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Author Notes: The city of Nanaimo (pronounced "nuh-NYE-mo") is known as "The Harbour City" of British Columbia. There, residents boast of a long, lovely coastline, and also this eponymous, quirky, rich and creamy dessert that can be found across Canada. Classic Nanaimo Bars consist of three layers: a bottom layer of graham crackers, cocoa, coconut, and nuts (usually almonds); a middle custard-like layer; and finally a topping of chocolate ganache. They are extremely rich, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be ready to stop at just one. To put my own patriotic spin on the bar, I decided to create a Hawaiian flavor variation. The coconut flavor is carried through to the cream layer, which is usually made with custard powder or a substitute of vanilla pudding mix; I also added a hint of Kona coffee to the ganache and topped the whole thing with crushed, chocolate-coated espresso beans. This brought a dark edge—bitter and sophisticated—to balance out the kid-on-a-sugar-buzz level of sweet in the rest of the bar. Aloha, Canada! —Allison Cay Parker
Serves 16 squares
For the bottom layer
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1/2 cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped and lightly toasted
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
For the middle and top layers
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 pinch salt
- 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups confectioner's sugar
- 3 teaspoons all-natural coconut flavoring (not oil)
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons Hawaiian Kona coffee, brewed to double strength
- 1/4 cup chocolate-covered espresso beans, coarsely chopped
- For the bottom layer: Melt butter, sugar, and cocoa in the top of a double boiler. Add egg and cook until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in graham cracker crumbs, macadamia nuts, and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8- by 8-inch pan and chill in the refrigerator before proceeding to the next step.
- For the middle layer: Beat together the butter, cream, cornstarch, salt, vanilla, and confectioner’s sugar until well combined, light, and fluffy. Add coconut flavoring and mix thoroughly. Spread over bottom layer and chill again.
- For the top layer: Melt chocolate and butter, together with the coffee, over low heat. Cool to room temperature. Once cool, pour over the middle layer. Top with the crushed espresso beans and chill once more. When the top layer has set, cut into squares and serve.
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