Other than my short stint as a resident of New York City, I've never lived in a city with a "signature" food. I'm talking about claim-to-fame level: cheese steaks from Philadelphia, coffee from Seattle, Hatch chiles from New Mexico. These Nanaimo Bars are the ultimate signature food, from beautiful Nanaimo, British Columbia on Vancouver Island in Canada.
Nanaimo bars are a rich, decadent, 3-layer, no-bake treat. The bottom crust layer is chocolate, graham cracker crumbs, almonds, and coconut. I'm not sure if this is heresy (Canadian friends? Thoughts?), but I added 1/2 cup of Heath toffee bits to the bottom layer too. Next time I'd add even more, I'm crazy about the stuff. The middle layer is a creamy vanilla custard, and the top is a thin layer of solid chocolate.
These bars are ubiquitous in Canada. It's unfathomable that anyone might not have heard of them. Here in the U.S., it's a completely different story. I had to sheepishly ask how to pronounce the name (Nah-Nye-Moh), and of the dozens of people I served these to, almost none had heard of them either. I'm puzzled by this disparity, and it's now my official mission to let every American I know in on one of Canada's best-kept secrets!
Adapted from The City of Nanaimo
Makes ~50 bars
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 egg, beaten
1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut
½ c. Heath toffee bits (optional)
Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, nuts, and toffee if using. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. half-and-half
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder or powdered vanilla pudding mix
2 cups powdered sugar
Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer. Chill in refrigerator for several hours before cutting and serving. Cut into small pieces, they're rich!