Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Canada's Favo(u)rite

I am shamefully late in posting this.  Sorry.  Life got in the way.

Since we’re in the second year of this here blog, I thought I would try something new. So, I am going to do a new series:  Around the World in Desserts!  Every month (sometimes more), I will bring you a recipe for a dessert from another country.  I am really excited about this. I have always been fascinated by the foods of other cultures, and especially the desserts (big surprise, right?).

This month, we go to Canada!  Ever since the last Winter Olympics, I have been seeing recipes for Nanaimo bars on the blogosphere.  They looked really really good, but I never made them.  Since I’ve been thinking about them for so long, I figured they were a good candidate for the first of the new series.

Nanaimo  bars originate out of Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, south of the city of Nanaimo.  A local housewife submitted the recipe for the bars in the early 1950s to a regional cookbook.  As with many popular desserts, they soon became very popular with locals and tourists, and the bars soon became known as “Nanaimo bars”. 

A Nanaimo bar consisted of three layers, none of which are baked (it’s not cheating when it’s this good).  The base is a chocolate, graham cracker, coconut and almond cookie layer.  The middle is a vanilla custard buttercream filling, and the top is chocolate.  These were so tasty.  Amazing, in fact.  Even coming from me, and my general dislike of buttercream.  And, they are pretty easy to make!  They just require a little time, as each layer has to set in the fridge before adding the next layer. 

One ingredient that is called for is not all that common in the US – custard powder.  I read a lot of blogs that said that they couldn’t find custard powder locally, so they substituted vanilla pudding mix instead.  I must be lucky, because I found custard powder in the small local grocery store near my house.  Actually, I wouldn’t have even looked at that store, but I discovered I had the wrong flavor pudding mix, so I had to go to the store anyway.  Lucky accident I guess. 

I have heard that these bars freeze nicely.  I would have tried that out, but I didn’t get the chance.  Every one of them was eaten by someone, and all but one person (who has a crazy aversion to coconut) loved them. 

Nanaimo Bars
Source: That Winsome Girl (who got the recipe from someone else)
Makes 16 bars

Bottom Layer

½ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
5 Tbsp cocoa
1 egg, beaten
1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs (that was 11 graham cracker sheets for me)
½ cup blanched almonds
1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add eggs and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts (works well if you grind up the graham crackers, and then add the coconut and nuts to the food processor and grind them all together to make an even mixture). Press firmly into a parchment-lined 8” x 8” pan. Refrigerate while making second layer.

Second Layer

½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp and 2 tsp cream
2 Tbsp vanilla custard powder (or vanilla pudding mix)
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and powdered sugar together well.  Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer. Refrigerate while making third layer.

Third Layer

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (chips are fine, or a bar that has been chopped up)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter *
*I ended up using 3 Tbsp butter.  I started with 2, but the chocolate was not melting to a nice pourable consistency.  I added the other tablespoon of butter and all was good.

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator. Slice with a warm knife when ready to serve.

A note about slicing: To get nice clean cuts, that make a minimum amount of chocolate smears on the cream layer, run the knife under hot water, wipe it dry, and do one slice. JUST ONE! Wipe the knife off, and repeat the whole process.  Yes, it’s kind of nit-picky, but it makes for clean cuts.

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