Nanaimo Bar

Nanaimo Bars

Has anyone ever heard of a Nanaimo bar? I was recently flipping through a 1988 collective style cookbook of “food editor’s favorites” and stopped on the recipe submitted by the food editor (at the time) of The Vancouver Sun. And just like that, the Nanaimo Bar is now my go-to no bake bar. 

Nanaimo Bars Graham Crackers Nanaimo Ingredients Nanaimo Base

^^Not ground beef, I swear.

Nanaimo Middle Layer Nanaimo Bars Nanaimo Bars Nanaimo Bars

This thrift-store gem I purchased for $1.49 has all kinds of treats and it’s usually hard to choose one over another. The Nanaimo bar caught my attention solely on the name alone. 

I had never heard of a Nanaimo bar, but the editor 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. 

Why hadn’t I heard of this before? I’m fairly certain that my family and I cruised right along that coastline on the Salish Sea 9 years ago on a cruise to Alaska. At the time, the Nokia cell phone (that I shared with my siblings) wasn’t even capable of Internet access. The best thing on that artifact was the snake game. But if I had 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. 

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 local halibut in one of the villages where we disembarked. (BRB Googling flights to Vancouver…)

Ok, back to the bars. I’ve made these 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 suggested substitute, pudding powder, and it works just fine. 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.

Ingredients:

Base Layer

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 egg
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)

Filling

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp vanilla instant pudding mix powder (or custard powder if you can find it)
2 cups powdered sugar

Top Layer

4 (1 oz.) squares semi-sweet baking chocolate
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp corn syrup
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter, melted (optional)

Instructions:
In the top of a double boiler, combine 1/2 cup butter, sugar and cocoa powder stirring occasionally until melted and smooth. 
Meanwhile, lightly beat the egg in another bowl. Slowly add about 1/2 cup of the melted cocoa mixture to the egg while whisking vigorously, then slowly add the egg mixture back to the rest of the cocoa mix while whisking continuously until fully combined. (This sounds complicated but it’s not hard and it’s necessary to prevent curdling!)
Cook mixture for 1-2 minutes longer until it has thickened. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, graham cracker crumbs, coconut and nuts. The mixture will be chunky. Press it into the bottom of the 8×8 pan. Cover and refrigerate or freeze for 15-30 minutes while you make the next layer.
For the middle layer, whip together 1/2 cup butter, heavy cream and custard powder on medium speed for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Mix in the confectioners’ sugar and blend for another minute until smooth. Spread evenly over the bottom layer. Cover and return to refrigerator or freezer to chill for another 15-30 minutes.
For the top layer, melt the semisweet chocolate and butter together in the top of a double broiler over medium heat. Spread over the chilled bars. Refrigerate to set the chocolate.
For the optional peanut butter layer, let the melted peanut butter cool almost to room temp before spreading over the chocolate. Refrigerate for 15 minutes to set before cutting into squares or triangles.

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