Monday, December 14, 2009

Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo BarsYou can tell we're living in darkness here because my food pictures are so grim. Nothing like photographing a noodle under a flickering incandescent bulb to make it look unappealing.

But I think you still get the general idea and I'm willing to brave sad photography for the sake of these amazing treats. I came across a recipe for Nanaimo Bars (of Canadian fame) and couldn't believe I'd never heard of them before. Because, you know, I can see Canada from my house.

The story goes that these are a common delicacy from our neighbors to the east and there were so many raves about how wonderful they were that I just had to try them. When was the last time you heard anyone raving about Canadian cuisine? Brings out the curiosity, doesn't it?

So I figured it would be irresponsible not to give these a try and, I assure you, the effort was well worth it. Don't let the list of ingredients put you off, there aren't that many things as so many are repeated in the list and, not having to bake them, they're not very time consuming or hard to make. The biggest thing is that you must chill them before cutting and that might take some time. Because heaven forbid you get a giant chewy, eewy, gooey mess that sticks to your fingers and coats your fingers with chocolate ecstasy.

The square pan ends up making quite a few bars because they're rich enough you'll want to cut them small. Plus, cutting them small has the added benefit of making you think you're not consuming any calories of note and therefore you can eat these babies in bulk--and trust me, you'll want to.

With a brownie-ish no-bake bottom layer that incorporates walnuts, coconut and graham cracker crumbs followed by a middle custard-frosting layer and a top coating of chocolate they're half-way between a brownie and a candy bar and Andrew claimed that they have officially made it into the "top five best desserts you've ever made." They'd be great to make with kids because they're so easy and I suspect that they'd also be easy to convert to a gluten-free version because the cracker crumbs are the only objectionable ingredient.

Impressive, eh?

So tell me . . . anyone out there have any kind of a clue as to how to pronounce "Nanaimo"? And where on earth did it come from?

Bottom layer:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Second layer:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons skim milk
2 tablespoon cook-and-serve vanilla pudding powder such as Jello brand
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar (I used 1 cup and it made the frosting slightly less firm)

Top layer:
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate, chopped (or use chocolate chips)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Grease a 9x9 square pan.

In a sauce pan melt the butter over a low heat, stir in sugar, cocoa powder and then slowly whisk in the beaten egg. Cook, stirring constantly, 1-2 minutes until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, graham cracker crumbs, coconut and nuts (I used 1 cup graham cracker crumbs because I was a little short and it still worked but the full amount would be better).

Press evenly into the pan. I usually slip my hands into plastic sandwich bags for this kind of thing, using them like plastic gloves so that my hands don't get all dirty. Just a tip. Allow the crust to cool slightly.

For the second layer, cream the butter then beat in the milk, pudding powder, vanilla and sugar. You can thin it down if you must with a bit more milk. Spread custard frosting over the bottom layer and refrigerate until cool, 30 minutes.

For final layer, melt the chocolate in the microwave on a low power (taking care that it doesn't burn) and add the butter to smooth it and thin it a bit. Then spread over bars and allow it all to cool again. Once it's firm, cut with a knife into bars. I got 25 out of my pan.

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Allegria said...

Being from British Columbia, I LOVE Nanaimo Bars! And your photo makes me want to dive into the keyboard. Now that I live in PA, Nanaimo Bars are my pot luck standby, because nobody else makes them, and I'm cruel enough that when everyone asks for the recipe, which they do, I always tell them that you can't get the Bird's Custard Powder here, which is true. I fail to mention that you can use vanilla instant pudding with a similar (but not exact) flavor. I mean, really, I'm evil. LOL Take a little trip across the border and get some custard powder. It'll put the dessert into your son's top 2 list!

I should send you some of the variations. If I remember this afternoon I'll dig them out. Now that you're part of the Nanaimo Bar club, I'm allowed to share with you. teehee

Allegria said...

And, by the way, it's pronounced Nuh-Neye-Moe (accent on the neye). It originated in a town on Vancouver Island by that name. Now you know. ;o)

Patricia L said...

Uhm yum. I'm going to have to ask my dad if he's ever made those. Maybe you could take your photos by candlelight for that warm, romantic effect. :)

Cop Mama said...

I think you did a great job with the photo, it is very intriguing. Ok, and yummy looking too!

Hehehe, You're funny - "Because, you know, I can see Canada from my house."

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

I lived in Canada for 6 years during my teen years. How did I miss these things? Maybe I was just too busy eating Tim Horton's Boston Creams.

Shannon said...

OK you just answered what I am making for dessert night this week. Darn Wednesday seems a long way off.

michelle said...

Being Canadian, Nanaimo bars are a Christmas staple in our house for the holidays. Of course now that I live in the U.S., I need to import my Bird's Custard Powder. I have always thought it amusing, that before we moved to the U.S., I spoke to a fellow Canadian who had been living in the U.S. for over 10 years. I asked her if there was anything I needed to bring from Canada that I wouldn't be able to get after we moved. Her number one recommendation was for the custard powder to make Nanaimo bars.

A quick search turned up the following Wikipedia article on the origins of Nanaimo bars:

On my blog, I have posted my own variation of Nanaimo bars, since I am not a big fan of coconut, which is usually found in the base layer. I also use almond extract in mine as well, which goes great with the chocolate. Let me know if you decide to give my Almond-Chocolate Nanaimo Bar variation a try. You can find it at: (scroll down a bit for the recipe).


Lahni said...

In Canada, you can buy these at Costco. Yum. Also, my mother has a variation to make a minty middle layer. Not as good as the original but still pretty tasty!

Anonymous said...

Attention fellow ex-patriot Canadians: instead of custard powder, you can use Goya flan powder found in any Hispanic food section, because flan is actually custard.

That's what I did every year, until my daughter was diagnosed with a mil allergy. While you can easily make this non gluten, you CAN NOT make it non dairy.

A variation I have done quite successfully is making the middle layer with cream cheese instead of butter. VERY yummy.

Allegria: I'm with you. I love making them because everyone here thinks I'm BRILLIANT.

Scribbit said...

I am so glad to join the secret club Allegria! Thanks for the pointers.

I think I may have made a mistake too--I'd bet that custard powder or pudding mix might contain gluten too, you'd need to check obviously.

I think it's cool to find something that is specific to Canada--if this recipe is any indication of the beauty of Canadian cuisine then I obviously need to do some more research and find more Canadian recipes.

Kellie said...

I lived in Nanaimo for almost a year and cried when I had to move. Especially since I was leaving for New Westminster. Not exactly as beautiful or friendly as Nanaimo. First time I tried Nanaimo bars I thought they were too rich. . .then I started craving them. Now I love them and all their chocolate rich ecstasy.

vivacemusica said...

Pronounced "nuh-NIGH-mo". I never realized nanaimo bars were Canadian!! I do love them though.... And might try your recipe -- I bet it's better than the store-bought stuff I get at the supermarket here!

Jen Rouse said...

Nuh-NYE-mo. My husband's family is Canadian, and I often make these for my father-in-law on his birthday.

carrie said...

Yum! We made them every Christmas at our house two doors up from you, and I am pretty sure we delivered some to your family more than once. So you've probably had them, if you were quick enough to the plate back then to get your hands on one!

Karen B said...

These are so wonderful~! Back in the 50s - in Duluth MN - my mother received the recipe along with several cans of Bird's Custard Powder from a Canadian friend. I received the same when I married a few years later. Thanks for the history - but I still can't pronounce it right!

Stephanie Frieze said...

LOL! I'm laughing at the Palin reference. Thanks for the recipe. They sell these in the bakery at the grocery store here (Fred Meyer).

mamanesq said...

Nuh-NIGH-moe. These are always the first thing we have after a good day of skiing at Whistler - make them your Olympic treats! (And yes, I cut them very small - 3/4 inch squares.)

Just Mom said...

Oh my goodness, they look simply!

Tim Appleton (Applehead) said...

Can't you see Russia from your house too? These look good. I 'll have to tell the wife to make them.(She's not a fan of coconut.)

Naomi said...

My Calgarian friends used to call me Nanaimo, which is pronounced pretty much as it looks like: Nuh-nigh-mow. It's a town around Vancouver. I just saw some Nanaimo bars at our local grocery store bakery counter (surprisingly since we live in Kansas!) but they were all wrong. No shredded coconut!

Chris said...

You'll have to try Butter Tarts next- though I don't like them- my husband loves them.

I always think of my Grandmother when I think of Nanaimo Bars. She lived there for years. You can find them in pretty much any bakery in Canada.

everydayMOM said...

Those look amazing! I just had a baby and I think my cravings are worse now than when I was pregnant. Just looking at the photo is making me hungry!

MoziEsmé said...

Thanks for publicizing these - they are awesome! My grandparents lived about 1/2 hour north of Nanaimo - and now my parents live there - Nanaimo is the "big town" ferry destination for all our visits - so we know all about these bars!

Jen said...

Just over 10 years ago, I received a recipe for Nanaimo bars at my bridal shower. I never made them and had never heard of them since. The recipe is almost the same (same ingredients, slightly different amounts). I'll have to try it out now!

Lori said...

I'm so glad that Allegria pointed out how to say it. It was a stumper!

We have sort of cut eggs out of the house, not really for dietary purposes, more so to finish off the egg replacer that I have--do you think that would work for the bottom layer?

VFrost said...

I HAD a Naniamo Bar in Naniamo on my honeymoon! Now I get to make them at home! Thanks so much.

Julie Holt said...

Wow! Yum!! And I've even got some Bird's Custard in the pantry! (I have bought it in the states...) Having recently become a Canadian citizen (but not a resident--I too, can see Canada from my house), it's good to know about these! I think all of the major food groups are represented: butter, sugar and chocolate!

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

Great call on the flan powder!

My mom sent me the link and a not-so subtle hint on making them for her.

Also, is that regular coconut flakes? The non-sweetened kind? I cook curries with coconut flakes, but they are non-sweetened.

Scribbit said...

You can use sweetened or unsweetened coconut.

Lisa said...

Yeah. What they said. I love Nanaimo bars! You can buy them everywhere, so I have never made them from scratch (but I have used a kit!) The middle layers reminds me of buttercream icing. You definitely want to eat small pieces of this very rich dessert.

I am not sure there are many dishes that would fall into a "Canadian Cuisine" category, but we do enjoy our dill pickle potato chips!

Anonymous said...

Ok, someone else filled you in on pronounciation and origin. I myself can't eat those things--they are way too sweet and rich for me--but everyone else seems to love them! So you can eat mine :)

chelle said...

Dude ... Canadian BACON people rave about it all the time :P

Nanaimo bars are the BOMB! I had to have them at my wedding, they are so by far the GREATEST ever. Never have I tried to prepare them myself though.

Anonymous said...

Funnily enough, we don't have very many unique dishes, I think two out of three have been mentioned (Nanaimo Bars and Butter Tarts)and the third is (drumroll, please!) Tortierre !!!! This is a French Canadian meat pie made with a combination of ground pork, ground beef and spices and is traditionally served Xmas Eve. Honestly, that's it. Other than that we steal other people's good stuff. (Thanks, other people!)