Butter Tarts
2nd Place – Jessie Crowe – Spiced Black Currant Cranberry Butter Tarts
3rd Place – Anne Mous – Real Cherry Almond Butter Tarts
After the festival, we caught up with one of the newly crowned winners – Anne Mous – to hear about her road to victory.
(Full disclosure: it wasn’t hard to track Anne down – she just so happens to be this writer’s aunt! No conflict of interest here, we swear, as we were judging the Professional category).
OCTA: How long have you been making butter tarts?
AM: I have been making butter tarts since my early 20’s, because we grew up always making homemade pretty much everything.
OCTA: Why butter tarts?
AM: Butter tarts are easier to make than most people think and I like making them because they are enjoyed by most people plus it’s something not everyone makes – especially since most other people I know don’t like making crust.
OCTA: What’s your favourite dessert?
AM: My favourite dessert is still cherry pie with whipped cream.
OCTA: Tell us about the preparation for this year’s festival…how many different flavours did you experiment with? Or did you know instantly what flavour you were going to make?
AM: I started in April with bacon butter tarts and I really liked the sweet salty combo but my tasters were mixed with some loving them others not so much. Then I tried blueberry, cranberry orange pecan, coconut, real cherry almond and others that I didn’t think would go over too well (dried fruit like apricots. Of course the tasters loved trying them all but the final two were the ones I entered because I wasn’t sure either which I liked more – the cherry almond or the cran-orange-pecan.
OCTA: What was your favourite part of the Festival?
AM: My favourite part of the festival was spending time with family and watching all the people downtown going crazy for the tarts that were for sale.
OCTA: Will we see you at the Festival next year?
AM: Next year I’m not sure whether I’ll enter or not but I do still want to win that Kitchen-aid mixer!
We’re looking forward to next year’s Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival too – Barb has big plans to continue expanding the size and scope of the festival, perhaps even stretching it across a full weekend. And given the enthusiastic response from festival-goers, seemingly relentless in their quest for more and more tarts, we’re betting this is a sweet tooth that can’t be capped.
About Simcoe County
Simcoe County is a four-season destination lying between Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe and is less than one hour north of Toronto. There are so many delicious ways to enjoy the taste of Simcoe County! Pick up a homemade pie at one of the region�s many farmers� markets or visit a working farm with the kids and go for a wagon ride. Wrap up the day by indulging in a satisfying meal at one of the wonderful dining spots scattered across the county. The menu of options varies from scrumptious comfort food to fine dining.�
For a full listing of food experiences in the region, visit experience.simcoe.ca