Nanaimo Bars… are they really from Nanaimo? By most accounts, including wickipedia, yes, they are… or Ladysmith actually, but close enough. Although, I think the Ladysmith Bar sounds quite pretty – like something you’d eat with cucumber sandwiches at afternoon tea!
Nanaimo, for my readers outside of British Columbia, is a city on Vancouver Island, located just off the southern coast of BC. And like most Vancouverites, I’m not Vancouver born. I’m an Island girl, from the tiny little town of Cumberland, just north of Nanaimo.
So, the way I see it… it is my duty to make Nanaimo Bars every Christmas, to celebrate my island heritage and pass on the tradition. Yes. My duty, people. And I take that very seriously. Heh.
Nanaimo Bars are another easy square to make. They’re often advertised as “no bake”, which they are, but they do require some cooking and melting so don’t get too excited! Traditionally, they’re filled with vanilla custard but I’ve always made mine a mint filling. Mint/chocolate seems more festive for Christmas. These are another bar that I like to eat semi-frozen. But I get told frequently that I’m weird, so… take that as you will. hehe.
Home-made ones also tend to have a much more humble looking chocolate top than commercially made ones, which I prefer. Commercially baked tops always tastes like a slab of plastic chocolate – even if they look more perfect.
(adapted from The Ultimate Nanaimo Bar Recipe by Joyce Hardcastle, as showcased on the city of Nanaimo’s website)
1/2 cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
1/4 cup sugar
5 tbsp cocoa
1 egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups graham wafer crumbs (you can buy these boxed or bulk – you don’t need to smash up graham crackers – unless that gives you a lot of satisfaction. Then, by all means…)
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut
Melt first 3 ingredients in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken – it will look gloppy for a while but will eventually turn into a nice thick and smooth creamy texture. Remove from heat. Stire in crumbs, coconut and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8×8 pan
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tbsp and 2 tsp of heavy cream
2 tbsp of vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp mint extract
green food colouring as needed
Cream butter, cream, custard powder and icing sugar together well (works best if you sift the sugar in – avoids lumps). Beat until light and fluffy – add mint extract and food colouring (if you wish – you can leave them out). Spread over bottom layer
4 squares (4 oz) semi-sweet chocolate
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool – but still liquid – pour over second layer. This is the trickiest step – if the chocolate is too warm, it will melt the custard and make it very hard to spread without swirling the two layers together (which still tastes good!). Too cold and it’s to difficult to spread. Chill in the refrigerator 2 hours before cutting into bars.
These also freeze up nicely!
These suckers were hard to photograph. I think even harder than the miserable pomegranate salad was. Green is not a fun colour to shoot and I had to play around a lot with my reflector and different white balances to get it to show up right.
They were also tough to style. Food stylists must have the patience of a saint and the steady hand of a surgeon. I have neither. It took ages to cut them out of the pan and out of the 24 squares I got, exactly 4 were photo worthy. And even then, I had to painstakingly take a toothpick to the two that are in focus to scrape off bits of filling and chocolate and get perfectly smooth edges.
Photo 1: 50mm, f1.8, 1/30, 100ISO No exposure compensation on this one.
Photo 2: 50mm, f1.8, 1/125, 800ISO, no exposure compensation. Camera’s not handling the 800ISO too well anymore.
Photo 3: 50mm, f3.5, 1/20, 400ISO, +2/3EV. The higher f stop gives me a larger depth of field which works better for ingredient/overhead shots – it’s still quite shallow though.