By Jeannette Ordas of Everybody likes Sandwiches
If Canada has a national dessert there would be a fight between butter tarts and nanaimo bars. I love both equally and could never be forced to pick a winner. Butter tarts are like pecan pies without the pecans (raisins and walnuts are subbed instead). But a nanaimo bar is something special.
It's a layered bar. The bottom base is chock full of walnuts, coconut and is heady with chocolate. This is my favourite layer because I like the pinch of salt and the nuts that act as a foil to all of the sweetness that comes next. The middle is made with custard but I've never seen a recipe that makes their own custard from scratch. Bird's custard powder is the tool for this job. I'm not sure how readily available it is in the US of A but you can find it easily in grocery stores around Canada and the UK. If you've got a good US source for this, please leave it in the comments. The top layer is pure chocolate ganache and I like to use the best bittersweet chocolate I can buy. Milk chocolate would make this way too sweet and semi-sweet chocolate chips would suffer from the same fate. Good dark chocolate, people, is key! Smack all three layers together and you've got a true Canadian favourite.
If you want to read up about these bars, there is a wikipedia page, of course.
Traditional Nanaimo Bars
If nuts are an allergy concern, feel free to leave them out. Or if you hate walnuts, you might get away with using pecans or almonds, but then we're out of traditional territory. Regarding the custard layer, I've heard rumours that you could use vanilla pudding powder, but that wouldn't be proper here.
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup melted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons Bird's custard powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups icing sugar (aka powdered sugar)
2 tablespoons milk (maybe a little more)
4 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate, chips or chopped
1 tablespoon butter
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, stir together the crumbs, coconut, sugar, walnuts, salt and cocoa. Drizzle in the melted butter and then stir in the egg until well combined. Press mixture into a lightly sprayed or buttered (sides & bottom) 8x8 square cake pan. Bake for 10 minutes and then let cool completely on a wire rack.
Prepare the filling by mixing the butter with the custard powder and vanilla. Stir in the icing sugar, mixing in the milk until smooth. If you need to add in a tiny bit more milk to get it smooth, go ahead. Spread evenly over the base and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
Melt butter with the chocolate in a microwave on low (about 50% power) until melted - about 2 minutes. Stir a few times within the microwave cycle to prevent scorching. Or use a double boiler. The choice is yours. Spread chocolate over the filling and refrigerate for 30 minutes. With your knife, score the bars into squares - I like smaller rectangular bars instead of large squares. Refrigerate for 1 hour and then cut into bars using a knife dipped in hot water to keep the cuts clean. Keep in a covered container in the fridge. Makes 18 squares.