Nanaimo Bars (N.B.s
for short) are one of Canada's favorite confections. The beautiful
Nanaimo, British Columbia has claimed these squares as their own, telling us on their
website that it all began when a Nanaimo housewife entered a recipe for
chocolate squares in a magazine contest some 35 years ago. She called her
recipe 'Nanaimo Bars' and when she won the contest, not only did her
dessert become popular throughout Canada, so did the town they were named
after. These no-bake, three layered bars
are famous for a reason, they are delicious. They start with a crumb base, followed by a
layer of light custard buttercream, and the crowning glory is a smooth and
glossy layer of
semi sweet chocolate.
There are many different recipes for these squares. In fact, when
the City of Nanaimo ran a contest back in 1986 to find the 'ultimate'
Nanaimo Bar, there were about 100 recipes submitted. All Nanaimo Bars
begin with a base layer, a wonderful combination of unsweetened cocoa
powder (regular or Dutch-processed), chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans),
dried coconut (sweetened or unsweetened) and graham cracker crumbs (or
crushed Digestive Biscuits) held together with melted butter.
Once this mixture is pressed into a square pan and chilled it is
then covered with a rich layer of buttercream made of butter,
confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar,
custard powder (or vanilla pudding powder), and a little milk. An important part of this buttercream is the dried custard powder, which was the invention of an
Englishman, named Alfred Bird. He invented this powder because his wife
loved homemade custard but was allergic to eggs. Alan Davidson in his "The
Oxford Companion to Food" tells us that this powder is not, in fact, a
dried form of real custard but is just cornflour (cornstarch) and sugar
that has been colored and flavored. When the dried custard powder is used in this buttercream
it adds a nice flavor and color. Now, if you live in the States, custard powder
is not readily available. I have found it in specialty food stores (Bird's
Custard Powder is the most popular brand) or online, but if you are unable
to find it, just
substitute it with an equal amount of instant vanilla pudding.
The finishing touch to these squares is a
coating of shiny semisweet or bittersweet chocolate that provides a slight crunch as you
bite into them. For this recipe, because chocolate is one of the more
dominant flavors, make sure to use a good quality chocolate that you enjoy
eating out-of-hand. When choosing a chocolate, always look for one that
has a lovely shiny finish (a sign that the chocolate was cooked at the
right temperature for the right amount of time) and one that has that
wonderful 'snap' when you break it into pieces. Once the melted chocolate
is poured over the buttercream layer and has been left to set, cut the
squares with a sharp knife that has been dipped in hot water and then
Nanaimo Bars: Butter
or spray a 9 x 9 inch (23 x 23 cm) pan
with a non stick vegetable spray.
Bottom Layer: In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter.
Remove from heat and stir in the
sugar and cocoa powder and then gradually whisk in the beaten egg. Return the
saucepan to low heat and cook,
stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (1 - 2 minutes). Remove
from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and
chopped nuts. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Cover
with plastic wrap
and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).
In your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter until smooth and
creamy. Add the
remaining ingredients and beat until the mixture is smooth. If the mixture is too thick to spread, add a little
more milk. Spread the filling over the bottom layer, cover, and
refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes).
Top Layer: Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Then, in a heatproof
bowl, over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter. Spread
the melted chocolate evenly over the filling and refrigerate for about 10
minutes or just until the chocolate
has set. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares.
Yield: Makes about 25 squares.
Preparation time 45 minutes.
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