We live at the muzzle of the Georgia Straight, that formidable body of water that separates Vancouver Island from the British Columbian mainland, and funnels equally formidable weather down to us from Alaska and northern B. C.
North of us, up the straight about 70 miles as the gull flies and due west of Vancouver on Vancouver Island, lies the city of Nanaimo. With sweeping views of ocean, mountains, and the Vancouver skyline, it’s a truly lovely place to visit. And more notably still, it’s the tacit birth place of that heavenly, legendary confection, the Nanaimo Bar. Here’s the official line on those little gems, courtesy of the City of Nanaimo website.
“This creamy, chocolatey treat’s origin is elusive, shrouded in mystery, and claimed by many as their own. Of course, we know that Nanaimo Bars originated in Nanaimo, or they would be called New York Bars, or New Brunswick Bars.” Now that’s logic hard to argue with, eh?
While the precise origin of the Nanaimo bar is unknown, the first recipes using ingredients that mirror the Official Version appeared in the 1952 Women’s Auxiliary to the Nanaimo Hospital Cookbook; they were named the Chocolate Square and the Chocolate Slice. Nanaimo Bars formally showed up a year later, in the 14th Edition of the Edith Adams’ Prize Cookbook. A copy is on display at the Nanaimo museum.
Technically, this is a no-bake dessert bar constructed in three layers, a graham cracker/almond/coconut base, a vanilla custard middle, and a chocolate top. Variants are as broad as the land that spawned them, with everything from different crumb bases and nuts, to mint, peanut butter, coconut, or mocha replacing the vanilla custard, and of course, a myriad of different chocolates
The Nanaimo Bar is incredibly rich, truly delightful treat. If you’ve never made them you simply must. They sound fussy to build, but in fact they’re quite easy and will store well refrigerated, so are an excellent make-ahead dessert. Use the best, local ingredients you can get your hands on. The recipe shown here is our take on this classic.
Serve with a high quality Muscat, Canadian Ice Wine, or a Tawny Port to cut the richness of the bar.
The Not Official UrbanMonique Nanaimo Bar Recipe
½ Cup Unsalted Butter
¼ Dark Brown Sugar
5 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder
1 large Egg
1 ¼ Cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
½ Cup Almonds
1 Cup flaked Coconut
In a dry pan over medium heat, lightly toast the almonds. Allow to cool and finely chop.
In a double boiler over hot, but not simmering water, melt and combine the butter, sugar, and cocoa powder.
Add the egg and stir gently but continuously, until the egg is heated through and the blend begins to thicken. Stay right with this part, as this will set up quite quickly.
Remove from heat add the graham crumbs, coconut, and almonds and combine thoroughly.
Press the mixture by hand into an ungreased 8″ x 8″ pan; your base layer should be roughly 1/2″ thick.
Refrigerate this layer while you work on the next.
½ cup Unsalted Butter
3 Tablespoons Sour Cream
2 Tablespoons Corn Starch
1 1/2 teaspoons pure Vanilla Extract
2 cups Powdered Sugar
In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk briskly to a creamy consistency. You want to incorporate enough air to notably lighten the overall consistency. Spread evenly over the bottom layer.
Return the doubled layers to the fridge.
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
4 Tablespoons unsalted Butter
2 Tablespoons Sour Cream
In a double boiler over medium low heat, combine and thoroughly blend chocolate and butter. Add the sour cream and blend thoroughly
Remove from heat and allow to cool for a moment until the blend starts to thicken.
While the blend is still liquid, pour and spread evenly over the second layer.
Chill the bars in the fridge for at least 4 hours before cutting into roughly 2″ x 4″ bars.
Bars will be good for at least a week refrigerated, but there’s no way on God’s green earth they’ll last that long.