SHF #12 – Nanaimo Bars – Canada

by Jeanne


Happy Birthday! Sugar High Friday is a year old!  So in a small tribute to the event’s originator, Jennifer the Domestic Goddess I have selected a Canadian "custard" based recipe. Thanks to Elise of Simply Recipes for hosting this most indulgent event.

Funny how you eat something somewhere else and it’s a new taste sensation. This is exactly what happened last week when I had my first ever Nanaimo bar.  Or what I thought was my first. 

Growing up my mother made brownies often.  But on special occasions, dinner guests, a fundraiser or a special visitor she would embark on making a layered mint brownie.  Well, Marsha, Marsha, Marsha, let me tell you, those brownies we’re ‘outta sight’!

So there I am with my friend C, who grew up in Ottawa, at a local coffee shop in Banff, before starting off on the first leg of our road trip back to San Francisco.  You should try one of those, she suggests, points with eyes wide. It was two hours (and one black bear sighting) later before we could stop for tea to go with the bar.  Well, to cut the story short, WOW. 

Quick bit of background on the history of this bar.  It is strongly claimed by Nanaimo, Vancouver, B.C. and to have surfaced in the late 1950s.  Some say it’s a coal miner’s treat from 1930s brought over by settlers from Northern England.  Still other stories circulate that it’s from the Dutch settlers that came through in the early 1900s.  In 1986, a Nanaimo newspaper held a recipe contest to find the best of the best.

So it short there now appears to be many variations on the theme and as many thoughts on the origins of this recipe. My Boston-based mother’s recipe is simply a variation on this theme.  There are, to name a few, mint, espresso, cherry-almond and peanut butter. As it was too late to call the East Coast I just improvished as I didn’t have graham cracker crumbs.

While this is not a true baked or cooked custard as there’s no egg in the custard component of this recipe.  But there is a need for custard powder.  This appears to be some agreement out there that one should seek out the British brand Bird’s.  Being that Sam is enjoyng island life I decided that an equivalent American substitute was Jello pudding mix.  Thanks to the good graces of our host Elise at Simply Recipes for the wiggle room.

This coffee break sweet is not for the sugar intolerant–it’ll send you to the moon where you’ll float among the stars in the chocolate heavens. Oh but what a ride it is.

>>>>Continue to Nanaimo Bar Recipe>>>>>

Nanaimo Bars

Best if made a day ahead. While this recipe is good I’m not entirely satisfied with the flavors.  The reason being is that I should have gone with the classical recipe for a first time outing.  I thought a brownie base wold be easier and lighter.  Why must I mess with classics?  There’s a reason, my dear that they are classified as such.  Live, learn and put everyone at the office on a sugar high!.  We can make another batch that much sooner. 

Brownie Base/Bottom Layer

Bible1 The Cooks  Bible, Christopher Kimball

These brownies are delightful, delicate taste.  Creaming the butter with the sugar lends a lighter and moister texture. Which is exactly what this recipe doesn’t need–it needs a denser more chocolate intense slightly chewy brownie base.  So next time that’s what I would do.  However, I have won many a brownie bake-off with this recipe.  When Chris Kimball says 3 minutes he means 3 not 4, not 3 1/2.  3 period. You’ll be duly rewarded.

8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and hot
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 350 degrees; grease 8"x8" square baking pan.

Cream the butter and sugar in a metal bowl with an electric mixer for 3 minutes on high speed.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl every minute (like I said, do this!).  Add the hot melted chocolate and contour beating for one minute on high speed.  If the mixture looks separated or grainy, heat the bowl over a gas flame or run hot water over the bottom.  Continue beating until the mixture looks smooth and dull.

Add the remaining ingredients and fold in gently with a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon.

Pour the butter into baking pan and level out top.  Bake 30-35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the center.  Allow to cool completely before doing the middle layer.

Middle / Second Layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cream PLUS
2 teaspoons cream
2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder ( I used butterscotch)
2 cups icing sugar

Top/ Third Layer
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter


Second Layer

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Third Layer

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, about 8-10 minutes, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

Serving Tip: Dip the cutting knife in warm water to cut.