Happy Chocolate Monday everyone! Today is our monthly Reveal day for the Secret Recipe Club. This month I was lucky to get a delightful blog, Cheap Ethnic Eatz written by Evelyne. This is a multi-national blog with recipes that American and Canadian audiences will love as well as people from across the globe. If you yearn to be a world traveler and discover cultures through their foods, this is the blog for you.
Montreal, Canada is a natural breeding ground for up and coming gourmands. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec, the second largest city in Canada and the fifteenth largest in North America. But above all Montreal is a cosmopolitan city. French is the city’s official language, but over 30 different languages can be heard as you wander the streets and with a variety of languages come a plethora of cuisines. Evelyne grew up there and thanks to her parents, was introduced to as many foods and ingredients as possible in her childhood. In this supportive, creative environment she could exercise her natural curiosity and developed into one heck of a great cook!
In a tribute to Canada, albeit the other end of the country, today’s recipe is a favorite of people around the world but was created in the town of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Located just north of Victoria, Nanaimo is a lovely city surrounded by some of the most spectacular wilderness in the world. Nanaimo Bars have been around a long time, but in 1986 a contest was held to find the ultimate version. The winner is today’s recipe! If you want more information about Nanaimo or want to plan a visit, see this website: http://www.tourismnanaimo.com/
Nanaimo Bars are made of three distinct layers; the bottom is a blend of graham cracker crumbs, butter, cocoa and coconut for a crunchy texture. The middle layer is a whipped pudding/buttercream that is luxuriously creamy. And the top is a decadent covering of chocolate ganache. You wind up with a crunchy, creamy, fudgy dessert sure to please the child in all of us, especially chocoholics.
I made a few changes to the recipe, but it is fairly close to the original, found here. The bottom layer calls for an egg to be beaten into the butter/cocoa mixture. I needed this to be safer at room temperature, so I substituted molasses, which acts as a binder. The middle layer uses a Canadian product called Bird’s Custard Powder to impart a delightful, very specific flavor. The American equivalent is instant vanilla pudding mix. I also added a bit of vanilla to boost the flavor because I am addicted to vanilla, LOL. If it is a particularly dry day (like it was when I made mine) you may need additional cream. I added an extra 1-1/2 tbsp until it was smooth and easy to spread.
The original recipe called for unsalted butter, but because The Artist doesn’t care for desserts that are too sweet, I used regular salted butter instead and added a pinch of salt to the bottom and middle layers. I also used unsweetened coconut, again to help cut back a touch on the sweetness. I used almonds, chopped fairly finely in a food processor, but you could use walnuts or pecans too.
This is an easy recipe, just a bit time consuming. You have to wait for each layer to chill before adding the next. If you use a metal baking pan, it will speed up the process because it conducts temperature better than most materials. Children would love to help pat the bottom layer into the pan. When you pour on the top layer, work quickly before the buttercream/pudding melts beneath it. If you have someone who can pour the chocolate while you spread it, it would be perfect.
There is lots of room for interpretation too. I think adding dried cherries or cranberries to the bottom layer would be delicious. You could make the middle layer chocolate as well for the insatiable chocoholics in your life. If you want to get a bit fancier than I did, you can melt some white chocolate and use it to drizzle over the top of the ganache, either before or after cutting them. These are extremely rich so I recommend that you cut these into small squares.
Have a wonderful week!
- Bottom Layer
- 1-1/4 cups (160 g) graham cracker crumbs
- 1/2 cup (55 g) almonds, finely chopped (use a food processor if possible)
- 1 cup (130 g) unsweetened coconut (substitute extra nuts if you don’t like coconut)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick/115 g) butter
- 1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp molasses, optional
- Pinch salt
- 5 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (either Dutch processed or natural)
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Middle Layer
- 1/2 cup (1 stick/115 g) butter, at room temperature
- 2 to 3 tbsp heavy cream (plus more if needed, see note)
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp vanilla custard powder such as Bird’s Custard Powder (available at Whole Foods stores or online at Amazon) or instant vanilla pudding mix
- Pinch salt
- 2 cups (254 g) Confectioners’ or icing sugar, sifted
- Top Layer
- 6 oz (170 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 2 tbsp (28 g) butter
- Optional Topping
- Melted white chocolate, for drizzling
- For the easiest serving, line an 8x8-inch pan (a 9x9-inch pan will also work, the bars will just be thinner) with parchment or foil, making the pieces long enough to drape over the edges, creating “handles.”
- For Bottom Layer: Combine crumbs, almonds, and coconut in a large mixing bowl; set aside.
- Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, molasses, salt, and cocoa. Return to the heat (medium-low) and cook, whisking constantly until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Pour into crumb mixture, and using a spatula, stir until evenly mixed.
- Pour into prepared baking pan and smooth to an even layer, making sure you press it into the corners. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 30 to 60 minutes.
- For Middle Layer: Cream butter until smooth, then add cream, vanilla pudding mix, salt, and Confectioners’ sugar. Beat on low until smooth and blended, scraping bowl as needed. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes, or until sugar is dissolved. If you do not beat this long enough it will be grainy. You want it to be the consistency of a thick buttercream frosting. Add a touch more of cream if needed for a spreadable consistency.
- Spread smoothly over bottom layer using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
- For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and butter together in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan with barely simmering water over low heat. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly (cooling isn’t needed as much if middle layer is very well chilled. (See Cook’s Note below.)
- Pour over middle layer, smooth top with an offset spatula making sure the entire surface is covered, cover and chill until chocolate has set, about 15 minutes. If desired, you can drizzle some melted white chocolate in a decorative pattern over the top or on the plate before serving.
- To serve, lift cooled bars out of pan (using the parchment to assist) and set on a cutting surface. If you want perfect edges, cut a thin slice off of each side. You can nibble on these pieces while saving the squares for your guests. Use a very sharp hot knife and slice into equal small squares. NOTE: Heat the knife under hot running water and wipe dry with a cloth. The hot knife will cut right through the bars, but may leave some smears of the chocolate on the white layer. Reheat and wipe dry after each cut.
- You can also cut these right in the baking pan. Start by cutting around the sides of the pan then into small squares. If the chocolate top is cracking, let warm up about 5 minutes before continuing. Use a small offset spatula or knife to ease them out. Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Serve cool or at room temperature.
- These bars freeze very well, so make some extra and pop them into the freezer, tightly covered. The graham cracker crumbs may be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
- Yield: 16 to 25 squares (depending on size of pan you use and size of squares)
- It is very important that the chocolate be cool but still liquid. If not, the custard layer will melt and mix with the chocolate, becoming difficult to spread. Allow the chocolate mixture to cool to room temperature but not solidify before spreading the top layer on. Chilling the layers will also help with this step.
- If you want a fancier presentation, you can use a round cake pan in lieu of a square one. Cut into wedges and serve as you would a piece of pie.
Here are more recipes from The Secret Recipe Club just for you!