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 www.nanaimo.ca.
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.
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
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
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.
One Year Ago: Caramelized Onion Dip, then Shepherd’s Pie