WCC#18: Nanaimo Bars

July 5, 2007 at 6:48 pm | Posted in cookies & bars, events, sweet things | 27 Comments

Nanaimo bars

“This looks good.  What is it?” R asked.

“It’s a Nanaimo bar,” I replied. 

I may be from south of the border, but when I saw that the theme of this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge is “red and white,” I immediately thought of the Canadian flag.  Perhaps this was because Canada Day had just passed, or perhaps because Sara from i like to cook (creator and host of WCC) lives in Canada…I don’t know.   I did know that I wanted to make Nanaimo bars, a British Columbian treat named after a city on Vancouver Island, for my entry.  I love these simple bar cookies, with melt-in-your-mouth ganache and filling layers and a chocolaty graham cracker crust (a little goes a long way, though, as they are really sweet).  So I opened a book with a red and white spine, The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, and found the recipe I was looking for. 

I have to admit that I thought this would be a pretty easy recipe to whip up.  I didn’t know that the “challenge” part of the equation would be finding graham crackers here in Sydney.  I went to four different grocery stores, one 7-11 and one import shop, but no luck.  I thought about replacing them with plain chocolate wafers, but couldn’t find those either.  Worn out from my search, I went home and made my own graham crackers from a recipe in the same book.  (While they were quite good on their own, I don’t think making graham crackers from scratch is necessary for these bars.  Therefore, I’m not including those steps below.  If like me, you cannot find them at the store, let me know, and I’ll be happy to add the recipe.)

I don’t remember when I first had a Nanaimo bar, but it could have been on any number of trips up north.   My first time in Canada was with Grandma W, who took me to Vancouver for the 1986 World’s Fair.  Since then, I have traveled extensively through the country.  Two weeks spent on Grand Manan Island with high school classmates sealed my love of the Maritime Provinces.  The cute, smart, funny boy from Dundas, Ontario that I went out with for three years was reason enough to make the trip to the Toronto area several times.  I have probably been to more national parks in Canada than in the US, and I think there is no place more beautiful than the Canadian Rockies in early spring.  Where do I hope to go next?  Maybe PEI or Quebec City.  Although now that I really think about it, while I have been to Victoria, I have never been to Nanaimo…

Nanaimo Bars– makes 48 small bars
adapted from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion

for the crust:
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) sugar
1/3 cup (1 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large egg
1 cup (3 oz) sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup (2 oz) chopped walnuts
1 t vanilla extract
2 cups (10 oz) graham cracker crumbs

for the filling:
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
2 T instant vanilla pudding mix
2 T milk

for the frosting:
1 cup (6 oz) chopped dark chocolate
2 T (1 oz) unsalted butter

-for the crust: Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C.  Grease a 9×9-inch or 11×7-inch pan and line the bottom with parchment.  Combine melted butter, sugar and cocoa in a bowl, then mix in the egg.  Stir in the coconut, chopped nuts, vanilla and graham cracker crumbs.  Press into the botton of the prepared pan and bake for about 10 minutes.  Cool crust completely before filling and frosting.

-for the filling:  Cream the butter by hand in a medium bowl and add in 1 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla.  In a separate small bowl, stir the milk and pudding mix together, then add to the butter mixture.  Add in the remaining powdered sugar and beat vigorously until free of lumps.  Spread over the cooled crust and refrigerate until cold (half an hour is good).

-for the frosting:  Melt the chocolate and butter together using a double boiler or the microwave, stirring until smooth.  Spread and smooth over the chilled bars and refrigerate until set (another half hour or so).  Cut with a sharp knife (heat your knife if you have trouble with the chocolate cracking).


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  1. i can’t believe that you made your own graham crackers! holy cow! i’d love to have the recipe.

  2. I just made a peppermint bar recently. So these look like their beautiful sister. Oh that chocolate on the top!! Yum.

  3. I never had a nanaimo bar before, but then again, I don’t have a sweet tooth, I only like to make sweet stuff 🙂

    You are such a fantastic baker, Steph. I really admire your work.

  4. These look like the perfect bar!

    I feel silly that I live in the US and have never been to Canada, yet you are in Sydney and have traveled through Canada so extensively. It looks like I need Canada to be the next place I visit!!

  5. That looks amazing! Thanks for a great post for WCC!

  6. Wonderful and gorgeous looking! I love bars…

  7. Hey Steph, welcome to Australia! Thanks for visiting my blog. I’m sure you are missing friends at home at the moment, but I assure you, in time, you’ll love it here. I’m originally from Malaysia, but I’ve been here for 19 years and this is home now. I have heard of Manna from Heaven and would love to take a Baking course with them, given the opportunity. I’m glad to hear that someone else on this planet uses Salted Butter for baking! It really does taste better. Have you tried it yourself? You have a Beautiful Blog, BTW, I enjoyed looking at your recipes and will be back for more. Your Nanalmo bars look oh so decadent!!

  8. Excellent interpretation of the theme, these bars look fantastic!

  9. Not to be unpatriotic…. but skip Nanaimo. It is one big strip mall! However there are lots of beautiful places on Vancouver Island to see for sure. Your bars look fabulous.

  10. yummy! I put your recipe on my blog and linked to you…these look really good!

  11. I love these, I make them for the boys I feed (these have approximately 10,000 calories each and look better on 22 year old boys than they would on me) but I never knew where their name came from. Your are much prettier than mine, I must say.

    I am also absolutely dazzled by the fact that you made your own graham crackers. That’s intrepid cooking. Thanks for a beautiful blog; I’m enjoying it a great deal!!

  12. They look so gorgeous….very chocolat.

  13. wow…what a wonderful treat…lovely looking bar, I bet it tastes great…thanks

  14. Wow !! this bars looks amazing and what a beautiful photos !!! Great job

  15. This bar looks delicious. I’ve never seen this before, I will have to give this a try.

  16. We LOVE Nanaimo bars… the following is on the official website for Nanaimo, British Columbia. According to local legend about 35 years ago, a Nanaimo housewife entered her recipe for chocolate squares in a magazine contest. In a burst of civic pride, she chose to dub the entry not “Daphne’s Delights” or “Mary’s Munchies”, but “Nanaimo Bars”. The entry won a prize, thereby publishing the town as much as her cooking. Some American tourists claim sovereignty over the dessert, referred to as “New York Slice” which is sold in many other places in the world. Nanaimo residents refuse to accept this theory, however, believing that once you set foot on Vancouver Island, there are no other places in the world.

  17. Yum, these bars look delicious.

    I just dropped by to let you know that I have tagged you for a meme. Visit my blog for details. I won’t be upset if it’s not your thing.

  18. That’s dedication to make your own crackers. We defintely love our Nanaimo bars in Canada. Have you tried peppermint Nanaimo bars?

  19. hi,
    jumped on your log through another blogger’s blogroll. you have got some lovely recipes here. thanks for sharing.

  20. Oooh, these look delicious!

  21. Hi! This is really similar to millionaire’s shortbread isn’t it? But with a different base obviously…..They look absolutely divine. I am trying very hard not to drool on my desk!

  22. Thanks guys! I will put up that graham cracker recipe as a separate post soon.

    Moody Foodie– I think millionaire’s shortbread also has caramel in the middle…these bars have more of an icing center. Similar concept, though, and both equally delicious!

  23. love these nanaimo bars

  24. I actually live in Nanaimo and I can’t get enough of these things, even after 31 years, they’re still really good, especially if they’re warm and starting to melt a bit.

  25. These are wonderful at holiday time.you can make them as sweet as you wish.Vancouver Island is a 360 mile long island in British Columbia.Nanaimo is 5 minutes away from any lake river or trhe ocean or mountain trail.We have no traffic problem or rush hour….big city people r amazed…we r all out door nature folks…it is a very beautiful place to live Ive traveled the world(love Sydney) but this peaceful little community is where i love most.Nanaimo bars are the creme of the creme…that makes us known to the world along with our famous bathtub race around the stait between Nanaimo and Vancouver

  26. Those look great, however to be authentic use Bird’s custard powder instead of the vanilla pudding :). Super yummy! They are the Christmas treat I make every year!

    • Yes, I did use Bird’s, but I know people can’t find it evreywhere. I should make these again…it’s been too long!

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