Olympic Nanaimo Bars

Ever heard of a Nanaimo Bar?  They are a delightful little treat from Nanaimo, British Columbia–not all that far from Vancouver and the 2010 Olympic Winter Games!  You can find these goodies all over the Pacific NW, particularly in coffee shops, and usually in a mammoth sized portion.  They have a chocolate base which often includes graham crackers, coconut, and nuts.  The base is topped with a thick layer of buttercream, which is then topped with a layer of semisweet chocolate.  Heavenly.  And sa-weeeeet!  The original version has vanilla buttercream, my family’s version was always made with a mint buttercream, and commercial versions come in all kinds of flavors and colors.

I actually grew up with Nanaimo Bars, which in my family were called “The Dessert”.  As in The Only Dessert.  The Best Dessert.  The Don’t-Get-Between-Me-And-The-Pan Dessert.  My earlier memories of the treats always include Namo (pet name for my paternal grandmother), who I don’t recall caring much about baking or cooking, but I sure do recall her slapping together a batch of these anytime we went to visit.  And never once snitching on me when I had an extra serving (or five).  Grandmas are the best!

I hadn’t made these in ages, partly because my family version is so tooth-achingly sweet my husband would actually complain about them.  (not me, I still love them.  in small doses).  But with the opening of the Winter Games, I needed a Canadian-themed dessert to take to an Olympic party–and how could I make anything but The Dessert?!

This time around, I made the “original” version, or at least what I found on the Internets that was called original.  Even though it ended up taking two extra trips to the store for forgotten ingredients, and two batches because I scrambled the egg in the first one, it was worth it!  The original version is far better than my family’s quickie version (although I still love those!), less sweet and with more taste and texture.  Even my husband loved them, and I did not expect that at all.  I thought I would have the leftovers to myself.  Silly.

Since I love both versions, and they are quite different in terms of time and ingredients, I’m posting both recipes for y’all.

Nanaimo Bars (from www.gonanaimo.com)

Base Layer:

  • 1/2 cup butter (one stick)
  • 1/4 cup sugar (I only used 2 Tbsp)
  • 5 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)
  • 1 cup grated coconut
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs

Combine butter, sugar, and cocoa powder in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water.  Melt and stir until smooth.  Slowly temper the egg by adding a small amount of the hot butter mixture to it and stirring quickly, to avoid cooking it.  Continue adding small amounts to the egg until it has doubled in volume, then slowly pour the egg into the butter mixture in the double boiler, mixing quickly the whole time.  You do not want to scramble the egg!  Continue to cook and stir another minute or two, until the mixture is fully combined and thickened slightly.  Remove from heat and stir in the nuts, coconut and graham cracker crumbs.  Press the mixture into an 8×8 pan lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper.  Place the pan in the refrigerator.

Buttercream Layer:

  • 2 Tbsp vanilla custard powder (I subbed 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp cream (I used milk)
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Beat butter in a mixer until completely soft and smooth.  Add custard powder or vanilla and mix well.  Add powdered sugar one cup at a time and mix well.  Add cream or milk and mix until the consistency is still stiff but spreadable.  Spread the buttercream evenly over the chocolate base layer in the pan, and then return the pan to the refrigerator.  Wait at least 30 minutes before adding the final chocolate layer.

Chocolate Topping:

  • 100 grams semisweet chocolate (3.5 ounces)
  • 2 Tbsp butter

Place butter and chocolate in a microwave proof bowl and heat about 20 seconds at a time, stirring each time, until completely melted and smooth.  Quickly smooth chocolate mixture over the top of the buttercream, then chill completely before cutting.  To cut, use a very sharp knife heated up under hot water (then dried before cutting).

The Dessert (Seale Family version of Nanaimo Bars)

Base Layer:

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 brownie mix, family size
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup grated coconut

Mix all ingredients well and press into pan (this recipe says 13x9x2?).  Chill the base layer while you work on the buttercream.

Buttercream Layer:

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla (or mint)

Mix well and spread over chocolate layer, return to fridge until completely chilled.

Chocolate Topping:

  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted

Spread over the top of the buttercream, chill until firm.  Cut into small pieces with a very sharp knife.  Share with grandkids, if you have them.

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