Nanaimo Bars

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Nanaimo Bars by Foodess

I remember my little-kid eyes lighting up when my great aunt Ruth - her feet warm and cozy in hand-knit slippers, white hair gleaming in perfect soft waves atop her bobbly cherub face - would shuffle out of her kitchen with a plate of Christmas cookies.

There would be little shortbread coins topped with a rosebud of pink frosting and a sliver of candied cherry; sugar cookies imperfectly decorated as Santas and Christmas trees; chewy chocolate macaroons; mocha balls (which are pronounced mah-ka balls and have absolutely no chocolate-coffee flavour as their name suggests - they are simply squares of pound cake dipped in vanilla icing and rolled in crushed peanuts. An Acadian specialty).

The best thing on the plate, however, was the nanaimo bar. I would grab one, close my eyes and succumb to the holiday sugar rush bliss.

Then when it was gone, I'd lick my fingers and greedily eyeball another.

And to this day, nanaimo bars are my Christmas favourite. If you've had one, there's a good chance you agree.

If you haven't had one... oooh boy, you're in for a treat.

Nanaimo Bars by Foodess

A thick, creamy filling smothers a chewy cocoa-graham cracker base with bits of chewy coconut and crunchy chopped nuts. A layer of bittersweet dark chocolate smooths over the surface.

They were invented in the 1950's in Nanaimo, British Columbia but are popular across Canada. I wonder if they're common in the States, too...

Nanaimo bar filling traditionally includes Bird's Custard powder - I opted out for two reasons: the first, it only comes in tubs much bigger than I need for nanaimo bars, and what the heck would I do with the rest? And the second, the ingredient list is as follows: cornstarch, salt, artificial colour, artificial flavour.

I went for powdered whole milk instead, to impart the custardy cooked milk flavour and richness, minus the chemistry lab. And they were delicious! If you can't find whole or 2% milk powder, however, I don't think skim milk powder would do the the trick. In that case, I would turn a blind eye to the ingredient list and use 3 tbsp of custard powder in its place. (Which you can do anyway, if you prefer!)

Nanaimo Bars by Foodess

If you DO buy whole milk powder, there is plenty you can do to enjoy the leftovers! I stir a heaping spoonful into strong tea every morning (brewed with a couple of cardamom pods) - delicious! That's how they make their tea in India (with other spices, too). It's also great in coffee and homemade hot cocoa.

Apart from hot beverages, use up your remaining stash to enrich smoothies, oatmeal, creamy dishes, sauces, etc. with rich flavour and a calcium & protein boost. (Milk powder makes an excellent protein "supplement", much cheaper and more wholesome than a lot of the crap you get at fitness stores, too).

In Vancouver, you can find whole milk powder at most Indian grocers (think 49th & Main), or at Famous Foods.

  • Cook Time
  • Prep Time
  • 24Servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or almonds
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • For Filling:
  • 2/3 cups butter, softened
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 cup powdered milk (preferable whole milk)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 5 tbsp heavy cream or milk
  • For Topping:
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet (dark) chocolate (or 1 1/3 cups chocolate chips)
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8x8" square baking dish with parchment paper, leaving a 1" overhang on all sides.

  2. In a medium bowl, stir together cocoa powder, sugar, graham cracker crumbs, coconut and nuts. Drizzle butter over top and toss with a fork to combine. Add egg and stir until well combined. Press the mixture into bottom of prepared baking dish and bake 10-12 minutes, until set. Cool on wire rack.

  3. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter, confectioners' sugar, powdered milk, vanilla extract and cream. Beat until light and fluffy, scraping down sides occasionally, for about 2 minutes total. When crust is completely cool, spread filling evenly over top. Transfer to freezer to firm up for about 10 minutes.

  4. In a glass microwave-safe measuring cup, melt chocolate by microwaving at 50% power for 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Stir in vegetable oil. Spread evenly over filling. Let stand until chocolate is hardened.

  5. Lift bars out of dish by the parchment overhang, then slice into 24 equal bars. Run your knife under hot water between cuts to make clean slices.