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The Nanaimo Bar: Another Reason to Consider Moving to Canada

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If you grew up in Canada or in the Pacific Northwest, you may be familiar with the Nanaimo Bar, a no-bake, triple-layered confection that gets its name from Nanaimo (pronounced Na-NYE-mo), a city on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. 

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

I originally made these bars—many moons ago—to thank my supervisors upon the completion of my first college internship, but I had completely forgotten about them until I found the recipe in an old journal while cleaning out my childhood bedroom. I had carefully transcribed the ingredients and instructions from a page clipped from The Seattle Times, and the entry contained not only the recipe, but also my review and commentary; I guess you could say it was just foreshadowing for what would turn into my “food blog” of today.

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

The no-bake bar begins with a base made from melted butter, chocolate, crushed graham cracker crumbs, shredded coconut, and nuts. The middle layer is a custard-flavored buttercream that you willl want to slather on just about everything—especially those few graham crackers that you will have left over from the bottom layer. Then the whole pan is topped with a thin layer of chocolate. You have been warned about these: nanaimo bars are not messing around or for the faint of heart.

Nanaimo Bars

Adapted from the Seattle Times

Makes one 8- by 8-inch pan

For the bottom layer:

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch process
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely crushed graham crackers (from 1 sleeve, or 9 crackers)
1/2 cup almond flour (or very finely chopped almonds)
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

For the middle and top layers:

1/2 cup butter, very soft
3 tablespoons custard-flavored (or vanilla) pudding powder
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon half-and-half or heavy cream, plus more as needed
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

Butter an 8- by 8-inch pan and line with foil. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, cocoa, sugar, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Add the crushed graham crackers, almond meal, and coconut, then stir until combined.

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

Press evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. I use the bottom of a measuring spoon.

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

In a large bowl beat the butter, custard powder, and powdered sugar together until smooth. Add vanilla, salt, and one tablespoon of half-and-half. Beat for several minutes until smooth and spreadable, adding more half-and-half one teaspoon at a time as needed.

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

Spread evenly over the base layer.

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate chips, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Pour over the top of the bars and use an offset spatula to spread the chocolate all the way to the edge.

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

Refrigerate for several hours until firm, then slice into to squares. I find that “scoring” them about 10 minutes after the chocolate sets helps to cut bars with clean lines. I used a sharp knife and a very gentle “sawing” motion to slice them into five equal bars and then into 25 smaller squares. Store your bars in the refrigerator.

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Lillie Auld

Tags: Custard, Chocolate, Dessert, Bake, Heirloom Recipes, DIY Food, How-To & Diy, Small Batch