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
Nanaimo Bars: Butter or spray a 9 x 9 inch (23 x 23 cm) pan 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. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares.
Yield: Makes about 25 squares. Preparation time 45 minutes.
Nanaimo Bars (N.B.s for short) are one of Canada's favorite confections. The beautiful City of Nanaimo, British Columbia has claimed these squares as their own, telling us on their website that it all began when a Nanaimo 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 no-bake, three layered bars are famous for a reason, they are delicious. They start with a crumb base, followed by a layer of light custard buttercream, and the crowning glory is a smooth and glossy layer of semi sweet chocolate.
There are many different recipes for these squares. In fact, when the City of Nanaimo ran a contest back in 1986 to find the 'ultimate' Nanaimo Bar, there were about 100 recipes submitted. All Nanaimo Bars begin with a base layer, a wonderful combination of unsweetened cocoa powder (regular or Dutch-processed), chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans), dried coconut (sweetened or unsweetened) and graham cracker crumbs (or crushed Digestive Biscuits) held together with melted butter. Once this mixture is pressed into a square pan and chilled it is then covered with a rich layer of buttercream made of butter, confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar, custard powder (or vanilla pudding powder), and a little milk. An important part of this buttercream is the dried custard powder, which was the invention of an Englishman, named Alfred Bird. He invented this powder because his wife loved homemade custard but was allergic to eggs. Alan Davidson in his "The Oxford Companion to Food" tells us that this powder is not, in fact, a dried form of real custard but is just cornflour (cornstarch) and sugar that has been colored and flavored. When the dried custard powder is used in this buttercream it adds a nice flavor and color. Now, if you live in the States, custard powder is not readily available. I have found it in specialty food stores (Bird's Custard Powder is the most popular brand) or online, but if you are unable to find it, just substitute it with an equal amount of instant vanilla pudding.
The finishing touch to these squares is a coating of shiny semisweet or bittersweet chocolate that provides a slight crunch as you bite into them. For this recipe, because chocolate is one of the more dominant flavors, make sure to use a good quality chocolate that you enjoy eating out-of-hand. When choosing a chocolate, always look for one that has a lovely shiny finish (a sign that the chocolate was cooked at the right temperature for the right amount of time) and one that has that wonderful 'snap' when you break it into pieces. Once the melted chocolate is poured over the buttercream layer and has been left to set, cut the squares with a sharp knife that has been dipped in hot water and then wiped off.