Though Nanaimo, British Columbia is far away from Niagara Falls, Ontario, the two cities are inseparably linked by an infamous Canadian treat: Nanaimo bars. These gooey, layered, no-bake sweets are among top favorites of children and adults alike throughout Canadian provinces and on your next trip to Niagara Falls, you are more than likely to spot a tower or two in bakery windows everywhere.
However, if you are itching to start your vacation early, you can quickly and easily whip up a batch of Nanaimo bars in your home kitchen. With a few familiar supplies and some hungry helpers, you’ll feel like you’re north of the border in no time.
The Traditional Recipe
Different recipes for the iconic Nanaimo bar have been floating around Canada since the 1950s, but since a contest held by the Nanaimo mayor in 1986, one recipe has stood out from the rest. The following is the best beloved recipe for regular Nanaimo bars, as created by Ms. Joyce Hardcastle of Nanaimo.
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 5 tablespoons cocoa
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
- 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
Melt the butter, sugar, and cocoa together in a double boiler (not a microwave). Add the egg, and stir; the egg should cook and thicken the mixture. Stir in the remaining ingredients, and press firmly into an ungreased 8-inch by 8-inch pan.
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons cream
- 2 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix
- 2 cups icing sugar
Cream all four ingredients together, and continue beating until mixture is light. Spread evenly over first layer.
- 4 one-ounce squares semi-sweet chocolate
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Melt both ingredients over low heat to combine, then let cool. Once cool, pour over second layer. Chill in the refrigerator until third layer is hard, then cut into manageable bars and enjoy.
Of course, that was the most basic form of Nanaimo bar, which provides diners with a simple and pleasurable combination of crumble, custard, and chocolate. Innovative bakers love to experiment with this fundamental formula to craft even more creative concoctions. Here are some of the more exciting and exotic Nanaimo bar variations to come out of Canadian kitchens:
- Maple Nanaimo bars. It wouldn’t be truly Canadian if we couldn’t make it maple-flavored. To make these patriotic treats, add 1/2 cup chopped walnuts to the first layer and 1 1/2 tablespoons dark maple syrup to the second layer.
- Blondie Nanaimo bars. Surprisingly, some people don’t find pleasure in the thick chocolate topping of Nanaimo bars. To please them, you can make Nanaimo bars with a thinner white chocolate third layer by substituting the butter and chocolate with 3/4-cup white chocolate chips.
- Maple Canadian Bacon Nanaimo bars. The small amount of saltiness provided by the Canadian bacon makes these bars some of the best. Follow the maple recipe for the second layer and the blondie recipe for the third layer, but add two tablespoons brown sugar and two teaspoons maple syrup to the white chocolate, and sprinkle with cooked bits of Canadian bacon.