Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo Bars

Recently a colleague of mine decided to return with their family to Canada, and are now living in British Columbia. To see them off, and to introduce my other colleagues to some more aspects of Canadian cuisine, I choose to make a batch of a classic: Nanaimo Bars.

This is a tall order, mostly because the British are the experts of tray bakes (or North American’s would call ‘squares’). Usually British tray bakes have a fruit element to them, like rhubarb or cherry, or would be high in grains (like oat flapjacks). A Nanaimo bar is high in neither of these groups, instead relying on sugar and chocolate.

Emerging from beautiful Nanaimo, in British Columbia, it is a Canadian classic. Sure, it was invented on the wrong coast, but I think anyone would forgive that faux pas as they are just delightful.

It is, however, a dessert which draws upon a strong link between Canada and the UK. Namely the custard icing in the middle. While there are variations out there, the true Nanaimo bar consist of three layers. On the bottom a chocolatey, coconutty biscuit base. Next comes the icing, a rich and whipped icing that makes use of custard powder to give it a custard taste. Finally, you pour a layer of liquid dark chocolate. Refrigerate and then slice to enjoy.

They were a hit, however they are SO rich. Perhaps I’ve become to accustomed to British desserts where the sugar, while high, isn’t as sweet as North American desserts. In any case, a small square goes well on a rainy day with a strong cup of tea. However, you probably only need one or two to attain the recommended dose of sugar per week. Luckily, they are pretty fantastic at reminding you of Canada. So dig in.

Adapted from the city of Nanaimo’s website.

Nanaimo Bars. Dig in.

Nanaimo Bars
Chocolatey, custardy and nutty goodness in one small square. The classic Canadian dessert/snack - Nanaimo Bars. Dig in.
The Chunky Base
  • ½ cup softened unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 5 tbsp. cocoa
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 ¼ cups digestive biscuits
  • ½ c. finely chopped almonds or walnuts
  • 1 cup dessicated coconut
The middle Cream
  • ½ cup softened unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
  • 6 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder - such as Birds
  • 2 cups icing sugar
The Big Top
  • 150 g semi-sweet chocolate dark chocolate - about 60% coco
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  1. Make the base first. Line a pan with high edges (e.g. 8X8) with parchment paper. Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly pan.
  2. Next, make the cream filling. Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over the base layer.
  3. For the top, melt chocolate and butter over low heat. You may want to add a bit of glucose syrup to help give it a shine. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

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