Monday, November 23, 2009

Nanaimo Bars

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

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!

Nanaimo Bars
Adapted from The City of Nanaimo
Printable Recipe
Makes ~50 bars

Bottom Layer
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.

Middle Layer
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.

Top 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!

46 comments:

Jenn said...

These look delicious!! I so wish I came across these on my last trip to Victoria/Vancouver Island!

The Double Dipped Life said...

These look divine! Definitely something that I will have to try!

Stephanie said...

I'm a proud British Columbian and I don't think there is anything wrong with having the Heath bits in the bottom layer.... although we don't have Heath bars in BC (I think it is like Skor?)... I'm going to grab some Heath bars when I am in Seattle next weekend and try making Nanaimo bars like this! They truly are delicious!!!

Lauren said...

Well, Heath bars aren't a typical addition (what are they anyways?), but as long as you loved 'em, thats good with me =D.

Amy I. said...

Thanks everyone! Yes, Heath bars are like Skor bars...crunchy toffee dipped in chocolate. Here in the US they sell bags of crumbled up Heath bar to use in baking. YUM.

Anne said...

Remember when you discovered garlic soup and suddenly were seeing it everywhere? The last few days have been like that for me with Nanaimo bars. I first heard about them via your Twitter feed. Then I saw them mentioned somewhere else. Then yesterday a couple of the actors were Canadian, so they started talking about Nanaimo bars. One of them was actually from Nanaimo!

I don't know why my boyfriend never told me about them (he went to school for two years on Vancouver Island, and apparently he's familiar with them), but now that I know, I'm going to make them soon!

Maria said...

I can't believe I haven't made these yet!

Megan said...

I actually heard about these recently, but I can't remember where -- maybe on another blog. I remember being tempted by them then, and now I'm definitely tempted by them again especially with your addition of Heath toffee bits. They sound heavenly!

Anonymous said...

Nanaimo bars are my absolute favorite treat! If you ever head to Niagara-on-the-lake (canadian side of Niagara Falls) the bakeries there make HUMONGOUS ones. (Like, four inches to a side. Nom.)

You can also add things to the creme in the middle if you like variety. I've made cherry nanaimos with maraschino cherries in the creme, orange ones with cointreau and candied orange peel, and mint ones with creme de menthe (definitely my favorite.) Have fun! :)

tiff said...

Here in Canada you can buy 'Skor' bits for baking too. I think they would make a fine addition! Mmmm Nanaimo Bars are so good!

Mike Allen said...

I live in Nanaimo BC, and it's nice to see some of our treats make it so far away!

Jess said...

I had no idea nanaimo bars were Canadian born (and I'm Canadian!), I really thought they were a widely known common treat!

Thinking about how Americans are missing out on nanaimos makes me wonder about what glorious treats-from-abroad I must be missing out on!

Joy said...

I love Nanaimo Bars and they're something I don't indulge in too often...I'm guessing you know why. :p They're so yummy, though!

Anonymous said...

Definitely heresy, but that wouldn't stop me XD

Jen said...

Wow, those look delicious!! I've got to try those. Plus, adding Heath to anything could only make it better :)

Cheryl said...

We have them in Oregon at Haggen's, but I remember them from my younger days, they are the ultimate treat!

ginny said...

mmmmm Nanaimo Bars..... Thanks for the great recipe & pic!
Want to know another sweet Canadian secret? Butter Tarts! Try them, you'll fall in love!

Anonymous said...

I live in Nanaimo, and it's totally fine to get creative with your Nanaimo bars! My favourite is the kind with mint butter cream. They are green instead yellow! Very popular here at Christmas time.

Megan said...

I went to Canada about a year and a half ago and I did see these everywhere. I did't know what I was missing and never did buy one. Guess I'll have to make these. Oh darn! ;)

Scary Mommy said...

Those look amazing!!! Wow. I'm literally drooling.

Julie said...

I'm from Australia and would love to know a bit more about Graham crackers (can't get them here) so I can try to duplicate the recipe.
Thanks

Amy I. said...

Julie~ Hi, thanks for stopping by! Here is some info on graham crackers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_crackers

If you'd like to try making them, there are lots of recipes out there. I'd recommend using foodblogsearch.com, it's one of my favorite sources for recipes.

Good luck!

Cate said...

I had to go all the way to a Canadian bakery in Vientiane, Laos, to find out about these...I definitely plan on making them A LOT when I get home, though! That picture is completely drool-inducing!

Sibyl said...

While I live in Texas, my mother is Canadian, but we always called these treats New York Specials. It's a tradition to have them around Christmas time. I always beg my mother to make them, the cream middle I make is always too soft. I'll have to tell her about adding Heath bars, she'll love that idea.

Jan said...

I live in British Columbia and have been making these since I was a kid. I've been putting the Skor chips in the crust and sprinkling them over the chocolate top for about 3 years....but the best part is I make them at Christmas with Bailey's Irish Cream and Frangelico liqueurs. Simply eliminate the milk/cream from the middle filling and replace with your favorite liqueur. Cheers :o)

Sam said...

I make these for my family all the time. I have a regular following of people that love these. My mother taught me to make this lovely treat when I was a young lad. The only thing that I noticed was the choice of nuts. I use pecans or walnuts. I also have a sister in Canada that sends me my custard powder when I run out. My have to try the pudding instead and see how that goes with my taste testers.

Julie And Mike said...

These bars are Canadian? Wow. My family has been making them in Wisconsin for as long as I can remember. My recipe came from my Polish grandmother, who called them East End Bars (don't ask me why!).

Linda said...

In Canada, you can actually get a prepared mix in the baking aisle of the grocery store to make Nanaimo bars. You don't even have to make them from scratch!

Amanda said...

I have always wanted to make these, yours look amazing!

Quinn said...

Is Hatch green chile really that known outside of New Mexico?
Also, those bars look delicious! :D

Cheers from Albuquerque, NM,
-Q

Anonymous said...

Been looking at these long enough, going to try them this weekend...but I may try your peanut variation! And I absolutely agree with you, as a Native New Mexican who has been all over, that Hatch green chile is infamous and I'm so happy to be home!! we'll see if I'm jealous of those Canadians this time next week :)

beverlyz said...

What divine looking bars!

Ailyhsaun said...

I have to say this is not the only treat from canada that americans go "huh what?" when you say the name ... try Poutine (Pooteen). I have met many an american friend who had no CLUE what this dish is. French fries, gravy (I have had beef and chicken, both taste good) and cheese curds (some places use shredded cheese, but you need curds for it to be Right)

susanl800 said...

I worked in Montreal for a while (I'm Irish) and one of my collegues - my authority on all things Canadian brought these into work one day. I think they were minty in the middle. I'll always be grateful to him. I embraced many Canadian customs, but I never managed the poutine. Not too surprising since I've also passed on the fine Irish custom of curried/ gravy chip usually eaten at the end of a beer-filled night out.

So now that I've got an actual recipe for the Nanaimo bars, I'm off to make some for myself. Brings back memories..

noahtemple said...

I love you.

BoutiqueKarma said...

I'm from Montreal as well, I love Nanaimo bars, but never realized they were a BC treat.

Your recipe looks delicious - and I love the idea of the toffee bits (Score here). I think Susan doesn't know what she missing skipping out on the tradition Quebecois poutine or the curried 'chips'

BoutiqueKarma said...

I'm from Montreal as well, I love Nanaimo bars, but never realized they were a BC treat.

Your recipe looks delicious - and I love the idea of the toffee bits (Score here). I think Susan doesn't know what she missing skipping out on the tradition Quebecois poutine or the curried 'chips'

Jen said...

Hi,
These look fantastic! You said it calls for coconut. What kind? (shredded, unsweetened, creamed, etc.)
Thanks!
Jen

Amy I. said...

Hi Jen, use shredded coconut. Cheers! Amy

Jen said...

Thanks!:) They look super yummy.

Reeja Roo said...

Just stumbled across this. I grew up 1 hour North of Nanaimo and my mom and grandma made Nanaimo bars every Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. I just assumed they were part and parcel of the whole turkey dinner thing and that the name was just a coincidence. I feel sad knowing that not everyone has heard of them! Spread the word!

Reeja Roo said...

I just stumbled across this. I grew up an hour north of Nanaimo and my mom and grandma made Nanaimo bars every Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. I just assumed they were part and parcel of the whole turkey dinner thing and that the name was just a coincidence. I can't believe people are going around living their lives not having heard of these! Spread the word!

Reeja Roo said...

Awww crap - I posted twice.

michelle's 10 things said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
michelle's 10 things said...

Just found this (through the wonderful PINTEREST). Do you use cook or instant puddind? Thank you. Michelle

Lisa M said...

Nanaimo Bars are so much a part of Canadian traditions that we have jokes about them. "If you eat a frozen one, there are no calories." I convinced some US friends that "nanaimo" is a native word meaning "no calories". You haven't had a real one though until it is made with Bird's Custard Powder Mix produced in the UK. Vanilla powder is just not the same. Sorry.

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