I may have mentioned before that the best thing about baking/cooking for me is when I get to do it for the enjoyment of others. Such was the case this past weekend. A friend of ours was celebrating a milestone birthday (I won’t say which one) and I wanted to bring something along for everyone to enjoy. With the string of hot days we’ve had around here, something from the oven didn’t sound too appealing. It needed to be something that could be done with a minimal amount of heat.
I seemed to recall a no-bake, minimal cook recipe I had read about in the past. Then I recalled that our friend had mentioned recently that her favorite dessert was Nanaimo Bars. Our friend proudly hails from Canada, and from what I’ve heard, Nanaimo Bars are a pretty big deal for Canadians, so much so that they even enjoy the distinction of being kind of an ‘official’ dessert of Canada. I knew of these bars, but I had never had, much less made one before. So, I hit the web to see what I could find.
What I discovered was that there are about as many recipes for Nanaimo Bars as there are Canadian bakers. Everyone seems to have their version of this recipe, but they seem to come down to a few key factors (Canadians, please feel free to correct me if I get any of this wrong). Nanaimo Bars (named after the city in Canada where they were invented) are a bar dessert consisting of 3 layers. Layer 1 is a base of graham crackers, coconut, some kind of nut, butter and chocolate. Layer 2 consists of a kind of sweet custard/frosting that can apparently be made with a number of different flavors and/or colors – the key to this layer, apparently, is custard powder, something I’ve never seen before. Layer 3, the top layer, is a simple layer of melted chocolate or even a ganache.
Preparation is fairly simple. Some stove work is needed, but it’s minimal, so this is a nice dessert to prepare in the heat of the summer. Since I’m not much of a coconut fan, I decided to use my food processor to not only crush the graham crackers, but to cut the coconut down to tiny little pieces – the flavor was still there, but those somewhat difficult to chew shreds of coconut were easier for my mouth to deal with.
The results were great. The recipe called for a 9 inch x 9 inch pan, but I was cooking for a group, so I doubled the recipe and used a 9 inch x 13 inch pan. Since doubling a recipe designed for 9×9 is more than what you would get for a 9×13 pan, my bars turned out a little thicker than they would have been, but no one complained. In fact, everyone raved about them. The birthday girl, gave an official Canadian thumbs up. I asked if they were ‘authentic’. She said they were close. What did she notice was different? Well, remember that custard powder I mentioned? I didn’t have any, so the recipe suggested that I could substitute vanilla pudding mix instead. You know what? She could tell the difference. I don’t know how much difference this custard powder makes, but I guess I’m going to have to try it for myself sometime.