I first saw these amazing bars when visiting Victoria for my sister’s birthday weekend. My mom and I popped into a little coffee-house to pick up some liquid caffeine and while we were waiting I drooled over the divine treats in their glass cases. These caught my eye as I’d never heard of them before. When I asked what they were, pronouncing the name wrong, the barista looked at me like I was insane. It is pronounced “nuh-NI-mo” sounds like “The wino”. Apparently these are a really big deal in Canada.
I looked them up when I got home and found that it all began when a 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 three-layered, no bake dessert squares start with a chocolate crumb base, get a topper of sweet custardy creamy goodness and are finished off with a chocolate layer. They are sweet and rich and amazing. Now that I’ve had one, I understand the confusion on the clerk’s face at my obvious lack of dessert knowledge.
How can you go wrong when the first layer is chocolate, butter and sugar all bound together by coconut, grahams and nuts? Ah-mazing. It’s like a graham cracker crust on crack. Maybe I shouldn’t use that phrase as much as I do. I actually have zero clue what being on crack is like. For some reason it just what I label anything that seems a little crazy and totally bad but is actually a notch more awesome than normal. Don’t do drugs. Bad. Ok, back to the dessert. The middle layer has the goodness of vanilla pudding sweetened with powdered sugar and enriched with cream and butter. Oh sweet perfection. Top it off with a chocolate ganache. Yeah baby.
I cannot decide which layer I like best. The base is really beyond description. Even if you aren’t a coconut (or nut) fan, try these – it all kind of just blends together in a perfect crunchy and sweet crust. Seriously. Could a no bake dessert be any more decadent? I think not. Oh Canada. Well done you.
from Joy of Baking
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar
1/3 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (regular or Dutch-processed)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (200 grams) graham cracker crumbs or crushed Digestive Biscuits
1 cup (65 grams) sweetened or unsweetened coconut (shredded or flaked)
1/2 cup (50 grams) walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (56 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 – 3 tablespoons milk or cream
2 tablespoons (20 grams) vanilla custard powder (Bird’s) or vanilla pudding powder
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (230 grams) powdered sugar (confectioners or icing) sugar
4 ounces (120 grams) semisweet chocolate
1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter
Put a foil sling in a 9 x 9 inch pan and spray 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).
Middle Layer: 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. Remove using the foil sling & using a sharp knife (or a pastry cutter!), cut into squares.