Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo Bars

Canada, this one’s for you.

Tomorrow, ICYDK, is Canada Day! And, being half Canadian myself, I like to commemorate the day with a little themed treat (see this Maple Walnut Dip and this Bacon Infused Caramel Coffee Sauce). This year, Nanaimo bars, which I always forget how to pronounce.

For some background, Nanaimo Bars hail from the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia.  There’s all sorts of speculation about the who/what/when about how these bars came about, but the first printing came from Nanaimo, and thus the name stuck. 

What are they?  Bars, three layers, containing good things like chocolate, graham crackers, coconut, nuts…all with a creamy middle layer.

These are no bake, which is cool for these hot times, but I will say that I was less than thrilled about making them simply because of the unusual ingredient contained in the center layer: custard powder.

Now, I LOVE custard.  So, so much, and to use something that I love so much not in its truest form was a bit maddening to me.  But, I wanted to stay true to the original recipe as best I could, and thus used a powder.

Actually, I lied.  I used a suggested substitution of instant vanilla pudding mix because the custard powder came in a HUGE container and I needed a mere tablespoon. Knowing that I’d likely never use that much custard powder, I didn’t find it was worth the investment. Anyhoo, if you like the idea of custard powder, I found it at my regular neighborhood grocer, so knock yourself out. Otherwise, instant vanilla pudding is the way to go.

These bars came together pretty quickly and while at first bite I wasn’t in love, I realized after I took a second, third and fourth bite, that I obviously thought they were swell. While different from the delicious magic cookie bars of all of my childhood, there is still a place for these Nanaimo bars at the table.

Nanaimo Bars
Serves 12
No-bake bars layered with chocolate, nuts and a creamy custard filling
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Total Time
2 hr
Total Time
2 hr
For the crust
  1. 4 TB unsalted butter, melted
  2. 2 TB brown sugar
  3. 3 TB unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch-process cocoa preferred
  4. 1 large egg
  5. 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
  6. 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  7. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  8. 1 cups graham cracker crumbs (made from about 6 whole crackers)
For the filling
  1. 4 TB unsalted butter, room temperature
  2. 1/8 teaspoon salt (omit if you use salted butter)
  3. 1 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  4. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  5. 1 TB custard powder or instant vanilla pudding mix
  6. 2 TB heavy cream
For the icing
  1. 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  2. 2 TB unsalted butter
  1. Line an 8 x 8 pan with parchment. Set aside.
  2. To make the crust: Place all of the crust dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, and mix until all the ingredients are combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg. Stream the hot butter into the egg slowly, whisking constantly to cook the egg (like you would a hollandaise sauce). Mix into the dry ingredients, and make sure all are adequately wet.
  4. Press the mixture into the prepared pan. While you prepare the middle layer, set it in the fridge to cool.
  5. To make the filling: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the softened butter, 1 cup of the sugar, and the vanilla, beating until smooth.
  6. In a small bowl, combine the pudding mix with the cream, stirring until thick and smooth.
  7. Add the pudding mix to the butter/sugar mixture, stirring to combine. You'll feel the need to add more liquid- DON'T! Using an electric mixer, all will come together to be quite smooth.
  8. Add the remaining sugar, and beat until the filling is smooth. Spread it over the cooled crust, cover, and refrigerate until chilled.
  9. Finally, make the icing: Combine the chocolate and butter in a saucepan or microwave-safe bowl. Heat until the chocolate is just melted and stir until smooth. Be careful not to burn the chocolate!
  10. Spread the frosting onto the bars. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set.
  11. Cut into small bars or rectangles to serve. The bars will be very stiff when cold, but will soften quickly at room temperature.
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
The Hungary Buddha Eats the World

Written after eating said Nanaimo Bar.

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