My new favorite no-bake bar.
^^Not ground beef, I swear
Has anyone ever heard of a Nanaimo bar? I was intrigued when flipping through a 1988 collective style cookbook of “food editor’s favorites” (that set me back $1.49 at the thrift store) and stumbled on the recipe submitted by the food editor (at the time) of The Vancouver Sun. I had never heard of a Nanaimo bar but she described it as a dessert bar – a cross between a cookie and a candy – traditional at Christmas time in British Columbia. I also didn’t know there was a coastal city called Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. But I was certain that I cruised right along that coastline on the Salish Sea 9 years ago on a cruise to Alaska.
At the time, my cell phone wasn’t even capable of Internet access. Unfortunately, I wasn’t invited to Oprah’s Christmas show in December 2005 when she showered the audience members with new Blackberry’s. The best thing on my Nokia artifact was the snake game. If I had a smartphone, I’d like to think my sticky fingers would have been on the pulse of the best bakeries nearby with a quick Google search. So I blame Oprah for my failure to discover or taste the authentic treat on that trip. Strange, though, to think about not having mobile Internet access or wifi 9 years ago.
On that cruise, we departed Vancouver on a Holland America jumbo ship and sailed north along the Inside Passage up to Skagway and hit Juneau and Ketchikan along the way back. I remember it as some of the most beautiful and breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen. We did eat some incredible locally caught halibut in one of the villages where we disembarked. I’d go back to Vancouver just for Nanaimo bars and scenery alone.
I’ve made the bars four times now. They are that fantastic. They’re definitely not a quick bar to make but worth the time. The distinct ingredient, custard powder, is difficult to find in the US. I use the substitute pudding powder but always keep my eyes open for custard powder and will make them the traditional way when I can get my hands on it. I also added peanut butter to the top of some of my bars because it’s delicious, but it’s totally optional.
Nanaimo Bars Recipe
Makes one 8×8″ pan.
Use your butter wrappers to butter the pan (or spray with pam) then line with parchment paper.
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (toasted for deeper flavor, but it’s not totally necessary)
2 tbsp vanilla instant pudding mix powder (or custard powder if you can find it)
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter, melted (optional)