Archive for January, 2010

Nanaimo Bars



Damn but I do love me a Nanaimo Bar.

I might have skipped this month’s Daring Bakers challenge, citing an unusually overloaded week (multiple article assignments, an out-of-town class, Blog Aid, traffic reporting on CBC, miscellaneous meetings and tying up of loose ends, an unpleasant, expensive and far-too-drawn-out audit) if the assignment wasn’t Nanaimo bars. They’re just my thing. So I couldn’t let my comrades down.

I’m not sure at what point I fell so head over heels in love with Nanaimo bars. It was during my childhood, surely. I don’t recall anyone making them from scratch; it could be that they were the elusive store-bought chocolate treat that made them so appealing. (My parents could be described as granola-types, who bought Bran Buds and hardcore multi-grain bio-bread, made extra-lean ground beef burgers heavily subsidized with oat bran, and sent me to school with a big old carrot for recess snack instead of a much-coveted Fruit Roll-Up. Things changed as we grew up and they got a Costco card. It wore off on me though – I now adore all things grainy and put ground flax in everything.)

I have memories of Nanaimo bars on the Christmas party buffet table, and of me hiding underneath, reaching out from under the tablecloth to sneak more from the dwindling pyramid. (I loved it when my parents were distracted by the taking of coats to the upstairs bedroom and the filling of glasses as company arrived.) With their chocolate bookends and thick band of frosting spiked with Bird’s custard powder within (I’m the one who goes for the corner slice -loaded with icing roses- from a cheap grocery store cake, then finishes the ones politely left on plates too) how could you not love them? PLUS: they are Canadian. (Although I have seen them in cookbooks labeled New York Slice – probably for the benefit of those who have never heard of Nanaimo, BC, and wouldn’t know how to pronounce it, let alone spell it.) They were invented in a small town on Vancouver Island – a lovely place we take the ferry to from Horseshoe Bay on our way to Tofino, where we shop for groceries and gas up before crossing the island. They are no-bake treats of the very best ilk; generally I glaze over the no-bake section of a cookie book, but these are worth every calorie. And quick to make, really – if you don’t count the chilling of each layer, which you shouldn’t, because it’s not actual work.

Lauren, a Canadian (Calgarian, even) food blogger over at Celiac Teen (hi Lauren!) chose this one. Good pick. She went one further and offered up a gluten-free graham cracker recipe that I wish I could have tried – experimenting with gluten-free baking is on my to-do list – but I just couldn’t swing it this week. You can mosey over to her site and check them out, if you’re interested.

So here’s the text we have to include for the sake of the webcrawler who checks up on us to make sure we did our posts proper-like: The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

And here are my two cents: Baked goods need a little bit of salt, otherwise they taste flat. The original recipe called for unsalted butter (not always necessary – in this case not worth a special trip to the grocery store) but no salt – if you do use unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt. Otherwise go for salted.

The recipe calls for almonds, but you could swap pecans or walnuts, or ditch them altogether (add a bit more coconut) if you can’t use nuts.

Nanaimo Bars are notoriously high in fat. They’re tough to whittle down, but I managed to (after giving up once or twice) – I posted a lower-fat version on Canada Day 2008.

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 Tbsp. cocoa
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups graham crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds, pecans or walnuts
1 cup shredded coconut

Middle Layer:
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 Tbsp. cream or milk (plus a bit extra if needed)
2 Tbsp. custard powder (Such as Bird’s – available in the pudding section)
2 cups icing sugar

Top Layer:
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter

Bottom Layer: Melt the butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. (Or if you promise to be gentle, you can do it on the stovetop in a regular pot over low heat.) Whisk in the egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat and stir in the crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ pan.

Middle Layer: Cream the butter, cream and custard powder in a large bowl with an electric mixer; gradually add the icing sugar and beat until smooth and spreadable, adding a little extra sugar or cream if needed to achieve a frostinglike consistency.

Top Layer: Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer, spread evenly, and chill. Cut into squares.

Makes about 20 bars.

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January 27 2010 | cookies & squares | 56 Comments »

Double Lemon Pound Cake



Have you seen Amélie? (If not, please do.) There’s a part at the beginning where they introduce her and her parents by describing first what they hate and then what they love. As good a litmus test as any, I think. Amélie loves dipping her hands deep into bags of beans and grains. She hates it when drivers in old movies don’t watch the road while they’re driving.

Amélie’s Dad hates clingy swimsuits and likes to take everything out of his toolbox, clean it, and then put everything back in. Likewise her Mom likes to take everything out of her purse, clean it, and put everything back in. (She hates it when her fingers and toes get all wrinkly in the tub.)

I imagine if I were to be described in this manner it would go something like:

She hates it when people eat black licorice within fifty yards of her.
She likes to take everything out of her freezer, clean it, and then put everything back in.

One day awhile ago I was doing just that, the emptying-out part, anyway, and exclaimed when I got to the back, “oh! we have chocolate gelato!”

Mike, without missing even one second, replied, “if I had a gelato shop I would call it Gepetto’s Gelato. And underneath the sign it would say in brackets (formerly Pinocchio’s Panini). And when people came in to ask what happened to Pinocchio’s Panini, I’d answer ‘let’s just say that little wooden boys shouldn’t work around hot ovens.'”

So that’s Mike.

Mike loves lemon. Lemon pies, lemon bars, lemon-cranberry muffins and loaves. So I chopped up some of those sweet preserved lemons and stirred them into lemon pound cake batter, made with half the butter and a little canola oil for good measure, and they melted right in. Oh the plans I have for these.

Double Lemon Pound Cake

If you like, brush still-warm pound cakes with a glaze made with equal amounts lemon juice and sugar, simmered until the sugar dissolves, or pour a little of the syrup from your preserves jar and use it to brush overtop.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup canola oil
2 cup sugar
finely grated zest of a lemon
5 large eggs
juice of a lemon
3/4 cup milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 sweet preserved lemon wedges (about 1 lemon), finely chopped (optional – fresh or frozen berries would also be great)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, oil, sugar and lemon zest for 2-3 minutes, until pale yellow and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.

Stir the lemon juice into the milk and set aside for a few minutes to thicken. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add about a third of the flour mixture, beating on low speed just until combined. Add half the milk in the same manner, then another third of the flour, the rest of the milk and the rest of the flour. Stir in the chopped lemon.

Divide the batter between two 8”x4” loaf pans that have been sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until golden and tops are springy to the touch. Let cool for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 2 loaf cakes.

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