Without fail Nanaimo bars are my absolute favourite holiday treat. However, not just any Nanaimo bar will satisfy my craving. Store bought mixes don’t fool me – their cardboard-like flavour is a quick giveaway. I’m not fussy about the different types of flavours, like mint, either. In my books, nothing beats a classic, homemade Nanaimo bar.
For those unfamiliar with the humble Nanaimo bar (a customary holiday treat in most parts of Canada), it’s a beautifully layered square. It starts with a nutty, chocolatey bottom layer, then a rich, vanilla custard in the middle, and topped off by a layer of decadent chocolate. I think it’s the combined textures and flavours that make the Nanaimo bar a staple on desert platters year after year.
The exact origins of the Nanaimo bar are unclear, but it has strong roots on Canada’s West Coast – specifically in the town of Nanaimo, BC. Considering the national and perhaps even international (anyone outside of Canada also love these heavenly morsels?) popularity of the Nanaimo bar, it makes me very proud of this little bit of West Coast culinary history. Check out this Globe and Mail article for a succinct summary of their origins.
My Mom kindly passed her recipe onto me and I’ve taken over making the Nanaimo bars each Christmas. She tweaked ingredients and measurements over the years, creating what I think is the ultimate Nanaimo bar recipe. In our recipe, the base is thicker than others and is topped by a thinner custard layer. There’s a generous layer of chocolate on top.
Overall the recipe is quite easy to assemble as long as you let each layer set and cool in between. I find the most difficult part is cutting the Nanimo bar into squares. So here are a few tips to help you out:
- Let the chocolate layer warm-up a bit at room temperature before attempting to slice.
- Use a ruler to help you make evenly slice squares. Score in the cutting lines on the chocolate layer, before cutting all the way through.
- When cutting up the bar, wipe your knife regularly so the different layers don’t smudge together.
- It takes a while to cut through all the layers, so it might be necessary to let the bar cool in the fridge, for the chocolate to set, before lifting them out and into a container.
- 1/2 cup butter unsalted
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 5 tbsp cocoa
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 egg beaten
- 2 cups graham wafer crumbs
- 1 cup coconut
- 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
- 1/4 cup butter
- 3 tbsp cream or milk
- 2 tbsp vanilla custard powder (Bird's or vanilla pudding mix)
- 2 cups icing sugar
- 2 tbsp butter
- 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
Place softened butter, sugar, cocoa, vanilla and egg in bowl set in a dish of boiling water or use a double boiler. Stir well until mixture resembles custard.
Add graham wafer crumbs, coconut and nuts to cooked mixture. Mix thoroughly.
Pack in a lightly greased 9" square, or 7" x 11" pan. Set in fridge to chill.
Cream butter, and add cream which has been combined with custard powder.
Blend in 2 cups icing sugar. Beat until smooth and fluffy.
Spread over first layer and let stand in fridge for at least 15 minutes.
Melt chocolate with butter in double boiler. While still thin spread over custard layer. Chill in fridge and then cut into squares.
These Nanimo bars freeze very well in an airtight container. Place sheets of wax or parchment paper between layers and over top layer to prevent damage to squares.