Canada, your secret is out…a true-blue Canadian let slip about the existance of Nanaimo Bars, and now I’m on a mission to make them
Hey Canada, why have you been holding out on me?
I mean, yes, growing up in Southern California I didn’t have much contact with your delectable treats (maple syrup being the exception), but my husband lived in Vancouver for a short time when he was a boy, and he neglected to tell me about them. It took a slip of the tongue from a Whisky Wednesday friend to break the silence (it was at the end of the tasting, so don’t blame him). Now I know, and I’m going to share your secret with the world…Nanaimo Bars exist, and they’re pretty damn great!
What are these underrepresented (at least in the US) delicacies, you ask? They’re a layered bar with a chocolate graham cracker & coconut base, a thick white buttercream frosting filling, and topped with melted chocolate (like a variation on Millionaire’s Shortbread). Keith Corbett, my WW friend who hails from Toronto, let slip that he missed the Nanaimo Bars that his college roommate used to make (they would pair them with brandy). I once visited Nanaimo, a ski resort outside of Vancouver, but that’s really irrelevant to these bars. Keith offered to send me his roommate’s recipe, and once he did I headed off to Pinterest to find out more. There I learned that these bars are a particular Christmastime treat in Canada, although since they’re a no-bake treat I wouldn’t be surprised if they were made year-round.
Unfamiliar ingredient…custard powder?
There was a bit of research I had to do before starting out…the recipe calls for something called “custard powder,” a Canadian product which basically is cornstarch flavored with vanilla (maybe that’s how Canada kept us Americans in the dark about Nanaimo Bars? One never knows…). I found a recipe for The Best Nanaimo Bars on Bake. Eat. Repeat. which basically resembled the recipe Keith sent me (when doubled). So far, so good.
Me, being me, I adapted the recipe to suit my tastes. First, I’m not a fan of coconut, so I just left it out of the base (that sound you hear is a collective gasp from north of the border). I found this note in the comments section of the recipe: “Regarding the Coconut: Crisped rice would be an okay substitution, but I don’t think it could be called a Nanaimo bar then, the coconut is a pretty integral flavour in them! But it would be tasty I’m sure! To make them coconut free though, I might be more inclined to just increase the graham crumbs, then the texture would still be the same, although the flavour would be different.”
I guess I’m not the only one who’s thought about leaving out the coconut. Hopefully Canada will just collectively shake their heads at us, sigh deeply, and move on.
- 9- x 13-inch baking pan
- hand mixer
- small offset spatula
- 2 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (2 oz, 57g)
- 1/2 cup butter (4 oz, 113g), softened
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar (1 oz, 28g)
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 cup pasteurized egg whites (2 oz, 57g) or one large egg
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (10 oz, 284g)
- 1 cup coconut (2-1/2 oz, 74g) , unsweetened (see Recipe Notes)
- 1/2 cup butter (4 oz, 114g), softened
- 4 Tbsp cornstarch (1-1/4 oz, 34g), or custard powder if available
- 4 cups powdered sugar (1 lb, 454g )
- 6 Tbsp milk (3 oz, 85g)
- 1 Tbsp vanilla
- 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (113g)
- 4 Tbsp butter (2 oz, 57g )
- Line a 9- x 13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper overhanging the the sides. Set aside.
- For the base: In a medium microwave-safe bowl, heat the 2 ounces of chocolate chips in the microwave for 2-3 minutes at 50% power, stirring every 30 seconds, until almost melted. Give it another stir until it's completely melted.
- For the filling: In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to cream the butter. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch, vanilla, and milk, then add to the creamed butter, beating well. Finally, beat in the powdered sugar until smooth.
- Using a small offset spatula, spread the filling evenly over the chilled base. Chill for another 15-20 minutes.
- For the topping: In a microwave safe bowl, place the 4 ounces chocolate chips and the butter and heat at 50% power for 2-3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until the chocolate is almost melted. Continue stirring until the chocolate is completely melted.
- Using the small offset spatula again, spread the melted chocolate evenly over the chilled custard layer. Chill for at least 2 hours (or even overnight) to make sure the chocolate is set.
- When the bars are completely firm, loosen the sides with a knife (or something that won't harm your pan), then lift out of the pan carefully and set on a cutting board. Let sit for 10 minutes.
- Slowly, cut the bars into 1- x 2-inch rectangles using a sharp knife. For clean cuts, dip the knife in hot water and wipe off after each cut.
- Serve and enjoy (thanking Canada in the process).
A couple of final thoughts…
I lined my pan with foil to make removing the bars easier, but then the foil stuck to the bottom of the bars as I cut them. Next time I’ll remove the foil first or use parchment paper instead. Having the butter softened made the making of the base and filling much easier…I left my (frozen) butter out on the counter before starting. I’m also thinking that maybe next time I’ll flavor the filling with mint so it’s not quite so sweet (especially since the coconut flavor isn’t there). Can they really be called Nanaimo Bars then? A rose is a rose, and all that. Anyway, the bars did cut cleanly, and I decided to firm up the filling by freezing the bars before serving them.
Where did I serve them? Why, at Whisky Wednesday, of course! I made sure Keith would be there, and he (and the rest of the WW crew) loved them. He even commented that these bars may be even better paired with the single malt scotches we were tasting than with the Courvoisier VSOP from his college days. Canada, your secret is out, but I, for one, am grateful. To Canada from Boston, with love!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!