If you've never had a Nanaimo Bar, you are missing out on one of life's greatest delights, and a few hundred calories, but those calories are totally worth eating. The mister and I spent last weekend in Victoria, BC and we worked diligently, in the name of research, to find the best tasting Nanaimo Bar in all of British Columbia because that's where they supposedly originated. I say supposedly because there are numerous recipes, with names like Chocolate Slice, Dirt Candy, Mabel's Squares and London Fog Bars that have almost the exact ingredients but originated in various cities around the globe! There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to desserts! Also in the name of research, I made several different recipes trying to duplicate the best tasting Nanaimo Bar we had, the one from (Granville Island Market was the best) and I did this for you, me and my posterity, because going through life without Nanaimo Bars is just cruel.
We crossed the border at Blaine, WA, which is about a two hour drive from our house. The Peace Arch Park at the border is beautiful, it's on the American side and there were a lot of kids running around while one of their parents sat in their car and inched their way forward to gates...it was a long wait at the border! Once we had crossed onto foreign land, we headed straight for the Tsawwassen Ferry which took us to Vancouver Island. It was a beautiful day - and we sailed around islands and in between islands to get to Victoria, which I have learned, is the 8th largest island in the world and Canada's 2nd largest island and it's slightly larger than Great Britain! That's all the schooling I'm going to do today, so sit back and relax.
We played tourists in Victoria - walked around the harbor, strolled the beautiful grounds of the Empress Hotel and went in and out of every tourist shop, where we conversed with the Canucks behind the counters in their native tongue, eh?
Victoria is full of tourists - and we ran into dozens and dozens of groups of Japanese students everywhere we went. The mister wanted to know why so many of them were carrying golf clubs...I told him they weren't golf clubs but selfie sticks and we stopped and watched several of them pose - then I showed the mister how easy it is to photobomb - and we amused ourselves by walking discreetly behind various groups of posed and oblivious students while staring into their cameras...it's the little things, I tell ya...the couple that photobombs together, stays together...feel free to quote me. We explored China Town, spent way too much time and $$$ in Rogers Chocolates and had dinner in a great Irish Pub called Irish Times, where I almost ordered the most popular Canadian dish there is, Poutine, but after gobs of chocolate I just couldn't justify eating French fires smothered in gravy and cheese curds.
The reason we went to Victoria was so the mister could see Butchart Gardens - it was on his Bucket List. I had been to the Gardens 20 years before and know just how wonderful it is so I was all in favor of going again! And the Gardens didn't disappoint!
Incredible. No other words for it, except maybe freakin' awesome incredible! Everything was in bloom and so very beautiful...it was a bit depressing to realize everything in those gardens were plants that I have tried and failed to grow in my yard...in my next life I am going to have at least one green thumb!
So let's talk Nanaimo Bars...three luscious layers of serious YUM. The best bars had crusts with cocoa, coconut, crushed grahams, chopped almonds and held together with melted butter...several of the versions we tasted had one or more of those ingredients missing...so they were quickly dismissed as inferior. The middle layer is a custard - not a frosting as some of the wannabe bars had...and the custard is made with Birds Custard Powder, which is available at World Markets and, of course, in Canada! You can't have a Nanaimo Bar without Birds Custard Powder...and I think that's a Canadian law. By the way, there are all sorts of "interesting" laws in Canada - like in Ontario you can't yell, scream or whistle in certain cities and it's illegal to skinny dip, which makes sense because if you're going to skinny dip in the frigid tundra you're going to want to yell and scream! It's also illegal to pretend to practice witchcraft anywhere in Canada so believe me, I kept my broom out of sight! In British Columbia it is illegal to kill a Sasquatch, yes, that's a real law, which is so funny because who would ever be crazy enough to believe someone would want to kill a Sasquatch?!?!?
Crust. Filling. Chocolate ganache topping. Chocolate so s m o o t h your teeth will sink right through to the filling and crust without the chocolate cracking and falling all over the place. I hate when that happens! Real Nanaimo Bars don't crack when cut or eaten...so it's easy to detect an impostor, and/or cheap chocolate. You're going to want to use the good stuff here...no waxy chocolate chips allowed!
The crust is pressed into an 8x8-inch pan to set - don't worry that the crust will be too thick and don't even think about using a bigger size pan!! It's the ratio of crust to filling to topping that make Nanaimo Bars so great - so if you have a thinner crust, well, you'll be missing out and that would be a cryin' shame! The crust takes about 10 minutes in the refrigerator to cool and while it's cooling, the custard filling is made - and it's so easy you won't believe it - no cooking, just blend with a mixer and it's ready to go!
Cream, butter, powdered sugar and Birds Custard Powder...I'm telling you straight, this stuff is lethal. It's spread on top of the cooled crust and then popped back into the fridge for about 20 minutes.
When the filling is cold, the ganache, which has been cooled a bit, is poured over the top and then back into the fridge it goes for the final chill...be patient grasshopper, it doesn't take long before the Nanaimo Bars are set and ready to be cut. This should go without saying but I'm going to say it anyway...this is a 5-Danger recipe. Roll out that Dang Meter and ring it loud and clear, these are dang, dang, dang, dang, dang good and worthy of any weight gain/coma that might incur.
Nanaimo Bars - Adapted from several recipes, including Canadian Living Magazine, Taste of Home and All Recipes.com
(Canadian Living Magazine recipe uses walnuts, not almonds. Taste of Home recipe calls for vanilla pudding not Bird's Custard and allrecipes.com uses unsalted butter and no extra salt in the recipe. Plus the directions on these recipes (and several others) left out one little but important thing - you have to temper the egg before adding it to the hot chocolate mixture or it will curdle! Obviously I thought those things needed to be rectified!)
For the Crust:
1/2 cup salted butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cocoa
pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten
1 3/4 cups crushed graham crackers, (about 11 whole crackers)
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
1 cup shredded coconut
For the Filling:
1/2 cup salted butter
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons Birds Custard Powder
2 cups powdered sugar
For the Topping:
4 oz. good quality semi-sweet chocolate
2 teaspoons butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream
To make the crust: In the top of a double boiler, combine 1/2 cup butter, white sugar, cocoa and pinch of salt. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. In a small bowl, beat the egg. Take about a tablespoon of the hot chocolate mixture and stir into the egg then repeat with another tablespoon of chocolate into the egg, to temper the egg. Pour the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture and stir until thick, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and mix in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and almonds until combined. Press mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 8x8-inch pan.
Make the filling: In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, heavy cream and custard powder until fluffy. Mix in the powdered sugar until smooth. Spread over the bottom layer in the pan. Put in refrigerator to chill until set, about 10 minutes.
Make the topping: In the top of a double boiler, melt the chocolate with butter and cream over low heat. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes. Spread over the chilled bars. Return to the refrigerator until top is set, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cut into squares, but cut small ones as they are very rich! Makes 16 generous-sized bars.