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Nanaimo Bars: The Real Deal

There are two three many things I miss about Canada; My friends, Tim Horton’s coffee, Montréal Smoked Meat Sandwiches, and the ubiquitous presence of Nanaimo bars at every donut shop and coffee house in the country. Every once in a wonderful while, a friend will send me a tin of Tim Horton’s coffee. My husband even had a tin shipped in for my birthday one year when I was feeling particularly homesick. But I had not had the gustatory pleasure of biting in to a lusciously sweet, decadently rich Nanaimo bar in over 5 years. FIVE YEARS. This was not an acceptable situation, and it needed to be addressed ASAP.


I consulted my bestest internet friend, Google, who gave me a whole whack of  Nanaimo Bar recipe ideas (about 80,600 in 0.22 seconds). I settled on this one. This recipe comes to us via Joyce Hardcastle and the City of Nanaimo, British Columbia’s website. It is the 1986 Ultimate Nanaimo Bar recipe contest winner. So it has to be the really, really, REALLY official best recipe, right?

One of the few changes I made to the recipe was to reverse a step and add the hot cocoa and butter mixture to the beaten egg for the bottom layer. When I added the egg to the hot mixture, it cooked and curdled on me. Twice. I may have been a bit peeved. If you can make it happen, by all means go for it!

I’m sorry, I tried. Despite my best efforts in Lightroom, but there was just no way to make this picture of the bottom layer look more appetizing. It is what it is, folks. Just keep repeating to yourself  “Chocolate, almonds and coconut, oh my”. It worked for me, almost.

The recipe calls for “Vanilla Custard Powder”, for which I substituted vanilla pudding. I did this because I have no idea what “Vanilla Custard Powder” is, nor do I have any idea where I might find it. A quick search of the baking sections of my two favorite grocery stores produced zip. Rather than bang my head on my cutting board in frustration, I just moseyed on over to the pudding section and grabbed me a box of vanilla pudding.  I suggest you do the same. It’ll work just fine, I promise.

As for the origins of this tasty treat, according to legend and the City of Nanaimo, British Columbia’s website, “about 35 years ago, a Nanaimo housewife entered her recipe for chocolate squares in a magazine contest. In a burst of civic pride, she chose to dub the entry not “Daphne’s Delights” or “Mary’s Munchies”, but “Nanaimo Bars”. The entry won a prize, thereby promoting the town as much as her cooking.”

If this brief explanation doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, you can take a gander at the exhaustive (and I really do mean ex-HAUS-tive) dissertation on the origins and history of the Nanaimo bar at practicallyedible.com.

As for me, I’m not nearly as concerned with where they come from as I am about where they end up, which is on my plate.

Before you settle in with a cup of tea to read that Nanaimo bar novel over at practicallyedible.com, I would suggest that you take a peak at a lovely little corner of the internet called Mangos, Chili and Z, which just happens to belong to an even lovelier lady by the name of Lea Ann.

She recently did me the honor of asking me to be her first interviewee (interviewie? Interviewe?) for a new segment she will be doing called “Just Grilled”. I don’t know why she picked me. I don’t think she’s had any recent head trauma… But hey, you can always just breeze through the interview real fast and scroll on to the great recipes and wonderful writing that is her blog!

Nanimo Bars
Adapted from Joyce Hardcastle

Bottom Layer
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp cocoa powder
1 egg, beaten
1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut
Combine the butter, sugar and cocoa powder in a double boiler and heat until melted. Slowly drizzle the hot mixture into the beaten egg, whisking constantly until thickened. Stir in the graham cracker crumbs, almonds, and coconut. Press the mixture firmly into an ungreased 8″ x 8″ baking pan.

Middle Layer
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
3 tbsp whipping cream
2 tbsp vanilla pudding powder
2 cups icing sugar
Cream together the butter, cream, vanilla pudding powder and icing sugar until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Top Layer
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler over low heat. Once cool but still liquid, pour over middle layer and chill in refrigerator until set, about an hour.
Cut into squares using a knife dipped in hot water. For easier (and neater!) pieces, dip the pan very briefly in hot water and then turn out onto a plate. Flip over using a second plate and cut into squares.

Printable Recipe

Oh and PS: This is my entry for ‘A Sweet Celebration‘ hosted by ‘Fun & Food Cafe‘. 🙂