O Canada! O Nanaimo!

by ACP on January 27, 2010

3 Nanaimo Bars

PASS THE TORCH. There’s a new Daring Baker in town, and she’s on her way to British Columbia, Canada. Well, not really. Armchair (or kitchen) travel is the only kind I’m doing at the moment. I’d say “unfortunately,” except that there’s nothing unfortunate about today’s culinary excursion—a gooey, creamy, chocolatey, crunchy foray into bliss—no, nothing unfortunate at all.

This month, for my debut with the Daring Bakers group, the challenge was hosted by Lauren, a Canadian teen who blogs about food, about the obstacles and opportunities of a gluten-free diet, and also about bigger-picture life issues: growing up, finding yourself, looking beyond yourself for ways to help others. You can read her posts at CeliacTeen. She has a great initiative in the works to help the humanitarian efforts in Haiti, and I’m sure you’ll hear more about that in time. Today, though, national pride is her theme. With good reason. As if universal, national health care were not enough . . . now this! (Hmm, maybe there’s a correlation between these decadent treats and the need for health care.)

The first part of the challenge was not Canadian; it was to make gluten-free graham crackers. You can read about my experience with that here. For the second, Canadian part of the challenge . . . Can you say “Nanaimo”? You can’t? Don’t worry, neither could I. I had to navigate to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, where they have an audio file to help. Here’s my version of the phonetics: nuh-NYE-mo. You’re welcome.

For those who don’t know, Nanaimo is “The Harbour City” of British Columbia. It’s located on Vancouver Island, across the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver (the city). Vancouver, as I’m sure everyone knows, is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics next month. Hence the torch reference. Should you want to get into proper (if geeky) Olympic spirit, you can follow the progress of the Olympic Torch between now and the opening ceremonies, on February 12, with this interactive map. The torch passed through Nanaimo back in October, on days two and three of the relay.

But back to baking. Or rather, no-baking, since these decadent bars do not require use of an oven. In addition to its long coastline and proximity to the Olympics, Nanaimo boasts this asset: the Nanaimo Bar, which apparently is found almost everywhere in Canada. I had never heard of this quirky Canadian dessert before, and it was probably just as well that I didn’t know what I was missing. Classic Nanaimo Bars consist of three layers: a bottom layer of graham crackers, cocoa, coconut, and nuts (usually almonds); a middle custard-like layer; and finally a topping of chocolate ganache. They are extremely rich, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be ready to stop at just one.

To put my own touch of patriotism to the bar, I decided to create a Hawaiian flavor variation. I know Hawaii might seem incongruous, mixed in with allusions to the winter games and the logical associations of snow and ice: blame it on the coconut in the original recipe. In a classic Nanaimo Bar, the coconut is confined to shredded coconut in the bottom layer. I thought it would be nice to carry that flavor through to the cream layer as well, which is usually made with custard powder or a substitute of vanilla pudding mix. Finally, to complete my “Aloha Canada” theme, I added a hint of Kona coffee to the ganache and topped the whole thing with crushed, chocolate-coated espresso beans. This brought a dark edge—bitter and sophisticated—to balance out the kid-on-a-sugar-buzz level of sweet in the rest of the bar.

And now, “with a glowing heart” (tag line for the Vancouver games), I pass along my own salute to Lauren, to Canada, to Team U.S.A. and all the Olympic athletes, to the Daring Bakers, and especially to you, dear readers. Total indulgence, eh?


Kona Coffee Nanaimo Bars

The original Nanaimo Bars recipe on which this version is based can be found at the Web site for the City of Nanaimo.

Yield: 16 small bars (or what the heck, cut ‘em bigger)


For Bottom Layer

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup granulated sugar

5 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

1 large egg, beaten

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (for gluten-free, substitute these wafers)

1/2 cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped and lightly toasted in a 350-degree oven

1/2 cup shredded coconut (I used sweetened, but unsweetened is also fine)


For Middle Layer

1/2 cup unsalted butter

2 Tablespoons and 2 teaspoons heavy cream

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

1 pinch salt

1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

3 teaspoons all-natural coconut flavoring (not oil)


For Top Layer

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 Tablespoons Hawaiian Kona coffee, brewed to double-strength

1/4 cup chocolate-covered espresso beans, coarsely chopped


For the bottom layer: Melt butter, sugar, and cocoa in the top of a double boiler. Add egg and cook until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in graham cracker crumbs, macadamia nuts, and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8- by 8-inch pan and chill in the refrigerator before proceeding to the next step.

For the middle layer: Beat together the butter, cream, cornstarch, salt, vanilla, and confectioner’s sugar until well combined, light, and fluffy. Add coconut flavoring and mix thoroughly. Spread over bottom layer and chill again.

For the top layer: Melt chocolate and butter, together with the coffee, over low heat. Cool to room temperature. Once cool, pour over the middle layer. Top with the crushed espresso beans and chill once more. When the top layer has set, cut into squares and serve.


Notes on Preventing a Nanaimo Binge:

These bars freeze well. In fact, if you’re not making them to share with a large group or give away immediately, I highly recommend that you freeze most of these. Otherwise, you’ll discover like I did how easily they go down when they’re too accessible. These bars are dangerous. Indulge within reason, then tuck them in an airtight container in the freezer: if your freezer’s as full as mine is, the bars will quickly be out of sight and out of mind.



The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.


{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Nadia January 27, 2010 at 2:10 am

love the picture, they look perfect, and the white layer does look scrumptious.


ACP January 27, 2010 at 11:13 am

Thank you, Nadia. Your bars look fabulous, too. Note to self: take Nadia’s lead the next time and make a half-batch; another great way to avoid a Nanaimo overdose.


sheba January 27, 2010 at 2:21 am

yum!! coffee…beautiful pic too!!!


ACP January 27, 2010 at 11:07 am

Thank you! Your photo (the one with the Canadian map) is genius.


Lisa January 27, 2010 at 2:47 am

These bars look fantastic and I *love* coffee in anything, great job with the challenge :) This was my first Daring Bakers challenge as well, all a little nerve wracking for me! Beautiful blog you have, I’ll be visiting regularly :)


ACP January 27, 2010 at 11:04 am

Thanks, Lisa. I tried to link to your site to check out your version of the challenge, but for some reason I’m getting an error message when I click on your name here in the comment function. If you return (which I hope you do!), let me know where to find you. I’m glad that you like my blog. Thanks for commenting. And congrats on your first challenge as well.


Karen January 27, 2010 at 3:25 am

Congrats on your Daring Bakers debut! And a mighty fine one at that :D


ACP January 27, 2010 at 11:01 am

Thanks, Karen. Your grahams are really lovely, too.


AP269 January 27, 2010 at 6:28 am

Well done!


ACP January 27, 2010 at 11:15 am

You, too. Glad we had our “first time” together as Daring Bakers.


wic January 27, 2010 at 8:17 am

congratulation on your first challenge. your bars look absolutely delicious.


ACP January 27, 2010 at 11:22 am

Thank you! Left a comment on your post, too—especially to tell you how well I can relate to the image of young children running around on a Nanaimo sugar buzz. (I only have one child, except that when I eat these, I regress and have to hop, skip, and jump as well; thankfully, I have all my front teeth, though!)


deeba January 27, 2010 at 11:44 am

Well done on your first challenge. Love your Nanaimos, and loved that you used kona coffee! Welcome to Daring Bakers!!


ACP January 27, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Thanks! Your version of Nanaimo bars got me thinking more about the Snickers idea—a layer of caramel tucked under the chocolate ganache, perhaps? Yum. So glad to join Daring Bakers; so many bakers with creative and inspiring ideas.


Katharine January 27, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Whoa! If those taste even half as good as they look, they must be spectacular!


ACP January 27, 2010 at 1:18 pm

They taste doubly good. How’s that for kitchen math? ;-)


maria v January 27, 2010 at 12:30 pm

ok, my mouth is watering – this looks absolutely divine!


ACP January 27, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Thanks, Maria. Definitely worth making if you’re planning a special indulgence.


Little Miss Cupcake January 27, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Wow! These look amazing and the flavor combo sounds delish!


ACP January 27, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Thanks. Looking forward to seeing what a “cupcake’ version of a Nanaimo Bar looks like.


nakedbeet January 27, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Great picture! Can’t wait to get them out of the freezer. ; )


art and lemons January 27, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Fabulous first db challenge, your kona coffee bars look absolutely photogenic and sound incredible.


ACP January 27, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Why thanks! Coming from you, I consider that a very high compliment; I am quite a fan of your writing, food, and photography. So glad to be a Daring Baker with you. :-)


Lauren January 28, 2010 at 10:06 am

Your Aloha Canada bars are so fun! Very creative take on my challenge =D.


ACP January 28, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Thanks, Lauren. And thanks again for hosting! I’ve learned so much.


Jill @ Jillicious Discoveries January 29, 2010 at 12:04 am

Welcome to the Daring Bakers’! Your bars look delicious and your flavors were so creative! Well done! :)


megan January 31, 2010 at 11:25 am

Great bars! I agree, they are dangerous – I had one for breakfast yesterday, yikes!


Cancel reply

Reply to wic:

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Previous post: Gluten-Free Grahams

Next post: A Year to Live: January